Effective business outreach during COVID-19


Businesses in all sectors will be impacted by COVID-19 in some manner. In order to support them effectively, economic developers will need to do some outreach and consultation to assess these impacts and determine the needs of the businesses in their communities.

This will be particularly difficult at this moment, as businesses struggle with various priorities. Here are some tips to connect with your businesses effectively.

Business Retention & Expansion (BR+E) is a concept that can be activated for times of crisis. It is a structured and community-based approach to business and economic development. It helps communities learn about issues facing local businesses and sets priorities to address these needs where possible to help strengthen the economy. It is important to recognize that few communities can do everything they would like to do to support their existing businesses.

1. Work with your partners: BR+E is a Team Sport

Partnerships are essential to a successful BR+E project. Especially now as survey fatigue is very real. There are many people sending out surveys, looking for information to try to assist without an agenda (branding or promotion). Position yourself as a trusted entity in the community, not the face of an organization and let people know that you will share the information collected, back with them. For electronic surveys, a recommended subject line is: Business Impact of COVID-19, YourTown, (start date – end date), (your logo) will help get the results needed.

Coordinate locally & regionally for maximum value and to avoid duplication of efforts!
If you haven’t sent out your survey yet, ask partners to send the survey link to executives and encourage a response.

  • Working with partners will help you get the best results- the more partners the better.

If you have not set up a Resource Network, now is the time! A Resource Network is group of people from various agencies that may provide you with useful information or assistance to businesses. People in your Resource Network should be able to respond to issues and concerns identified in the business surveys. The best practice is to have your Resource Network in place before starting the business interviews but if not, develop it now.

2. Be ready for high volumes of requests for follow up

In a typical survey, we expect that nearly half of the businesses may request some type of follow-up. In the current crisis it will likely be almost all businesses. A Resource Network will enable the community to respond quickly with the appropriate information and resources. Slow, inadequate response can undermine the success of your community supports.

So, identify the local, federal, and provincial government ministries and agencies, local colleges and universities, and anyone who is actively involved in business development (e.g. banks) who can keep you current on new programs as they become available. It is important to ensure that these groups are aware of your efforts and that there will likely be requests for their services from the local businesses.

3. Learn from other organizations

Here are two of the many great examples of communities trying to communicate with businesses and undertake actions to provide support:

Stay uptodate on best practices

Join the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) Facebook group or the Business Retention and Expansion Network on LinkedIn – they just released a great survey tool yesterday (Version 6).

Want to learn more about BR+E check out our coordinators manual here and the BRE Coach’s playbook from BlaneCanada.




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