This week, I’m featuring my interview with Vasiliki Papanikolopoulos, founder of Coimatan – a brand she built during lockdown to make it easy for Minnesota consumers to shop small business.
For the last several months, I’ve been highlighting some incredible small businesses in the Twin Cities and around the country. To learn more about why, read the first article in this ongoing series: How to Help in the Pandemic.
You can also read previous interviews with:
Coimatan started as a platform – Minnesotans Unite – to make it easy for digital consumers to get to know local brick and mortar shops in the Twin Cities during the pandemic and shop them by buying gift cards, but that was just the beginning. Vasiliki’s on a mission to foster even greater connection between consumers and small businesses.
“For me, the whole motivation is a little utopian in a sense. I have this visual of people on the street, happily chatting with shop owners and one another while perusing all different kinds of product – think a Clueless-shopping-meets-Western-film-town scene. At the point that we are now in the world, it seems like we’re far away from that for a multitude of reasons and ultimately given the impact of COVID-19. That’s what pushed me to go for it and create something that, as a consumer, I really hoped for – because that vision in my head seemed like it was in danger.”
It is in danger.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), as of 2019, there are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S., which account for 99.9 percent of all businesses in the United States.
As of July 2020, over 100,000 have permanently closed their doors because of COVID-19. And, according to a survey done by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as many as 58% of remaining businesses are worried about having to permanently close too.
These aren’t just faceless numbers. They’re people with dreams, ambition, passion, and so much more.
Entrepreneurship is about imagining the future you want and then standing back to say: “what would have to be true for that vision to become a reality?”
We need people like that in the world. Here are 3 reasons why – and why you need to shop small business.
01: IT’S YOUR COMMUNITY
There are big trends in consumer behavior toward ease – thanks to things like Amazon Prime’s 2-hour delivery window, for example. With a few taps of your finger you can have what you need delivered to your door. And, in a pandemic, that can be desirable.
But, that’s also made it pretty convenient for people to overlook the local shops in their own communities.
Here’s what the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development says about the numbers: “Over 94 percent of businesses in Minnesota [employ] less than 50 employees… In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Minnesota is also home to over 397,000 non-employer businesses or residents who are self-employed. Together, there are over 500,000 businesses in Minnesota with 0-499 employees, the vast majority. To say they are vital to Minnesota’s economy is a major understatement.”
I asked Vasiliki for her perspective: why should people shop small business?
Here’s what she said:
“It directly impacts people’s dreams – your neighbors. It’s an avenue to help them reach something that they’re hoping for – something higher. And small businesses know their local customers quite directly – their desires, and, together, cultivate a better community.”
In addition to the positive economic impact of a strong local economy, small businesses empower people to shape their lives.
…which brings us to another reason to shop small businesses…
02: WE ALL DO BETTER, WHEN WE ALL DO BETTER
Here’s Vasiliki again:
“We want to build a community with Coimatan. The whole pitch we make to small business owners is that by being part of our platform, you’ll bring exposure to your business and increase the opportunities you’ll have to connect with potential consumers. The other benefit is having a network of business owners that you can lean on – all of whom are having similar experiences as you, navigating the pandemic. With a network of other businesses, when someone shares their story or provides an anecdote of an experience, it shines a new light on what you might be going through – that might invigorate them with new solutions to their challenges. If you know others are dealing with the same hurdles, then it builds confidence in your ability to overcome them, side by side.”
Starting and growing a business can feel a little lonely sometimes (see How To Accept And Overcome Obstacles As You Start A New Business) – and so can adapting one.
There’s power in knowing you’re not alone.
Competition can drive innovation, but so can collaboration.
And, by working together, everyone does better.
03: OUR ECONOMIC RECOVERY DEPENDS ON IT
There are so many obstacles that small businesses need to address right now: safety, changing guidelines and regulations, how their customers are feeling emotionally, and more.
So, I asked Vasiliki what she’s seeing them talk about and share with each other.
“Quite often they’re talking about how to share their stories with consumers and market to them in new ways. There’s a lot of discussion around what platforms to use, like Instagram and e commerce. Some of those things are very new for a few of our small business owners. For others, they are experts in these forms of communication. So, they’re helping each other, quickly. It’s really important for you as a business owner to take a step back from the day-to-day and innovate to go forward.”
As a small business owner, you’ve got to embrace the tension that comes from being in the weeds and, at the same time, being so far above the trees that you can look ahead to a north star.
It’s really hard, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
When you shop small business, you encourage people to keep going, even when it’s tough.
To close our conversation, I asked:
If you were talking to someone who was thinking about starting a business right now, what would you say? What’s your advice?
“First off, congratulations. Second, I would say recognize that mulling something over and over in your head will only get you so far. It’s quite overwhelming and not necessarily productive after a certain point. If there’s a problem nagging you and a solution that’s on your mind,that’s a strong indication to get on it! I would say, do a lot of research – think like a consumer and be on the lookout for ideas and influences for what you’re trying to do. And, as quickly as you can, start talking it out with trusted advisors. Bring people in around you – whatever you create should be greater than yourself.”
If you’re at the idea stage of your business journey, here are a few resources for you:
- Read: 2 Simple Ways to Practice Courage and Share Your Ideas from the 321 Liftoff blog.
- Download: 5 Steps to Clarifying Your Business Idea So You Can Stop Over-thinking & Start Taking Action using the form at the bottom of this page.
- Sign up: for a free consultation with me to learn about starting and growing your business with confidence. The insights you gain are yours – this is not your typical sales call.
CONNECT WITH COIMATAN & SHOP SMALL BUSINESS
You can visit Coimatan’s website to learn about and purchase from over 30 Twin Cities small businesses that are open for business.
If you’re a small business owner in the Twin Cities who’s interested in joining the Coimatan platform or know of a local shop who might benefit from joining, contact Vasiliki and her team today at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for more, right here on the 321 Liftoff blog.
Subscribe to my blog using the form. And, when you subscribe, you’ll also get a free guide: 5 Steps to Clarifying Your Business Idea, which includes 5 activities to help you stop over-thinking and start taking action.
ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line. It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating ven for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok. It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself. And, that’s why it’s worth it.