Ultimately, the lessons learned from the research presented in this report at the intersection of digital tools and business will be useful for the next crisis and the next one after that. Although U.S. small businesses have been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis, the fact remains that many will indeed bounce back, in one form or another, some by utilizing the Digital Safety Net we’ve identified here. And other entrepreneurs knocked down by COVID–19 are likely to start a new business in the future. They can all take the findings and recommendations in this report and use them in practical ways. So too can major technology companies, policymakers, investors, and other influencers and stakeholders who wish to empower these brave entrepreneurs in their journeys forward.

For Small Businesses

Suggested steps toward building or enhancing your own digital readiness

Identify gaps and opportunities based on your unique needs.

Every SMB is unique and has different goals, so logically they need different solutions (including digital ones) to their challenges. Learn about digital tools from free resources, peers, and trial periods. Then, deploy them in a way that works for your business.

You can:

  • Learn more about digital tools
  • Consider new business models
  • Explore new markets/channels
  • Automate repetitive tasks/jobs

Invest time in digital tools before investing money.

There are many free and inexpensive tools, trial periods, and training resources that can be used by both leaders and employees to learn more about digital tools before investing heavily in them for your business, reducing both cost and risk.

You can:

  • Explore available resources
  • Choose learning format(s)
  • Utilize learning platforms
  • Test and iterate inexpensively

For Technology Platforms

A set of ideas for helping support and grow the use of, and access to, digital tools for SMBs

Help busy SMB leaders determine which digital tools they actually need.

Even when an SMB understands its goals, it might not know which digital tools best match its needs. Helping them assess their needs in detail and matching those with free or trial solutions and training will be a huge service.

You can:

  • Help empower SMB leaders
  • Create online assessment tools
  • Include SMBs in company planning
  • Leverage key nonprofit partners

Reduce common barriers to accessing existing resources.

Tech companies have education and training resources related to their products and services, but discovery, descriptions, registrations, may be complex for many SMBs. In addition, SMB leaders report that step-by-step video and written guides, and webinars, are their preferred self-guided learning formats.

You can:

  • Rethink the education journey
  • Simplify discovery and access
  • Emphasize free resources
  • Tailor to SMB groups/segments

For Policymakers

Fresh insights into programs needed to ensure increased access to digital tools and the Digital Safety Net among SMBs

Scale public-private partnerships that address barriers to success.

Policymakers should prioritize the creation of and incentivize SMB participation in a new era of national and local public-private partnerships focused on overcoming common access and education barriers that many SMBs face, particularly during challenging times.

You can:

  • Fund research on the Digital Safety Net
  • Support for SMB “accelerators”
  • Create new grants/awards
  • Incentivize learning programs

Increase funding streams that empower SMBs to innovate.

Without access to capital, SMBs cannot stay open, much less innovate. This is even more evident during a crisis. Many SMBs need access to new forms of capital and inexpensive services to bridge the gap in these situations.

You can:

  • Fund new/existing grants/loans
  • Fund SMB education programs
  • Expand national support networks
  • Protect SMB access to low cost and free services

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