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6 Tips to Promote Yourself and Your Business

There is no “silver bullet,’ but these tips and hard work can generate the results you need.

On August 20, Betty Wong, founder of Stage2Startups, hosted an online discussion for the Stage2Startups community with 5 professional communications experts – Charlotte Tomic of Tomic Communications; Nancie Steinberg,an integrated communications “pitch specialist; John Mallen of John Mallen PR; Rajiv Jadhav of R Square Media; and, Sam Mattingly of SMC Communications – to discuss how to break through the promotional clutter to get recognition for you, your company or your cause. (Special thanks to Alex Ngo and Daniela Viola for their help on social media and as co-hosts!) Here are the tips that they shared:

Stage2Startups Online Discussion

Create a story that centers on your mission. This is the “age of storytelling,” states Sam.  “But your stories need to be relevant. Focus on developing  stories about yourself and/or your organization that relate to today’s current events.” For example, tell a story about how your company is operating during the COVID crisis that is interesting or different.   

Identify your point of difference. This is your “unique selling proposition”, notes Charlotte.  Then understand the goal(s) of the specific communication vehicle you want to contact and determine how you and your brand or cause relates to that media vehicle’s goals. For example, find an editor or news outlet that regularly focuses on companies similar to yours and pitch a story about what is new for that category.

Make sure your press release is “newsworthy “, Rajiv says “If what you have is not newsworthy, then you need to develop a story that is interesting. ” Your pitch needs to be “engaging and relevant news”for the outlet you are contacting, says both Charlotte and Nancie. Sam says “there needs to be a first mover action, or how what you are doing enhances something else or some great funding or investment story” for the journalist to be interested.

Not every communications vehicle or social media outlet is right for every brand. Sam spoke about the different audiences for corporate “holding company” brands vs. individual brands. You need to focus on the media “in your periscope,” suggests John, rather than on anyone and everyone.  But cross-over to different audiences and mediums is also happening. Rajiv gave an example of Nike reaching out to individual trainers on Instagram to get support.

Structure your content for the particular platform. Not every social media platform should get the same treatment, notes Rajiv. For example, Pinterest is image-based and appeals to a female demographic while Reddit is quite the opposite. Most importantly, once you decide on the relevance of the media outlet, you have to “follow” and make friends with the writer or journalist. “It really helps to become  a reliable source,”says Betty.

John suggests that there should be two “press releases now – one for traditional media editors and one that is “crafted for digital media to reach audiences directly.” Nancie gives credit to the multimedia news release, with hyperlinks to outside media, examples or videos.  

Treat your outreach to the media as an on-going dialogue. This is especially true for social media. Sam suggested ”quick soundbites” with the thought that you have to “treat  social media like you treat your friends…Stay in touch often and have something interesting to share.” Rajiv followed with “employ key words, hashtags, and tagging. Apparently readers and followers want consistency and they have standards.”

After listening to these experts, who have over 100 combined years of experience,  I resolved to follow-up with my own reporters. T hear the full discussion, go to

If you would like to speak with any of the pros, here’s how you can contact them:

Charlotte Tomic –

John Mallen-

Nancie Steinberg –

Rajiv Jadhav-

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong


When You Have To Make A Choice

 “I realized making a difference means I had to give up my day job.”

Robin Rosenberg, founder of Live in Their World, Inc.

Robin Rosenberg had a job she loved.  After training to be a psychologist, she had an established and full practice and wrote psychology textbooks for college students. But Robin was now at a crossroads after successfully piloting a virtual reality based program to address issues of bias and incivility in the workplace, funded by a VC she knew. Should she step off her chosen career track and risk her financial stability to found a company focused on changing corporate cultures to embrace diversity and respectful engagement? She knew that if she could move the needle and create positive change in the industry, then she would have to take the leap.

Robin Rosenberg

Robin’s interest in virtual reality started over 25 years ago, based on her recognition that VR had important similarities to hypnosis, a technique she had studied and used in her psychological practice. Robin’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2012, when Trayvon Martin’s death rocked the country and sowed the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement. Through her familiarity with virtual reality, she came up with the idea of using virtual reality as a means to increase employees’ respect for and understanding of their colleagues from different demographic groups.  That concept became reality in 2017 during the #MeToo movement when a venture capitalist she had met socially years earlier approached her, interested in exploring her prior ideas for behavior change in the workplace. Robin agreed to develop a virtual reality proof-of-concept study to help men understand the impact of women on gender bias in the workplace.

