October is National Women’s Small Business Month and West Hartford’s Annisa Teich is a great example. She’s the Founder of The Small Business Collective, Co-Owner of West Hartford Coworking, and a recent Hartford Busines Journal Forty Under 40 honoree.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Annisa about running two businesses, how the businesses complement each other, and how she’s managed to keep her businesses afloat during the pandemic.
NAN PRICE: Most of us understand the concept of a coworking space. Can you tell us more about The Small Business Collective and what makes it a “collective?”
ANNISA TEICH: The model is a full-service marketing firm tailored to small and micro businesses made up of a pooled collective of local experts with their own businesses. We refer these experts to other businesses and we support each other. We also form a collective for collaboration and idea generation.
The Small Business Collective includes a core group of people who are well versed in influencer marketing, copywriting, custom web design. So, we’re working with people we trust to help our clients. That’s what makes up this collective.
NAN: Let’s talk about your clientele. Why target small businesses?
ANNISA: The typical agency model doesn’t serve their needs. A small business is personal and professional. There’s no separating the two. Larger companies with many employees can be a little more distanced. But for small and micro businesses, solopreneurs, and family businesses, it’s very personal. So, there’s a lot wrapped into servicing and supporting them.
It’s about forming relationships. If I’m talking with a client about something happening in their personal life and realize they could use a good financial planner, I instantly know someone I can refer. That’s how we activate some of our Small Business Collective and West Hartford Coworking members and help them support small businesses we’re working with.
NAN: In what ways do The Small Business Collective and West Hartford Coworking work in parallel?
ANNISA: They funnel each other. For example, some of our Small Business Collective clients are solopreneurs or just launching their businesses. They don’t have a location and they need someplace to work. They come to us. Or, if they prefer to work out of their homes, they can have a mailbox with us with our address, which helps create a professional presence for their business profile.
Inversely, the coworking space creates a lot of opportunities for conversation. We have coworking members who are small businesses and entrepreneurs and even a small team from a larger organization that create opportunities to engage with The Small Business Collective.
NAN: The Small Business Collective and West Hartford Coworking have a local, community focus. That was obviously intentional.
ANNISA: Right. Our goal has always been to support local. What’s great about the coworking space is, it straddles the line separating West Hartford from Hartford and creates community-building opportunities with both towns—and beyond, of course. We want clients from both businesses, however they’re engaged with us, to know they’re a part of a bigger community of people just like them.
NAN PRICE: In terms of supporting the community, how did you adapt when the pandemic hit?
ANNISA TEICH: Our main objective has been to be of service as best we can to everybody during this time. We have a very tightknit community through West Hartford Coworking and The Small Business Collective. Over the past year and a half or so, even before COVID-19, we’ve been working to mesh the two businesses together—providing the space and the services. So, it made sense to do the same for both during the pandemic.
Early on, we collaborated to launch a Slack-based community called The Small Business Collective Online Virus Support Community. The goal was to provide support to our clients, coworking members, and our community and talk about things like the Paycheck Protection Program, what to do with your finances, best practices, etc. We pulled in lots of experts and local friends who also wanted to be of service.
I tend to put my concern for others first but, like everyone else adapting to the new ways of balancing time and life constraints in quarantine, I had to find that balance, too. While supporting existing and many new clients through the pandemic, our business exploded and The Small Business Collective grew three times. So, eventually, we had to turn off the Slack channel. But we continued to educate people with things Tech Tuesday webinars to help business with their operations. I also started a STILL #MakingItInCT vodcast to complement the #MakeItInCT panel series you and I were working on before COVID-19.
NAN: Did any of that translate into potential clients for you?
ANNISA: It would be naïve of me to say that wasn’t in the back of my mind as we were starting the support community. I want to be of service and I do a lot of free work for the community. But, at the end of the day, I’m a businessperson and this is a business. So, yes, the goal was also to indirectly show what we can provide and continue to enhance our client base, which it did very quickly.
NAN: With regard to COVID-19, what measures have you taken to remain engaged with your coworking clientele and safely reopen?
ANNISA: We kept in very close contact. When we had to shut down, I reached out to everyone over email not about their invoices, but to genuinely ask about their families and their businesses. We wanted to ensure people were healthy and felt safe to return to the space as they felt comfortable. We also held some members’ spots for a while without any charge.
We have a variety of members who were considered essential businesses and could access the space once were able to get the supplies we needed to open with safety measures in place. Right now, about 95% of our members we had before COVID-19 are back.
We’re lucky we forged personal relationships with our clientele. There’s only so much pivoting you can do to with space and technology. But, if we hadn’t developed relationships with our clientele before this pandemic, we would be in a much harder position right now.