Neil A. Carousso produces WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight with Bloomberg Business reporter Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments with Tri-State Area entrepreneurs for tips on how you can grow sales and expand your business.
  
See Neil A. Carousso’s original reporting on American heroes and veterans-related issues on Entercom’s ConnectingVets.com platform.
  
Neil A. Carousso is the Segment Producer and Features Editor of The 880 Weekly Rewind with Lynda Lopez, airing Friday nights at 7 PM on WCBS Newsradio 880. Each week Lynda talks with newsmakers for a deep dive into the top stories of the week and the impact it has on people.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Entrepreneur Magazine’s Editor-In-Chief Shares What Owners Can Do Now to Survive

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a seismic shift in consumer behavior that has induced stress on business owners.

    Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso that business owners must incorporate technology infrastructure for long-term sustainability and listen to their customers to try to anticipate future needs.

    “You need to be in touch with them regularly – surveying them – so that you can start getting data back on what it is that they’re looking for, what’s resonating with them and what’s holding them back on being your best advocate,” he said.

    Feifer advises business owners to create an email newsletter to communicate with their customers rather than relying on social media.

    “If you think that being in touch with your customer by Facebook is good, it’s not,” he said, explaining, “You’re losing people to the Facebook algorithm and you don’t own that audience.”

    The Entrepreneur Magazine chief said customers will point owners in the right direction, and oftentimes, it can be a little change that can make all the difference in surviving the pandemic.

    Feifer told Connolly and Carousso it is important that business owners look within themselves.

    “Ask the simple question of ‘Is this company doing what it needs to do to survive for the next five years?’ Ask yourself that every single quarter and at some point you’re going to start to say, ‘Oh you know what, actually, I’ve noticed that our consumer is wanting this and this and I don’t know if the thing that we’re doing right now is going to last five years,'” he said, noting that type of honest assessment help owners make the appropriate adjustments.

    Feifer is an impassioned entrepreneur, himself, running a production company in which he also hosts three podcasts, serves as a keynote speaker, and has co-authored a novel.

    “I stopped watching basketball,” he quipped about how he finds the time for his professional endeavors.

    But, it’s that entrepreneurial spirit that has been reignited as millions of Americans work remotely and others are starting businesses as a way to reenter a battered labor market.

    Feifer told WCBS 880 many Entrepreneur Magazine subscribers are starting a “side hustle.” Starting any business, especially now, he said, requires a keen focus on one’s business plan and market.

    “The number one way that people get stuck is that they have 10 ideas and they can’t decide which one and they start to kind of noodle on them all and they get nowhere,” Feifer said. “You got to just start somewhere.”

    Creating a valuable service or product right now can be a win-win for the entrepreneur and their current employer.

    See examples, actionable advice and new business ideas on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • Expert: Targeted Relief Needed for Minority Business Owners

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    By Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Black and brown business owners are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic in ways that makes general government relief harder to obtain and be effective.

    “I believe the number’s around 41 percent of black business/minority businesses failed to survive the pandemic,” said Cathleen Trigg-Jones – an ambassador to the Black Entrepreneur Initiative through The Lonely Entrepreneur – a New York-based non-profit organization.

    She is a journalist who founded women empowerment content creator iWomanTV and CatScape Productions after serving on then-Sen. Joe Biden’s communications team, which she resigned from in 2006 with Mr. Biden’s encouragement to pursue her career goals.

    The President-elect announced his economic recovery plan this week, including proposing targeted relief for minority-owned businesses that have been hit hardest in the pandemic.

    “We’re going to make a concerted effort to help small businesses in low income communities in big cities, small towns, rural communities that have faced systemic barriers to relief,” President-elect Biden said.

    His vision is to provide minority business owners priority access to the new round of the Paycheck Payment Protection (PPP) loan and other small business relief.

    “It is really lonely when you are a business person and you don’t have that generational wealth or even expertise to fall back on,” Trigg-Jones explained to WCBS 880’s Neil A. Carousso.

    Millions of Americans remain out of work as the pandemic goes on its 10th month. New business applications rose 41.8 percent in 2020 from the year previous, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, indicating many are starting new businesses whether they’re taking advantage of an opportunity or doing so for job security.

    “When you lose a job and the job market is as poor as it is right now, you have to get really creative to survive,” she said. “You have no choice but to figure it out when you’re hit with a pandemic and it’s either tremble and fall or get very creative and figure out what you’re good at, what are you passionate at, what does your community need and how can you supply that need with very little access to capital.”

