Latino Entrepreneurs Face Technology Challenges As Businesses Go Online During COVID-19
When Yusirde Collado opened her first hair salon in 2008, she did everything by hand, keeping track of the salon’s financials, appointments and inventory with little to no technological help. But, when she opened her next salon, Strands Salon Unisex in 2017, she started using online spreadsheets to keep track of her business.
Just last year, Collado invested in a software program made specifically for running salons. It allowed her to do everything she once did on paper to be done electronically, and her clients could pay online, too. She could even check her business’s finances on her phone.
“Technology helps so much, it makes everything so much easier,” Collado said. “When I started, well everything was a lot harder.”
As helpful as it was, the technology couldn’t prevent her business from temporarily closing when North Carolina shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Collado had to start cutting expenses as the months went on and she was left without an income because her salon remained closed. One of the expenses she cut was the monthly subscription for the software that was helping her run her business.
“Even though, you know, everything was paralyzed, bills didn’t stop and neither did personal expenses,” Collado said. “So the savings you’ve been accumulating, well they ran out during that time because of personal expenses and trying to cover what we could to stay afloat.”
While Collado was able to find a software created specifically to help her business, this isn’t the case for many small business owners across the country. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 73% of small businesses don’t know about the technology choices that are available to help with online payments, marketing and selling products online.
This digital gap is especially wide with Latino business owners, according to Zurilma Anuel, Director of the Latino Program at the Carolina Small Business Development Fund.
“We have to get, you know, updated financials,” she said. “We have to get paperwork signed. And not having that technology knowledge is pushing us back.”
Anuel works one-on-one with Latino entrepreneurs who own businesses like construction companies and restaurants, helping them start their business and keep it running. She says a lot of her clients either don’t have access to or don’t know how to scan files or sign documents online.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 57% of Latinos report having a computer at home, compared to 82% of white people. And about a quarter of Latinos only use the internet on their phones compared to 12% of white people.
“I'm not saying that everybody's in the same place, but a lot of the people that we're working with, they always mention like, ‘Can I drop it off? Can I go to your office and bring my tax returns? I don't know what my balance is, I need to go to the bank and find out,’” Anuel said. “So, you know, we're still doing things the old-fashioned way.”
This has made her work with Latino small business owners especially tough while social distancing. She says her clients are experts at what they do, they just need to learn how to run their business financially.
“You can be very successful in your industry. But if you don't understand the numbers, then sadly, your business is not going to be successful,” Anuel said.
Her advice for Latino entrepreneurs is to stay hopeful and keep seeking help.
That’s what Strands Salon Unisex owner Collado did when the pandemic started and she needed help finding loans. She hasn’t received any loans yet, but some of her business has returned.
She says her clients have always come to her through word of mouth. Collado is choosing to keep it this way and is waiting on delaying launching a website and marketing on social media until after the pandemic is over. She’s had trouble paying the salon’s rent and can’t justify spending money for a luxury such as marketing.
“All those things that aren’t truly necessary, I’m trying to put on pause right now so I can meet all the other expenses,” Collado said. “Even with that, the business isn’t producing enough money for me to cover everything, like my personal expenses, and the business’s expenses.”
Collado says she’s just trying to survive. But she knows how much bringing technology into running her salon has helped her as a business owner.
“Of course it’s different,” she said. “I’m telling you, honestly there is a big difference in how I manage my business, but there is also a big difference in how much you invest. Because you have to invest to see changes.”
Collado says she needs more clients to get back to where she was before the pandemic hit. Once her finances are in better shape, she says she’ll bring back the software to help manage her business.
She also plans to launch an online marketing campaign. But she worries. She doesn’t want to spend money growing her clientele only to lose them in another shutdown.