Valentina Bagala took dance classes as a child in Chile and dreamed of one day opening her own studio. She moved to the United States, graduated from the University of Florida and started a career in HR — but she remained passionate about dance. Seven years ago, she finally took the leap. She and husband Rafael Savino quit their jobs and maxed out their credit cards to open Ascendance Studio in Doral, not far from where I grew up in North Miami Beach, and where they now train more than 300 young dancers.
Everything was going was well until COVID-19 struck. In March, the pandemic forced them to close their studio and reinvent how they worked to stay afloat. With classes and events canceled — including recitals and competitions — their revenue has taken a big hit, but they avoided shutting down completely by offering virtual classes on Facebook and Instagram. Since closing their doors, they have held more than 100 live-streamed dance classes in a variety of styles — from ballet and tap to hip-hop and belly dancing — and offered free classes for kids in their community.
Small businesses like Ascendance Studio are the heartbeat of our communities — and they’re in trouble. The pandemic isn’t just a public-health emergency, it’s also an economic crisis. The State of Small Business Report by Facebook and The Small Business Roundtable — based on a survey of 86,000 owners, managers and workers in companies across the country with fewer than 500 employees — is a sobering snapshot of the struggle in which they find themselves and where help is needed most.
In the Southeast, nearly one in three told us they have stopped operating entirely. Worryingly, fewer than half of those surveyed in the region said they expected to be able to rehire the same workers when they reopen. And many businesses that remain in operation face two big challenges: cash and customers. More than a quarter said the biggest challenge they face over the next few months will be cash flow, while nearly one in five said it will be lack of demand. Like Valentina and Rafael, many are trying to pivot their operations online. Just over half said they were increasing online interaction with customers.
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Running a small business is tiring in the best of times. But as the report illustrates so starkly, the challenges of staying afloat during this turmoil can be overwhelming. Nearly four in 10 owners and managers report feeling burned out trying to take care of business and household responsibilities at the same time.
Yet despite everything, there is a surprising amount of optimism among owners and managers in the Southeast. More than half said they are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of their businesses, and just 9 percent expect their business to fail if the current conditions persist for the next three months.
What is clear is that there are businesses across Florida and the Southeast that are struggling and need help. That’s why Facebook has made $100 million available in grants to small businesses around the world, with $40 million reserved for those in the United States. We recently launched Facebook Shops to make it easier for businesses to sell online, as well as creating new ways for customers to support the local businesses they love with gift cards and fundraising tools. Facebook’s Business Resource Hub, Facebook.com/resource, contains advice and information — including from healthcare experts — to help businesses during the crisis, and there also are virtual trainings and materials available.
The State of Small Business Report is the first of an ongoing series tracking the situation facing small businesses. It brings home the scale of the crisis in the local economy, and we hope it will help policy makers and others understand and respond to the challenges of struggling businesses.
Above all, we hope the optimism of small business owners in Florida and across the Southeast is well-founded, and that future reports will tell a story of recovery and better times to come.
Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and the founder of LeanIn.Org.