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2020 Was Devastating for Small Business in Inland Southern California

Is it possible to overstate how devastating the year 2020 was for small business in Inland Southern California? With COVID-19 restrictions in place, many businesses shut their doors, some for good.

The hard truth was businesses had to quickly restructure in order to survive. Of the businesses that remained open, most reduced their staff hours, and incurred additional costs of complying with COVID requirements.

For example, restaurants shifted to take out only, contracted with food delivery services, or acquired tents and heaters for outdoor dining. No one knew how long this adaptation mode would last. The word “pivot” was used to describe the search for the right approach to adapt to these disastrous conditions.

The resulting job losses were devastating to the region, but particularly for people of color. The Inland Empire’s Hispanic community was hit hard. According to local economist John Husing, Hispanics, representing 51.6% of the population of the region suffered 62% of the job losses.¹


How Bad Was It?

The Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization, surveyed 418 California businesses in November of 2020. 17% of businesses owned by people of color and 12% of white business owners reported they were likely to permanently close their businesses in the next three months.

All businesses reported they struggled with how to navigate the federal programs and maintain the health regulations required to stay open. While more than 80% of small business owners support direct assistance such as grants and 76% supported another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, 64% said the application process was difficult and only 17% received the loan they asked for.²

The Microenterprise Collaborative of Inland Southern California (MECISC) and the small business programs also conducted extensive outreach to the community to help businesses find assistance.

The small business programs added staff, expanded hours, and shifted to online for their training and counseling. In 2020, the small business programs in the region trained and counseled 15,588 individuals, created or supported the retention of over 21,000 jobs, and helped 1,025 businesses secure over $34 Million in capital.

After this “all hands-on deck” period in 2020, the Microenterprise Collaborative sought to understand how small businesses responded to this state of emergency and what caused these businesses to be so unprepared for this unprecedented state of affairs.

The Collaborative undertook this study to better understand what businesses thought they needed to respond to the crisis and what counselors discovered the business owners actually needed. This knowledge would guide business programs to pivot their own services to help business owners become more resilient in the inevitability of another crisis in the future.


In the Spring of 2021, the Microenterprise Collaborative engaged the Graphite Group, a student-run consulting group based out of the Claremont Colleges, to conduct interviews and surveys with small business counselors and trainers. The objective of the research was to

A. Better understand the information and structural needs of business owners seeking help during the pandemic.

B. Determine what enhancements to the training, technical assistance, and lending services could build business owner resilience to manage future crises.

Twenty-three staff of small business programs participated in the study. Additionally, staff of financial institutions provided insights into what they observed with small business owners.

What follows is a summary of what was learned:

When business owners approached your agency during the COVID-19 crisis, what were the most common reasons for seeking help?

During Covid-19 business owners mainly sought out the help to apply for grants and government loan programs
As expected, business owners primarily asked for help to apply for grants, government loans, and financing to cover expenses while revenues were down.

What underlying conditions, possibly different from what the business owners believed they needed, did you determine were affecting their ability to respond to the COVID crisis?

Research summary showed that the largest item business owners struggled with was understanding of financial literacy.
Business owners’ lack of proper financial statements and an understanding of basic bookkeeping proved to be the biggest barriers to financing.

Implications for Small Business Programs Serving Micro-Business Owners

Small Business Programs in Inland Southern California offer a variety of training programs and have talented counselors from different backgrounds ready to help business owners pivot, re-organize, and re-design their business models. They have expanded their service delivery hours and hired more staff to meet the demand for their services.

What more can they do to help business owners become more resilient so the next time there is a crisis, everyone will be ready?

The field of micro-business development in Inland Southern California will continue to respond to the changing environment in order to best achieve their missions of building successful businesses and creating jobs for the region. What follows are recommendations to consider as the field strives for continuous improvement to support business development:

  1. Integrate financial education elements in all training programs and counseling processes.
    Every training topic contains elements that affect a business’s bottom line. A business owner must understand the importance of financial statements and good bookkeeping practices. Just as a visit to the doctor often involves answering questions about lifestyle choices that affect one’s health, all business owners need to be queried about their finances and understand how all aspects of business operations affect the business’s financial health.
  2. Conduct marketing check ups that include an analysis of trends and risk assessments.
    Those business owners who prepare a marketing plan for their new business often neglect to reassess whether the marketing plan continues to make sense as the years pass. All businesses need a marketing plan that includes an analysis of the competition, and trends and developing environmental factors. “What if” scenarios should be a regular aspect of counseling sessions with business owners.
  3. Teach business owners how to use the internet to conduct research and help them get the technology to effectively run their businesses.
    While most business owners have a smartphone, many do not know how to conduct research. They may not be aware of the hazards and scams that could cause them harm. And it is very difficult to run a business without having a computer to conduct bookkeeping and produce financial statements. Once a business owner understands the power and ease of using a computer, they will operate more efficiently and strengthen their ability to respond quickly to challenges and opportunities.


The Microenterprise Collaborative recommends that all those who work with small businesses, Chambers of Commerce, nonprofits, government agencies, and university entrepreneurship programs, enhance their current offerings by including a greater emphasis on supporting small business resilience. It’s not enough to help businesses launch and grow to create jobs. We must help businesses be prepared for inevitable setbacks and adapt to whatever the future brings.

¹ Husing, John, “Hispanic Workers in the Inland Empire Hit Hard by Coronavirus Shutdown” San Bernardino Sun, August 28. 2020.
² Small Business Majority, “California Small Businesses Face Difficult Decisions as Pandemic Continues and Funding Freezes”, 12/16/20.

Inland Empire Womens' Business Center Success Stories

Roxanne Jackson CEO of Jackson's Kare

Roxanne, a certified Legal Administrative Professional, has been in business since November 2015 providing form completion for college enrollment, court documents, and human resources. She came to the IEWBC needing assistance writing a business plan, preparing a marketing strategy, and tracking finances. She received business counseling, attended various workshops, and participated IEWBC’ s It’s Your Time Program. She says, “It was one of the best experiences and she wouldn’t be where she is today without assistance from the center.

Though she initially started her business idea in 2015, she recently had her Grand Opening and ribbon cutting for her new office space, February 28, 2020 in Riverside, CA.

Despite COVID-19 closing down her office operations, she has been able to pivot into online services and serve over 70 clients and secure 4 contracts between March and April. She has hired an administrative assistant, increase her community engagement and visibility by 150%, and increase her revenue of by 55%.

Roxanne credits IEWBC as the biggest reason why she stepped out on faith. IEWBC gave her the knowledge, creativity, and support needed for her to start her own business and remain open during the COVID pandemic.

Jaqueline came to the IEWBC in search of ways to market and connect the community with her vision. She received counseling from Maritza Gomez and attend workshops. Jacqueline owns Fridars, a Cultural and Education Center in Riverside where she has created an indoor market area where artists and artisans’ can promote and showcase their art and products.

Fridars recently had their grand opening March 7th, just a week after the COVID-19 stay at home orders were placed.

Jacqueline received EIDL for $5000 that allowed her pay her rent and three staff members. Through business counseling she has been able to increase her social media engagement by 75% and community visibility by 30%. She now has 70 monthly members and has been able expand her services. She believes with the continued support she has found at IEWBC she will hit her one-year goals.

Jaqueline Melissa Vrba Fridars

This research summary was brought you by the Microenterprise Collaborative of Inland Southern California with the research done by the Graphite Group, a student-run consulting group based out of the Claremont Colleges.

Download the 2021 Research Summary to learn more about building resilient small businesses in Southern California.