Name: Melissa Christenson
Business Name: Creative Training Resources
Business Website: www.creativetrainingresources.com
Industry: Learning and Development
Location: Chester, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Chuck Gilboy
What is your business?
Creative Training Resources (CTR) has been in business since 1998. We specialize in the design and delivery of customized learning solutions to meet employees’ development needs. Our programs are designed to be highly engaging and the skills learned are able to be applied immediately. I have a team of four sub-contractors who depend on me for about 30 percent of their annual income.
When the shutdown began, what was the immediate impact on your business?
When the shutdown began, I was just returning from Chicago and scheduled to be in New York City the following week. I had a full pipeline of work and was tracking to double my business from the prior year – which had been a record-breaking year. Over $80K of booked work was wiped from my business in the months of March, April, and May. Although I do the design work from home, I don't make the money until I deliver the programs. At the time of the shutdown, 95 percent of our programs were delivered face-to-face and involved traveling to other states.
How were you able to adapt during the first few months of the pandemic?
After quickly going through the shock and denial phases, I got to work designing some webinars on helping employees and managers enhance their virtual presence, stay focused during uncertain times, and manage their time and productivity while working from home. I'm fortunate that I have a few clients who were committed to helping small businesses like mine, by giving us some projects. I even had one client who used the "downtime" to revamp their New Hire Orientation program and they hired me to coach the presenters on upgrading their PowerPoints and messaging.
Once businesses were able to reopen in NH, how did you adapt your business?
I haven't been able to offer any in-person programs yet, and don't anticipate being able to do so for at least another six months. Therefore, the opening of businesses didn't impact me.
Will you continue the changes and adaptations you have made once concerns over COVID-19 are behind us? Are you planning to institute more changes in the near future?
I have revamped many of my programs to now be delivered virtually. I also used this slow time to upgrade my website, something I had been meaning to do for years. This will allow me to continue to offer virtual or face-to-face programs. I much prefer face-to-face facilitation, but I am happy that I will be able to offer my clients a choice.
Are you collaborating with other businesses, municipalities, organizations, etc. for the first time or differently than in the past? If so, in what ways?
I have been working on speaking proposals to get my name and programs out there. I recently delivered a virtual program for the New England Resources Association's Learning & Development Exchange. I have also joined a local grassroots networking group of women-owned small businesses to share best practices, leads, and support.
If you have employees, how has your workforce been affected?
Sadly, I have only been able to get enough business to use one of my sub-contractors. The good news is she and I are a great team and have been able to produce some fabulous programs that weren't even on our radar prior to COVID-19.
How are you communicating with customers now? Are you marketing in the same ways you were prior to COVID-19?
In the past, I didn't really have to market as I had plenty of business that was generated from word-of-mouth. Now, I am in the process of upgrading my website, writing blogs, being more active on LinkedIn, and looking into speaking engagements for industry events.
How has SBDC helped you and your business, especially in the last year?
I didn't even know about the SBDC until COVID-19 hit. Since then I have taken advantage of some of the webinars and received direct coaching from one of the advisors on applying for the different grants and relief programs. I am so grateful that NH SBDC offers this amazing service.
From which of the following relief programs have you received funds (if any)?
Self-employment Livelihood Fund; Payroll Protection Program; NH Unemployment benefits
If you received a PPP loan, tell us your own and your employees' stories.
For the first few months, I had no business coming in and, for the first time in my life, went on unemployment. If it weren't for the SBDC, I probably would have stayed on unemployment and not applied for the PPP. I attended a few of the webinars that the SBDC offered and made an appointment with one of the advisors. As a result, I applied and received the PPP, and I was able to come off unemployment in 3 weeks. I also qualified for an EIDL loan, but by the time the PPP ran out, I had managed to get a few projects so I didn't pursue it. I also qualified for the SELF grant, but hope to make enough that I pay back what I received.
This client story is part of NH SBDC's ongoing collection of COVID Creativity stories about businesses surviving and thriving during COVID-19.