When the pilot study came back with great results, Robin realized she had to make a choice – continue her career as a practicing psychologist or become a founder of a new company.  While she believed in her product, she stepped back and took the time to think about how she could create a scalable business. She also considered how building that business might impact her lifestyle and practice. In April 2018, after doing her due diligence by talking with other entrepreneurs, she jumped all in, leaving her practice and  working fulltime to build her company, Live In Their World Inc. Robin decided to raise a friends and family round of funding, to enable greater user growth and business impact. She also established a  board of advisors so that she could get regular, timely feedback. “I feel so lucky to have my advisors. They’ve been generous with their time and incredibly helpful at every stage of our company’s development.”

Fast track to now, and Robin has created a company that aims to help large corporations and medium-sized companies address issues of bias and incivility. Her company’s unique approach is to enable participants to experience typical workplace situations in which issues of bias and incivility arise as a Black woman, a Black man and a white woman. The program uses mobile VR and Youtube 360-degree-type immersive video for remote workers, and a Oculus headset for in-office employees, complemented by an online cognitive learning module. Impact is measured periodically through employee engagement surveys. “It’s important to me that we actually change workplace behavior, increase respectful behavior and a sense of belonging in all teams. That’s why we periodically assess how employees are treating each other.”

She quickly discovered that becoming a founder who wanted to scale up her business required different commitments than being a solopreneur. For example, having that initial investor required her to incorporate her company, open a corporate bank account, hire an accountant and hold key person’s insurance. “I’ve had professional insurance since I became a psychologist, so the idea of having insurance for the company, and D & O insurance, seemed like a different variant of mitigating potential risk.”

She hired her first employee, a business development manager, only a month ago, during the pandemic, and has never met her in person.  Robin is handling all the “C-suite” positions at the moment, learning along the way, but has made ample use of contractors, including a public relations team, who are working with her on her company’s July launch. 

Robin worked hard to get as much insight as possible before transitioning from being a solo practitioner with a thriving practice to being a founder, but quickly realized that no matter how much she tried to prepare, she really didn’t understand what a founder’s life is like until she actually began living it.  Robin notes, ”Living as a founder is really different than hearing about it or seeing it, it’s a real rollercoaster.” 

To learn more about how Robin’s company uses virtual reality to help companies address gender and racial bias, visit  

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

What are Founders Doing Online These Days?

What we learned at our May 14 Speed Sharing Zoom Session.

Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong, founders of Startups by Grownups

Like many startups whose business model is face-to-face focused, Stage2Startups has been struggling to adapt to the online environment.  We wanted to hear what other founders across different industries are doing to keep their customers, staff and vendors informed and their businesses growing so we hosted our first Speed Sharing Session in May. Not surprisingly, every founder is leveraging technology such as Constant Contact or MailChimp for email and social media channels to keep connected. But they also used some platforms you may not have considered. Here are some additional online channels and tools our speakers shared with us – 

  • Build a following with live video and  podcasts. Mark Pires, founder and inventor of The BeatSeat™️, hosts the “Mark Pires Real Talk”, a daily live video on youtube and a podcast. This daily online programming strategy has brought him a dedicated following on Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media, helping him drive awareness and sales for his innovative drum and sensory therapy instrument. Listen to him live on and  his podcast at and learn more about The BeatSeat at
  • Establish your credentials with a blog. Todd Ofsink of Todd Layne Cleaners, leverages his blog to establish himself as an expert in custom-dry cleaning and laundry services with the press and general public. He also ensures his blog contains key words so that he appears at the top of any Google search.  This keeps his business  “top of mind” when people are looking for these services. Read his blog at or go to www.todd layne
  • Reach your audience with Facebook Live. Janet Valenza, founder of GOGOGracious, has traditionally sold her life-style clothing collection and attracts new salespeople at mobile wardrobe salons held at locations such as hotels and clubs. With those venues closed, Janet has shifted her business fully online. She now holds events on Facebook Live and Zoom and books individual appointments for a virtual wardrobe salon. Go to or
  • Keep your customers engaged with webinars. Sharon Huang of Hudson Way Immersion School, holds webinars to keep parents informed and engaged. And because she can not hold informational open houses, she now offers free online “Mommy & Me” programs to generate a pipeline of new students to her school. Visit or
  • Support e-commerce on your website. Godwyn Morris, owns and operates Dazzling Discoveries, a hands on science, engineering and technology education program for grade school children.  Since in-person activities are not feasible, she decided to create a line of paper engineering kits for parents and teachers looking for projects to do at home. She now sells those kits through her website, using the PayPal platform. Learn more at and
  • Facilitate online networking with a peer-to-peer platform. Rajiv Jadhav, an “online” reputation management expert, manifestation coach and founder of RSquare.Media, has transformed his formerly on-ground networking organization – Dynamite Networking Group, a platform of “Super Connectors and Givers” – by using Zoom to create online introductions and generate high quality business referrals. Learn more at, or @rsquaremediany.

