For many small businesses, especially those owned by women and people of color, navigating the existing COVID economy presents new opportunities and challenges — particularly when it comes to the digital demands required to operate in today’s business world.

That’s why Verizon teamed with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Next Street to create Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, a free online curriculum designed to give small businesses the tools they need to thrive in the digital economy. It includes access to personalized learning plans, coaching from experts, and networking opportunities with diverse, industry-specific businesses.

“As our country works to help all sectors regain their financial footing, there is a strong need to focus on small businesses, who are the backbone of our economy. The past two years revealed that the lack of a digital presence, appropriate tech resources and support systems made it difficult for some small business owners to survive,” says Rose Stuckey Kirk, Senior Vice President and Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at Verizon. “We knew we had to step in and help.”

LISC Interim CEO Lisa Glover knows there’s a need and opportunity to help women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs of color, who all too often get caught in the crosshairs when unforeseen events occur. 

“When you look at the businesses that were hardest hit during this pandemic, they were retailers and restaurants and salons — traditionally the types of businesses that have high percentages of ownership by women and people of color,” she says. “It’s more important than ever for those businesses to have a solid digital presence, and I think the Verizon Small Business Digital Ready curriculum helps these businesses build the digital operations that are really critical.”

How to Level Up Your Digital Business 

The Verizon Small Business Digital Ready curriculum falls into three major buckets that can help small business owners reach the next level: digital marketing, operational efficiency, and managing finances.

Here’s how:

Bolstering Your Operations

There are very few business operations that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t impacted. But according to Verizon’s 2021 Small Business Recovery survey, 63% of small business decision-makers are using digital tools and technologies to enhance customer experiences and create new business opportunities. That’s compared to just over half (53%) who were doing so the previous year.

Remaining resilient and finding operational efficiency is mission-critical. Small business owners need to build their technological infrastructure now, so it’s secured before a crisis hits, Glover urges. “Ultimately that will help you be ready for any other challenge that might come down the pike.” 

As part of the curriculum, Verizon Small Business Digital Ready shows users how to prepare for the unexpected through courses like:

  • Building Remote Work into Your Business
  • Planning for the Unexpected: Building Resiliency
  • Digital Defense: Intro to Cybersecurity
  • Operating Efficiency Essentials

Financing Your Future

For business owners starting from scratch, navigating financing can be tricky. It’s important for entrepreneurs to immediately prioritize capital and financing needs. In fact, Glover says not to wait until there’s an emergency before getting financial planning underway. 

“More than half of small business owners say they have a financing shortfall or an unmet financing need, and we know that setting yourself up to get the right capital for your business is critically important,” says Samantha Berg, managing partner at Next Street. “The Verizon Small Business Digital Ready curriculum helps business owners understand their finances, make themselves attractive to lenders and identify the right form of capital to meet their individual needs.”

As part of the curriculum, owners can explore courses like:

  • Track Your Money: Financial Statements
  • Get Beyond Break Even
  • Keep Your Credit in Good Shape
  • Find the Right Financing

Expand Your Reach

Building a customer base can feel challenging amid the pandemic. According to Verizon research, more than half of small business decision makers are concerned about maintaining relationships with existing customers and clients, as well as creating new ones.

That’s why business owners need to unlock the potential of digital marketing to build a strong brand presence, amplify awareness and visibility and grow their customer base.

Verizon Small Business Digital Ready is filled with content to help owners flex their marketing skills, including:

  • How to Spread the Digital Word
  • Defining Your Brand
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Intro to Online Growth Marketing

Learning from Experience

For businesses looking to create sustainable growth, leaning on the expertise and experience of others can be tremendously helpful.

Through Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, small business owners can join interactive, one-on-one “Ask an Expert” coaching sessions with professionals across legal, marketing, business planning, and more to overcome unique challenges caused by the pandemic. Additionally, small business owners can join “Office Hours” to connect with other owners and dig deep into a topic with an expert.

Finding mentors and connecting with peers can make a huge difference, especially in our increasingly virtual world.

“Experts always say this is really essential for growth — to know that you’re not alone,” Glover says. “You can learn from and support each other. And you should make those connections now.”

Interested small business owners can learn more and sign up for Verizon Small Business Digital Ready curriculum here.  

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Verizon.