    The Black Entrepreneur Initiative aims to provide free business training and support to 100,000 Black business owners. Ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Milwaukee Bucks announced it will partner with The Lonely Entrepreneur to provide an unlimited number of signups for free for one year of the training program.

    “Milwaukee was the epicenter, really, of social justice and change, and now, they’re the epicenter of the solution,” said Trigg-Jones.

    The Bucks were the first professional sports team to walk-off the court in protest last year amid the police shooting of Jacob Blake – an unarmed Black man – in Kenosha, WI in August.

    The Black entrepreneur and leader noted Dr. King’s vision of a dream that’s equitable for all has not been fully realized and she believes all business owners must root for each and support one other to succeed in hopes that economic empowerment will lead to equitable education to turn the tide of systemic racism.

    “We’re saying, there’s room for all of us at the top,” Trigg-Jones said, adding, “Let’s all help each other, let’s all support one another.”

    Watch Neil A. Carousso’s conversation with Cathleen Trigg-Jones above and you can see more information and signup for The Lonely Entrepreneur’s Black Entrepreneur Initiative here. 

    A portion of this interview aired on The 880 Weekly Rewind with Lynda Lopez Friday night on WCBS Newsradio 880. Listen to the full show, produced by Neil A. Carousso, above.

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  • Small Business Spotlight: Business Opportunities Up for Grabs

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Many businesses are facing the grim reality of closing operations this winter as COVID-19 and its new variants surge, but there may be opportunities to pursue before termination.

    The new round of small business loans cannot be obtained by large companies unlike in the spring when some corporations were able to take advantage of loopholes in the first coronavirus relief package.

    There is an additional five months of support for restaurants and businesses in industries hit hard in the pandemic, namely, tourism, transpiration, retail and performance arts. And, 40 percent of those loans can be used for new services as well as rent and utilities; that’s contrary to the first installment of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan which was instituted to make sure employees are paid as part of the loan agreement.

    Ian M. Weinberg is a Certified Financial Planner in Woodbury, Long Island. At his firm Family Wealth & Pension Management, LLC, he is advising business owners to manage risk by pivoting into similar services. An example he points to on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight is a clothing company that starts making uniforms for essential workers.

    “I know the shipping business is getting huge. How can I take my business that’s in the clothing business and help that evolve and get integrated into this new economy?” Weinberg hypothesizes. “If you’re surviving in what you’re doing but you see that there’s an opportunity to launch elsewhere, you can use these PPP funds to do some of that.”

    Sixty percent of each PPP loan must be spent on payroll or the loan would no longer qualify for forgiveness.

    He acknowledged many business owners will not survive, but he told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso many of his clients that are in trouble did not adjust their operations.

    “A restaurant that didn’t have curbside takeout, didn’t have a digital ordering system, you couldn’t order online and pickup, they don’t take credit cards,” Weinberg said of businesses that closed in the pandemic.

    He asserted business owners cannot fall behind the times, but they must keep costs down.

    “You can commit technology, you can leverage technology, you can outsource technology, you could outsource your staffing,” Weinberg explained. “We could be running a business that’s an investment banking firm right now, handling billions of dollars just like this: sitting in three Zoom calls. We don’t need any more overhead.”

    He told WCBS 880 that he has seen non-profit organizations have much success with virtual fundraisers.

    “They were still able to raise a million dollars and their overhead for the event was less than $200,000 because they didn’t have to do the banquet hall, the catering, the staff on site, the liabilities and they’re finding that going digital really helped them leverage their resources and the charity made $800,000 instead of half a million on the same event that people would have showed up to in black tie and tux,” said Weinberg of one charity that he advises.

    The financial advisor emphasized there are opportunities right now, but owners have to be flexible and consider options outside the box.

    Weinberg told Connolly and Carousso about a large catering business that made one of the most successful pivots he has seen: They applied for a New York City government contract to feed the homeless. That has kept his client’s business afloat.

    “They focused their efforts from catering to for-profit organizations and parties and events to identifying a need where the city had to feed people, the city had to pay for that food and the vendor service to do it and they were fortunate enough to find out about it and they went after it,” he said.

    See more local examples of successful business pivots and how to use your skills to fill pandemic needs on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight video above.