These are just a few of the creative ways founders are adapting their offline businesses to the online environment. We know founders everywhere are thinking out of the box and leveraging online technologies in new ways. And many of these online strategies will continue long after the economy reopens, making businesses everywhere stronger. So let’s celebrate this glimmer of positivity coming out of this pandemic, despite the terrible losses that have happened and may happen yet. 

As a startup blog ourselves (affiliated with Stage2Startups), we also believe in the power of blogging as well as other communications strategies to help our community for potential and existing entrepreneurs. Find our blog at  and more at or or join our newly started facebook group! Did we miss any online strategies you are using? Let us know at or post a comment!

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How to Transition to the “New Normal”

“Our mission of building community and connection has remained consistent. What has changed is the way we deliver against that mission”

Suzanne Willian, Co-founder, The Co-Co

The Co-Co, a co-working, co-learning space based in Summit, NJ, is a business built on offering workers a welcoming, shared work environment with opportunities to interact and collaborate with others. In addition to providing co-working space, The Co-Co offers regular programming, such as panel discussions, events and social gatherings, all designed to build a strong sense of community among its members. 

Suzanne Willian

As a business model built on in-person face-to-face interactions, the Co-Co has had to quickly adapt to delivering their product online. We talked to Suzanne about how she and her partners have transitioned their traditional offline business to an online environment.

How are you adapting your business to an online channel?

With everyone forced to stay at home, community and connection has become even more important. We decided that we needed to fully recreate the experience our members expected from The Co-Co online. So as we did in our physical space, we offer a variety of opportunities for our members to connect, share and learn. We have hosted over 30 online gatherings since we had to close our doors, from coffee and conversation hours, to business workshops to parenting discussions. We have even recreated the co-working experience with our virtual co-working hours on Zoom. 

How are you keeping your members while you are shut?

We are focusing on the long term rather than just trying to keep revenues up during the mandated shutdown. We have two levels of membership – the co-working membership level with a higher fee and the lower fee community membership. Even though it is a significant revenue impact to us, we decided to bring every member down to the lower community level fee while our space is closed. And while we offer some online programming for non-members, we continue to offer exclusive member events.

Our goal is to keep our members engaged so that they will stay with us during the shutdown and will continue when we reopen. We also believe that our public offerings as well as the way we treat our current members today will help us gain new members down the road. 

Have you changed the way you make decisions?

In some ways our decision making process hasn’t changed at all. We launched a little over a year ago, and when you are building a brand, you have to make decisions all the time based on limited information. Under the new and ever changing rules of this pandemic, limited information is the norm so we continue to have to listen, learn, experiment and constantly adapt. It’s been a true learning experience!

Have you changed the way you and your partners operate?

All of us are having to juggle the increased challenges of both work and home during the pandemic. This has forced us to become more disciplined in how we manage the business, with each partner taking ownership of a specific aspect of the business. Before the shutdown, we might have spent more time discussing decisions as a team. But now that we can’t get together as much as we used to, we have to trust each other more. We are more likely to make some decisions independently so that decisions can be made quickly. 

How are you preparing for the re-opening of your business?

There are big implications for how a co-working space like ours can re-open. But we aren’t trying to figure out how to move forward alone. We are working in collaboration with a group of women-focused co-working communities across the country and in New Jersey and with workspaces approved by the NJEDA’s Ignite program, a rent support initiative for entrepreneurs. Our top responsibility during the initial re-opening phase will be health and safety. We need to have our procedures crisp and solid and clearly communicated to members so that they feel safe coming back.

