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Why Digital Inclusion is a Big Deal for Small Businesses

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Whenever I speak about my entrepreneurial journey on Digital Inclusion, I often start by stating that I'm from Terry, MS. The big city of Terry with a population of a little over one thousand residents and only stop signs, no stoplights. I open with that statement because I want anyone reading or hearing about my journey to understand that being a small business owner isn't just for people in big, well-known cities who come from wealthy families. Nope, not at all. It could be a barber in Benton, Arkansas, a local restaurant owner in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a young girl from an underserved community in Mississippi, or you.

Everyone's journey to becoming a small business owner is different. For example, one person may go to college and major in business first versus someone else who may have an idea and decide to invest in themselves and go for it. However, regardless of the path, a few things across the board are needed for an opportunity at success, including funding, access, opportunity, and assistance.

No one is 100% self-made. Everyone had help along the way, whether it was a mentor, a sponsor, or a program. As a Black female small business owner, one program I want to take a deep dive into is Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. As the founder of a financial technology company, I have witnessed first-hand the expedited digital transformations taking place due to the pandemic. The world had to quickly transform to being almost entirely cashless, even in underserved communities were paying for things in cash was still king. The same happened with being a small business owner. Prior to the pandemic, small business owners were starting to recognize the need to have digital access for themselves and their customers. However, now, digital offerings have gone from an option to a necessity in order to thrive and survive. An estimated 100,000 small businesses have had to shut down due to the pandemic, with many of those owners being from the Black and Latinx communities. As small businesses are fighting for a comeback and survival, they don’t just need funding - they need tools to succeed in our digital world.

Before breaking down the Verizon Small Business Digital Ready program itself, there are two things worth noting. First, the Small Business Digital Ready program part of  Citizen Verizon, a company-wide commitment to social responsibility. Second, the program was planned before the pandemic. Although I have been happy to see corporations stepping up to do more social responsibility work since the pandemic, especially for underserved communities and underrepresented populations, to know that Small Business Digital Ready was already planned prior to the pandemic speaks volumes about Verizon's true commitment to supporting small businesses. Below are details on what Verizon Small Business Digital Ready provides, and how to take full advantage of the offerings.

Network

There is an age-old saying of "your network contributes to your net worth." With this program, you will be able to network with other small business owners. Networking is essential to your business because you can learn from the wins and losses of others, gain new customers, or even have those in your network make connections for you for future business opportunities.

Not Overwhelming: Modules Made for You

Not everyone is in the same place as a small business owner. You may still be in the idea phase, while someone else may have been operating their business for two years with thousands of customers and revenue. Wherever you are in the process, no worries. The program allows you to start with the topics that are most important to your business right now.

Rewarded In Multiple Ways

The biggest reward of all is being able to apply what you have learned to elevate your business. However, there are other rewards along the way. For example, as you complete different learning modules, you'll unlock new benefits, such as coaching sessions to work with business experts who can help you execute your action plan.

Years ago, I heard someone say, "Eventually, every company will be a tech company in some way or another." And they were correct. Although your company may not be a high-tech company in any form, having some type of digital piece to your operations as a small business owner is crucial. It can even be something as simple as how you allow your customers to book an appointment or pay. Having those offerings will allow you to compete in a new digital-first world. If you are unsure where to start or how to navigate things, especially if you feel you don't have the access and knowledge, remember you have options like the Verizon Small Business Digital Ready program.

Sheena Allen

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