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Small Business Week: Stories From Five Local Business Owners

May 3, 2021
Written by Carla Morla
May 3, 2021 | Written by Carla Morla

There are over 30 million small businesses in the United States. Every spring they’re recognized during National Small Business Week. This week-long celebration - organized by the Small Business Administration (SBA) - highlights the vital role small businesses, like yours, play in bolstering local communities. While National Small Business Week is traditionally celebrated during the first week of May, the pandemic pushed this year’s celebrations to September.

But acknowledging the hard work you put into growing your business goes beyond a one week period. We know many local businesses faced unique challenges over the past year so we’re taking a moment to spotlight five local business owners from across the country. Read on to learn how they navigated the pandemic, what community means to them, and the successful business tips they implemented.

Coco Hankerson helps neighbors declutter their homes while protecting the environment 


With a background in electronics and a passion for the environment, Coco Hankerson of Atlanta, GA helps her neighbors safely recycle their unwanted gadgets and small appliances. She started her e-waste recycling business, Coco the Geek, at the beginning of the pandemic and has found continued success thanks to her community. Coco leverages Nextdoor’s Business Posts and Local Deals to let neighbors know about her services - which has expanded to include select repair services and tech support. Now, nearly all of Coco’s clients come from Nextdoor. 


How has your business thrived through the pandemic?

Early in the pandemic, everyone was home and unable to go anywhere. They had extra time which meant they were cleaning out their homes and decluttering. My business was able to meet that need. I was able to help safely dispose of their old and unwanted electronics. 

We are a technology-based society and with the pandemic, more people are working from home. They’re in front of more computers. There’s a need for newer technology and people are getting rid of their old gadgets to make room for the new. Along with e-waste recycling, I’ve been able to offer select repair services and tech support.  

How does Nextdoor help your business plug into your community?

Community is everything to me. It's important to know who's in my community and how we can better provide for each other - no matter if it's on a personal or business level. Nextdoor makes it possible to access that community. For example, someone on Nextdoor recently had a printer they were having issues with. I was able to easily communicate with them to schedule a pickup, and I offered a consultation. Having that instant communication allowed me to not only gain a new customer, but it opened an opportunity for others in the community to reach out if they are having technical issues. This is how you build a stronger community. We all have strengths and when we come together, we become unstoppable.  

Read more about Coco the Geek and her tips for reaching more clients here.

Painted Countertops founder Jay Wadhwani offers neighbors an affordable way to elevate their counters

Atlanta entrepreneur Jay Wadhwani never expected his home improvement project would turn into a full-blown business. But the combination of discovering epoxy-painted countertops and being unable to find a contractor who could do the job paved the way for what is now Painted Countertops. Jay now specializes in painting countertops with epoxy - a resin substance that is “as durable as most stone surfaces” when it’s applied. Painted Countertops is now in its second year of business and Jay credits Nextdoor for helping the business scale in the early stages. 


What does community mean to you?

Community is a close group of people who share a set of common values, goals, or have a relationship in some way. They are usually tied together geographically. Nextdoor helps by strengthening the relationship between our company and our community. 


What advice can you share for other businesses using Nextdoor’s tools?

Make your messaging as personal as possible. That includes using a softer call to action. In your posts, instead of saying, “Visit my website,” ask “What are your thoughts on this? ”Talk to neighbors as you would a friend.

Read more of Jay’s story and get his Nextdoor marketing tips here.


Rita Shelley's Cheeky Spices brings the flavor without the stomach pain

A health ailment didn’t stop Rita Shelley of Ann Arbor, MI from enjoying some of her favorite, spicy dishes. Instead, she began to blend her own spices, made with quality ingredients and free from allergens. What started off as something she offered to her friends and family turned into a dream come true when Rita launched Cheeky Spices at the beginning of the pandemic. She turned to Nextdoor to get the word out and thanks to her community, her business continues to scale.


What impact has the pandemic had on your business?