What do you think the “new normal” will look like for your business?

I think the online channel will be a permanent component of our business model going forward. The pandemic has fast forwarded the trend towards remote work and having a professional place close by where you can focus on work will still be greatly valued. And remote workers will continue to want to connect with others, but how and where they find that community may be different for different people. That’s why we will continue to offer community and connection in both in-person venues and online channels, even after the shutdown is lifted. We believe, going forward, customers will have the expectation that services like ours can and should be offered in a variety of formats. 

To learn more about The Co-Co, go to

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Launch A Company During A Pandemic

“There’s no perfect time to launch and, we’ve been planning for a long time, so we just adjusted our plans and did it.”

Tami C. Gaines – CEO & Founder, Alivio Products

Tami Gaines, CEO and founder of Alivio Products, discovered the importance of magnesium when she got pregnant with twins and spent five weeks on hospitalized bed rest and it has remained an important part of her life ever since. We talked with Tami about the strategies she is taking to launch her company of Magnesium-based products even in the face of a pandemic.

Tami Gaines

What is Alivio Products?

Alivio Products offers Magnesium-based balms, sprays and bath soaks.  We are one of the few companies in the world that is totally focused on developing transdermally-delivered (applied through the skin), Magnesium-based mind-body wellness products. The World Health Organization estimated that 75% of adults consume a diet that is deficient in Magnesium. Without Magnesium, your body cannot achieve optimal health.  Studies show that Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, avoiding gut issues and increasing absorption. 

You had originally planned to launch this past March. Did you launch and how was it different from your original plans?

In the face of the escalating pandemic, we decided to pull back on the launch for a few weeks to reconsider our launch strategy.  We were originally focused on B2B sales in order to get retail distribution and were having in person meetings with buyers.  However, given the current state of affairs with retail, we decided to change our strategy to sell directly to the consumer.  We’re now focused on executing our online marketing strategy to drive sales.  That said, we’re also prepared to resume our B2B strategy when it makes sense.

Are you open for consumer business now? Can people buy from your site or through Amazon?

People can buy directly from our website at Later this month, we’ll be adding our products to Amazon and Etsy.

How has the pandemic personally challenged you as a business person?

I will say that I’ve had to spend more time getting up-to-speed on online marketing. I’ve been attending lots of webinars and virtual courses to learn strategies that I want to apply to my business.  I’m a lifelong learner so it’s not new for me; however, I’ve had to ramp up my learning/understanding of the online marketplace so we can quickly execute with minimal mistakes.

How are you managing your relationship with your production, shipping, and other vendors?

We were already working with all of our vendors remotely before the pandemic.  We stay connected through weekly phone calls and email updates.

How are you managing the juggling of family and work?  

I’ve been working from home for almost 20 years, but the kids were in school during the day.  I had the place to myself! I’ve been extremely disciplined about keeping the same schedule as we had before the health crisis.  I get up around 6:30am, do my meditation and workout, have my protein shake and write my goals for the day.  I wake up my daughter around 8am. While she’s having breakfast, I take the dog for a walk.  We’re both at our desks by 9am – her doing homework and me doing my work.  We break for lunch and eat together and chat. Back to work after.  She stops around 3:30pm and entertains herself until I stop around 5:30pm. After that, we always do something together – cooking dinner, watching a movie, etc. I do think the key to the juggle is the schedule.   

Do you feel you are going through additional stress and how are you dealing with it if you are?

I don’t feel additional stress because I know that we’ll get through these trying times.  How we get through it will define us.  I meditate and connect with God and the Universe every morning before I get out of bed.  Writing in my journal is also very helpful – a listening ear that doesn’t judge! I’ve been getting outside and exercising as much as possible.  I’ve been taking more baths with my own products – Alivio Products DeStressology.  They are formulated to manage stress and the effects it has on your body.  

Do you have any thoughts for other entrepreneurs who are launching their products or services as the pandemic continues?

 I think the pandemic challenges entrepreneurs to think differently – to find the opportunities to meet unmet needs.  A true entrepreneur will recognize this time as one of hope, not despair.  It’s a time to reevaluate your strategy to determine how you have to act,  so don’t ever give up!

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Online Businesses Benefit in the New Normal

“Being an online business has certainly been beneficial, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t needed to adapt in the face of these new circumstances.”