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  • WCBS 880 Special Report: Chaos in the Capitol – A Nation Divided

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    By Neil. A. Carousso and the WCBS 880 News Team

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The nation and the world watched in horror Wednesday as a pro-Trump insurrectionist mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly occupation that claimed the lives of five people, including a police officer.

    Lawmakers, who had gathered for a joint session of Congress to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, and their staff feared for their lives as the violent mob invaded the Senate and House chambers.

    Members of Congress were forced into hiding, scrambled to hide under desks, were told to don gas masks and evacuated to undisclosed safe rooms.

    Anchor Lynda Lopez hosts an hour-long special, Chaos in the Capitol – A Nation Divided,” that looks back at this week’s historic events and how they unfolded.

    Chaos at the Capitol – A Nation Divided will feature firsthand accounts from lawmakers and reporters who were in the nation’s Capitol when it descended into chaos, as well as analysis on how we got here, what it will take to move forward as a nation, and more.

    The broadcast includes interviews with freshman Congressman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, CBS News correspondent Steve Dorsey, former Long Island Congressman Steve Israel, Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer, CBS News election law expert David Becker, child psychiatrist and professor Dr. Llinda Drozdowicz and more.

    Below is our segment featuring Becker, as interviewed by producer Neil A. Carousso.

    Becker explains Wednesday’s riots are the culmination of a years-long disinformation campaign and discusses what it will take to restore confidence in future elections.

    Neil A. Carousso contributed reporting and produced the WCBS 880 Special: Chaos in the Capitol – A Nation Divided, hosted by Lynda Lopez, on Friday, January 8, 2021, which was nationally syndicated on Entercom stations.

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  • Online Sales Keep Small Businesses Afloat but Pandemic Losses Are Insurmountable

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    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Increases in online sales are not covering losses suffered in the coronavirus pandemic for many small retailers, but it is allowing them to stay afloat during the unprecedented holidays as hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus surge.

    “I’m happy to report we’re surviving,” Jennifer Bergman of West Side Kids said on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank.

    Bergman’s Upper West Side toy store is in the midst of their annual busy season, but overall sales are down about 50 percent. Her busiest day of 2020 was December 9 – the day before Hanukkah.

    “Our online sales have never generated enough business for me to invest in expanding that so it’s always been a real catch-22,” she explained.

    Bergman is not alone. Many small businesses are struggling to develop a profitable e-commerce strategy. Those who had one in place before March were best positioned to pivot amid shutdowns, but still, it is difficult to compete with online retail giants, namely Amazon and Wal-Mart.

    “It costs us a lot more to process online orders and we’re going in early and we’re staying late to get them all done,” she said.

    Tom Geniesse owns Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in the Flatiron District. He had more than a head start on his e-commerce; he owns several patents on the display of his website, which shows different pairings of wines that go well with various meals.

    “The customer-centric focus is on giving people choices that map to their needs,” he told WCBS 880. “By doing that, we give people an opportunity to make better decisions when they’re making a bottle of wine.”

    Geniesse is educating his customers virtually. Before opening the doors to his wine shop in 2003 with the goal of making wine more accessible to the average consumer, he owned an e-learning business company named Quisic from 1996-2001. That experience is paying dividends 19 years later.

    He told Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso he has put Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit on numerous e-commerce platforms, including Instacart, Grubhub and other niche websites. That exposure and marketing has given him a 25 percent bump in online sales, but it does not make up for Geniesse’s overall sales losses in the pandemic. His challenge now is finding new customers who have fled Manhattan.

    “People that can work remotely have continued to work remotely and residential folks in Flatiron tend to be affluent, tend to have second homes outside of the city and many of those people have moved out in March and have remained away,” said Geniesse, continuing, “We’ve really had to be entrepreneurial in finding customers that are new customers, reach to a broader audience in the city and find the people that are here and working here and living here.”

    He told WCBS 880 he believes the pandemic is an inflection point on the viability of local businesses’ e-commerce sales operations.

    “I do think that e-commerce has been on a 20-year trend, increasing online sales for businesses everywhere and this pandemic has hurdled us forward about 10 years in that trajectory,” said Geniesse. “We’ve always been online, we’ve always had an e-commerce platform, but I think what this has shown us is that this is critically important for us to keep our efforts focused on e-commerce and continue to grow in that way.”

    Hear ideas on how to find new customers online and learn about the changing landscape of e-commerce on the WCBS Small Business Spotlight Podcast on the RADIO.COM app or on the media player above.

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