Prior to the pandemic I was running the consulting business and helping brands from all over the United States grow into their next stage. But then COVID hit. For years I said I wanted to start my own brand, but I didn’t know if I had the right experience or if I had what it takes to do it. But with the pandemic and work being hard to come by, I saw the opportunity and decided to take it and be brave. Fortunately, circumstances lined up pretty well. My business was slowed by the pandemic, but not negatively impacted.  Now 15 local stores carry my products across Michigan.


What does community mean for your business?

As a business owner, my community could be as large as the whole world. But my first steps start in my local, small community. These neighbors are my first customers, my brand ambassadors, and my first line of support. Nextdoor allows me to connect with these people -  not from an advertising point of view, but by building meaningful relationships and having interesting conversations. 

Read more about Cheeky Spices and her local business marketing tips here.

New realtor Danielle Martinez focuses on community relationships to ramp up her business

From running a daycare to working in government, Danielle Martinez has held a number of job titles in pursuit of doing work that made her feel fulfilled. When the pandemic hit, she thought she’d try her hand at real estate. She received her license in the fall of 2020 and sold her first home on Christmas day. As a newer agent, Danielle knew the value of tapping into her community. She leveraged Nextdoor Neighborhood Sponsorships and recommendations to ger her name out. 

How does Nextdoor help you connect with your community? 

Community is my neighbors, small local business, and groups designed to help others.  Nextdoor helped my business plug into the community by giving me access to my immediate neighbors along with neighbors in surrounding areas.  The program helps me keep up to date with issues, events, and help needed by others.  I have been able to pass on knowledge if I have it and provide assistance when I can. I have also been able to help out when someone reaches out by posting they are in need of supplies or food.

What tips can you share for other businesses who are just starting to get their name out?

Post content that is useful and respond to comments and messages immediately. Being quick to respond to questions on Nextdoor has helped with word of mouth.  I had one client who found me on Nextdoor and we worked together on possibly listing his home. Even though he ended up not listing, a few weeks later someone else posted for realtor recommendations and he mentioned me in the comment.

Read more about Danielle Martinez and her branding tips here.


Aliah Husain is a photographer with a mission to empower her clients

Aliah Husain never set out to be a photographer. But after the birth of her son in 2014, she says her world changed. At the time she had a successful career in sales and recruiting, but had always felt like she wasn’t being true to her authentic self. Trusting her intuition, Aliah leaned into her creativity and started Raw Portraiture - a photography business with a mission to empower individuals by helping them embrace their inner beauty. Aliah leveraged the hyper-local nature of Nextdoor to attract local and repeat clients. 


How have you navigated your business through the pandemic?

The pandemic gave people the opportunity to hone in on their personal brands and it created a need for professional, digital photography. Being able to fill that space in the market for people who need it for their businesses has been a real win.

Business itself has been in and out. When we were on lockdown, I wasn’t able to do many shoots. For the shoots I was able to do, it was a completely different vibe. I went from having a studio indoors where I would do all of my client's hair and makeup as well as the photography to doing all socially distanced outdoor photoshoots. Because of this, I’ve found the most creative ways to shoot outdoors - in alleyways, different buildings, out in nature. It’s been a great way to explore my own photography craft.  


What does “community” mean to you?

A community is a group of people who are continuously investing in each other, all the time. That could be time, money, helping each other get business through referrals. We’re all in it to help each other. When it comes to supporting your community, it’s contagious. If you put resources into women-owned businesses - or minority-owned and underrepresented businesses - they’ll be able to go out and continue to have a legacy within their communities.

Read more about Aliah Husain and her local business marketing tips here


Get connected with your community on Nextdoor

As a local business owner, connecting to your community has never been more important. Neighbors know that. In fact, 88% of Nextdoor neighbors shop at a local business at least once a week. Make sure they know about your business and how they can support you. Claim your free Nextdoor Business Page to share your unique story, post important updates, and promote special deals and discounts.


Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting business, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook

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