Weerada Sucharitkul, CEO & Founder of FilmDoo

FilmDoo co-founder, Weerada Sucharitkul, always enjoyed international cinema, but was frustrated that so many of them were unavailable in the UK where she resides. So with her partner, William Page, she started FilmDoo in the summer of 2014. The benefits of being an online entertainment business during the pandemic are obvious, but like most businesses, FilmDoo’s founders have needed to adapt.

What is filmDoo?

FilmDoo is a movie streaming platform ( to help people discover great films from around the world – films that can’t be found in movie theaters or on more traditional platforms like network television or even NetFlix. FilmDoo is also available as a subscription channel on Amazon Prime Video. 


We are now expanding to online education since we see film as a fun and engaging way for students to learn foreign languages and explore other cultures. We are in the process of developing and launching game-based interactive edutainment tools and are currently in a pilot with the Language Flagship Programme across major US universities.

How has the pandemic affected FilmDoo and its operations?

FilmDoo’s core direct to consumer business of streaming foreign films on demand has actually benefited from the current environment since people are staying home and seeking out in-home entertainment. 

And with the rise of online education, we feel we have another great growth opportunity.  However, these direct to business opportunities have been negatively impacted since many of the deals that were set to close over the next few months have now been placed on hold or will take longer to close.

How are you adapting your strategies?

Initially, FilmDoo’s edutainment tools were usable only for films curated and hosted on the main platform, with a focus on using films for language teaching and language learning.  This is building on FilmDoo already having one of the world’s largest foreign language film catalogues online. The new edutainment platform,, would allow language schools and language tutors to create classes using any films on FilmDoo, curated by language and themes.

With recent events, FilmDoo saw an opportunity to use our edutainment platform to help teachers beyond language learning through film and to expand to other subjects, especially at K-12 level.  We identified the opportunity to separate our edutainment technology from the main FilmDoo website so that teachers can use the tool on any other film and video content hosted on Youtube and Vimeo.  This is a great way to help more K-12 schools and universities now, especially as they are all looking at new ways to bring classrooms online and to raise student engagement through the use of interactive film and video.   

How are you managing connections with your team and vendors/partners?

Given the nature of the FilmDoo business, FilmDoo has always operated a very international team, with many people working remotely and/or at different locations at any one time. We are comfortable using the  technology platforms available for online collaboration and team calls.  

Likewise, we have been able to continue to do calls with vendors and partners.  Of course, nothing compares to having face-to-face interactions, especially in building B2B relationships.  In the absence of this, it is important to maintain regular and frequent contacts, where possible.  Shorter, but more regular catch up calls are key for achieving this, especially when it is more difficult to maintain the momentum over longer calls or video calls.

Do you think there will be any loss of revenue?

As with companies across all industries, this will likely result in many of our projected deals taking much longer to close, and consequently, having an impact on our financial forecasts.  Consequently, it may also require re-positioning of our current product or strategy to identify new commercial opportunities.

How are you balancing family and friends with the changing needs of the business?

It is very difficult to balance family and friends during such a trying time as a pandemic, especially when you are coming under a lot of pressure and stress.  But I always try to allocate a certain time during the week to call my family and to reach out to friends.  

Having close friends and family to talk to also gives you an additional sounding board when you need advice or guidance as well as being the emotional, mental and even spiritual support to help get you through tough times.  It is important to continue to nurture your relationships and to spend time with people who share your vision, goals and can appreciate your worth, as they can become a source of inspiration to help get you through business difficulties.

Are you feeling any additional stress and, if so, how are you handling the stress?

The current uncertainty and how long the situation will last has provided additional stress.   However, something I’ve learnt along my entrepreneurial journey is that there are many things in life that you can’t  control.  It is important to continue to do your best at whatever task you have at hand and whatever you set your mind to, but also take comfort and relief, that there are many things in life you cannot control.  

Consequently, be open to change, to doing things differently, or in business terms – to repurpose or pivot your company – until you find what works.  Having such a mindset and an outlook to life will help take away some of the stress and give you peace of mind, especially when you have always given your best efforts and have tried to live up to your principles.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

My one advice to entrepreneurs is, “to know your worth”.  Don’t let other people take advantage of you unfairly, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or what you believe to be the right thing to do.  You will not always be able to make everyone happy all the time, but it is important to know what you and your company stand for and the values that you want to represent to your team, your shareholders, your suppliers, your clients and ultimately, as the legacy of the company that you built and will one day leave behind. 

FilmDoo is offering a free film to all Startups by Grownups readers. To claim your free film, sign up and/or log into, select any film of your choice and input the following discount code during checkout: TOGETHERWITHFILM (valid for the rest of the year).

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Starting a Nonprofit in the Face of Adversity

“In spite of the challenges of this global pandemic, I think it is important to keep moving forward.” 

Rajiv Jadhav on starting Bright Now

In addition to running a social media company, RSquare Media, Rajiv Jadhav has been a trainer/mentor/coach/consultant for nonprofit organizations, including the SBA, SBDC and the Nassau County Government.  Most recently, Rajiv served as a Keynote Speaker at the United Nations session on ‘The Role of Coaching to Alleviate Homelessness.’ This resulted in the Government of Malawi asking him to deliver a proposal on solving child homelessness in Malawi.  It was then that Rajiv decided to establish Bright Now, a US nonprofit, to address this global need. 

Rajiv Jadhav

Little did he realize when he agreed to work on this problem in Malawi that a global pandemic would disrupt his plans. Undeterred by the challenging news of world economies collapsing, Rajiv intends to move forward with creating Bright Now and finding advisors, directors and sponsors. 

What is Bright Now?

Bright Now’s mission is to deliver coaching and mentoring services to children around the world who may be lacking self confidence and self esteem, hindering their prospects for a bright future. Bright Now aims to change this mindset. Working with mentors, the organization’s role will be to inspire kids and give them needed mental support to supplement the government’s interventions of providing housing, food and education.

Why do this now? 

Right now everyone is focused on solving the covid-19 crisis so our work with Malawi has been put on hold. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to move forward and lay the groundwork while we wait to resume this project. So now, we are focused on building partnerships and alliances, and developing the necessary plans to deliver a viable solution on a large scale. 

Do you have any ideas about how you will deliver your service?

We’re working this out now but I think we will have a team on the ground in Malawi and recruit people here in the US to serve as mentors. We will also be relying heavily on the IT infrastructure present in Malawi to deliver our services through e-learning.

How have you gotten people’s attention about your project? 

At the moment, we are working to build awareness through “word of mouth”. At the same time, we are creating an advisory board and looking for volunteers.

How will you fund Bright Now?

I am starting Bright Now with my own funds from Rsquare Media although we plan to be a nonprofit and raise funds in the future. We hope to get our 501(c )3 later this year. For more information on Bright Now or if you are interested in donating or volunteering your time, visit

How is your social media company doing, since you mentioned it will help you fund Bright Now?

Actually, this is a great opportunity for companies who want to reach new audiences on the Internet since everyone is spending more time online. The latest data shows a 40% increase in time spent on social media, which doesn’t come as a surprise since, that’s the only link to any social interaction with friends other than phones.  If anyone is looking to fill their Q2 & Q3 pipeline now, they can set up a free consultation to get started by emailing us at or via

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business or nonprofit now?

The current situation is making every business owner re-evaluate 2 things: 1. How Business is Done, and, 2. How Service is Delivered. I know it is hard in the middle of unprecedented uncertainty, but every entrepreneur and business owner needs to carve out time think about how this applies to them and their business. What emerges can set you up for maximum success. 

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Can Retail Adapt to the New Normal?

“ For now, I still come in because if I don’t, the healthcare workers don’t go to work and we need them working to save lives.”

Judy Wong, Owner of Paws in Paradise NYC

Retail owners of “essential” businesses struggle to determine their importance as they balance their concerns for the safety of their employees and themselves with the economic reality of trying to generate sales to cover costs such as rent, utilities, salaries and taxes. As this article is being written,  even essential business owners are trying to determine if they will have a future. Here’s how one company is managing through this health and economic crisis.

Judy Wong with Ernie

What is Paws in Paradise NYC?

I see Paws in Paradise as a great way to build a community of dog and cat lovers in Brooklyn, by offering  dog grooming, daycare, boarding, and walking services combined with in-store retail of the items animal lovers (including fish and turtle lovers) need to keep their pets happy – food, treats, clothing, cleaning products, toys. Before the pandemic, we also partnered with Good Shepherd Services to give students internships so that they could get their first experience of business responsibility as well as experience the joy of caring for animals.

How has your business been impacted by the pandemic?

We decided to remain open after some of our clients, who are essential workers, asked us to stay open to care of their animals while they are at work.  So we did an email campaign to let our clients know that we are still open. That has helped bring in much needed revenue. However, more than half our business has disappeared as pet owners shelter at home – they no longer need services such as dog walking and daycare and, more and more, they are shopping online. 

Have you changed the way you operate?

I have had to cut back our store hours, but we do our best to accommodate our clients, especially the emergency workers. We also introduced free local delivery and will deliver up to one mile from our store on Fifth Avenue and 7th street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  But it’s more challenging for us, because, as a small store, we cannot really compete with the on-line chains, like

How are you dealing with your employees, landlord and vendors?

We’ve had to lay off most of our employees after the first week because our business is down 85% – that was a very difficult decision as some of our staff has been with us for years. And because of the uncertainty of supply from vendors, we are being very cautious in ordering more inventory and paying just what we have to. The other day, we had $80 in sales, which is not going to help pay the rent. I worry about how to deal with our fixed costs, like rent, and if I have enough funds to last the length of the pandemic. We definitely need help from the government and I was relieved to see the small business relief programs included in the CARES Act. But we need more help, including rent relief that is not covered in the CARES Act. Luckily, we’ve talked to our landlord and have worked out a temporary payment plan.

How are you preparing for the loss of revenue for the next few months?

I don’t have the financial resources to keep the business open without income so I am conserving as much as possible and trying to reduce fixed costs. I have even applied to get reduced insurance costs through New York State of Health. I’m contacting credit card companies and vendors for different payment options. I also plan to apply for the small business loans that are now becoming available with the passage of the CARES Act.

How are you balancing the needs of your family with that of your business?

I worry about bringing the virus home to my family, so we try to be very careful at the store.  We sanitize dogs as soon as they walk into the store, wipe down the doors and counters after every customer and constantly wash our hands. It was difficult to decide to stay open with the business down so much, but it was the health-care workers who helped me decide to stay open, to do our share in fighting the virus.

What advice so you have for other entrepreneurs?

I think every small business owner needs to take full advantage of the resources available to them. With everything changing so quickly, that means staying informed and doing the legwork necessary to get the help. Small businesses are the lifeblood of every community, so continuing to advocate for additional aid to your local, state and national representatives is also critical.  In the meantime, if you, or someone you know, is an essential service worker with a dog or cat in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, and needs day care and/or wants supplies delivered, contact Judy at or call 718-768-1888. To learn more about Paws in Paradise, go to

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Adapting to the New Normal

“We are all learning how to adapt in these unprecedented times. Here is my story.”

Adam Shapiro, co-founder of AlertMe

We are all living through challenging times right now, both personally and professionally. As a result, we thought it would be helpful to hear how members of our community are coping in today’s new normal. Here is our interview with Adam Shapiro, co-founder of AlertMe, a tool that lets publishers connect with their readers.

Adam Shapiro

What is AlertMe?

I often describe AlertMe as a content discovery engine for publishers.  In short, AlertMe allows readers to opt-in to follow stories they care the most about, helping the site build 1-1 connections with the most highly-engaged users.  The personal relevancy of these “self-selected” emails or texts is why alerts drive a 36%+ CTR. It’s a great help to publishers, readers, and hopefully will send my kids to college.

How has your business been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?

Not surprisingly, the current environment has had a significant impact on our ability to grow. Everyone’s focus is on keeping clients and ensuring their families are safe which makes it hard to find and speak to new potential clients. 

How are you adapting your business strategies?

One thing this crisis has done is shown the value of our service. Readers struggle to filter through all the news sources available to them to find reliable information. This is especially true when people are seeking news about their local community. I mentioned earlier that the overall CTR is 36% with AlertMe, but on local stories dealing with Coronavirus, it’s 47%.  Getting the most critical information to people is what I take the most pride in. That’s why, in our small effort to do public good, we are waiving our fees for any publisher wanting to use AlertMe for coronavirus reporting, and, in many cases, all content.

Have you changed the way you conduct your business? 

We are focusing our energy on our most important targets – keeping the key partners we have now and continuing to pursue big opportunity prospects. Everyone has limited bandwidth right now so we keep our focus on the initiatives that can bring home our dinner. But the exciting news is that we have gotten unsolicited inquiries from publishers – that means that we are getting noticed.

Have you been able to identify any new opportunities as a result of the pandemic?

It made us realize that AlertMe can be valuable to more organizations than news providers. For example, healthcare companies and nonprofits can use AlertMe to filter information to people. It is actually useful to anybody who puts something up on the internet and hopes someone will find it. Unfortunately, we don’t have the bandwidth right now to pursue these opportunities, but we plan to pursue them once this crisis passes and business is hopefully back to normal.

How are you managing your employees and/or contractors?

We have always worked remotely so the recent mandates to work from home have not caused a significant change in how we work together. But we do speak more often now so that we are cognizant of the challenges each of our employees is facing. I also recognize that work may need to get done on different schedules, so planning ahead has become increasingly important. We also have to be careful to prioritize our work so that we don’t overstretch or over-stress our staff during this time when stress and anxiety is already high. 

How are you preparing for a potential loss of revenue for the next several months?

We are talking to larger organizations about strategic partnerships and, potentially, an acquisition so we can offer more capabilities to clients faster. I am a big believer that it is better to have a smaller percentage of a large successful organization than trying to grow organically at a slower pace – especially in the current business environment.

How are you balancing the needs of your family with that of your business?

No question, my family always comes first. If I have to choose between a business call and comforting my children if they are scared, I will try to reschedule the call. Of course, I have the advantage of leading a company where work can be done outside of the traditional hours of 9 to 5, giving me more flexibility in juggling my responsibilities to home and work.  

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

I wish I had answers – we are all learning in these unprecedented times. By definition entrepreneurs are fully invested in their businesses and, for many, business is hard right now.  So I would say it is more important than ever to take breaks. I’m finding that I need to discipline myself to take breaks away from stressful work and aggravating Twitter/news, and instead, do something that is 100% entertainment.  We need to give ourselves permission to step back periodically. 

Tell us how you are coping during this crisis by commenting on our blog. We want to hear from you!

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Manage Through Times of Uncertainty

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.”

Ted Kennedy

Social distancing, cancellations of major events and the closing of schools and universities across the country – businesses around the world have been turned topsy-turvy as events change by the minute. As team members, family and personal friends are self-quarantining, COVID-19 is already hitting too close to home for comfort. This blog is being written in solidarity with all of you!

While many businesses can continue to operate by leveraging new technologies, businesses that are based on in-person interactions, such as education, entertainment, dining, and hospitality, are clearly in trouble.  Last month, we hosted two networking dinner parties in New York’s Chinatown, in a show of support and solidarity with those establishments, which were hit especially hard in the early stages of the pandemic.  

Now even more business owners and their staff are impacted as theaters, museums and movie theaters have closed. At Stage2Startups, we had to postpone our March event to May and cancel our April event indefinitely. 

And then there is the safety of everyone concerned, from owners to staff to partners to family and friends. If we are young and healthy, might we still be carriers and endanger the ones we love? If we are older, do we stop what we are doing for fear of catching a virus or do we continue and potentially risk the safety of ourselves and others?  

As places of business close due to government mandated shutdowns or lack of business and cost constraints, our thoughts go to the people involved, their employees and their extended families. Our focus is on the people who cannot work from home, including people we know, such as medical workers, police and firemen, as well as everyday store owners, like my sister, who runs a dog boarding business, and my nephew, who runs an ice cream wrap business reliant on tourism. Who do they keep the lights on for, and do they risk the lives of employees or themselves to keep their businesses going?

How will we deal with this crisis? We believe that as an entrepreneur, you will find a way and will discover new opportunities and develop new ideas. 

We have included in our Resource Section, checklists and links from SBA, NYC and the CDC for businesses to use to assess and plan for handling this pandemic and links to low-cost or no-interest loans as well as grants from NYC for extremely small businesses of 5 people or less. Check to see if your local or state government might have similar programs. 

In addition, you need to take care of yourselves financially if you are in startup mode and don’t have prior year sales or are pre-launch. You should contact your credit card companies or vendors to see if they will work out a payment plan. Here is a good checklist from CNBC.

Tell us how you are coping during this crisis and/or if you have additional recommended crisis management resources by emailing us at or commenting on our blog. 

Let’s try to help each other, as best we can and stick together during this time of crisis.

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Copyright© 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong