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A Worldwide Pandemic Helps Reveal the Truth Behind Working with Small Businesses

By: Christine Cunneen

As the owner of a small business, it is probably not surprising that I have strong feelings about the unique value small businesses bring to the table for their employees, communities, and clients and customers. However, it has never been more apparent to me than over the past few months, as we have faced a global pandemic and economic crisis, the scales of which we have never before experienced.

Many of us have known about, discussed, and experienced the ideals and advantages of working with a small business. Small businesses tend to be more focused on, and driven by, relationships, often resulting in stronger teams and exemplary customer service. They are flexible and nimble, with the capacity to adjust to challenges and changes quickly. They also tend to be more creative, dependable, agile, and passionate about their “why.” Additionally, small businesses generally have strong cultures, with a passion that can only exist through the robust history and story of the owner. Small business proponents would likely agree that this is a fair assessment of these ideals and may offer specific, but sporadic, examples of employee benefits and initiatives, outstanding customer service, customized offerings, and creative solutions. However, the frequency at which we have seen these ideals in action and in varying forms has increased drastically throughout the pandemic.

This was brought to the forefront for me recently through a few notable situations. As COVID-19 impacted the world in ways we could have never anticipated before, we saw it bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. It was crucial for everyone to have the ability to shift quickly—large and small businesses alike, teachers, doctors and nurses, and parents, among others. While we saw some larger corporations struggle with moving to a remote workforce situation, grapple with security issues, and contend with regulatory mandates, smaller businesses did not appear to struggle quite as much. Maybe this seems counterintuitive, as large businesses certainly have more than enough resources. However, if we think about small business ideals, we find that it’s not counterintuitive at all.

With our small business accustomed to being flexible and nimble, we had the tools in place and readily available to make those shifts quickly. For example, as a highly client-driven, service company, we were able to equip our staff to work remotely and implement new security protocols almost instantaneously. We continued to deliver the service to which our clients were familiar throughout the entire transition process and afterwards. We were able to quickly identify and react to challenges as they arose because there was not a barrage of red tape and countless meetings and approvals. There was a quick, but thorough leadership meeting, decisions made, and progress forward.

Additionally, in an industry that is heavily reliant on other companies (for employment verifications), universities (for educational verifications), courts (for criminal checks), laboratories (for drug screenings), and DMVs (for driving records), all of which were closing at a rapid pace, we were able to innovate and find ways to work-around these challenges. Many of these work-arounds were based on long-lasting relationships with vendors and other partners that we had built and maintained throughout the years. In most instances, we were able to complete our services and provide a background or drug screening report to our clients with the fast turnaround time they require. We put forth that extra effort for our clients because they are what it all comes down to for us. They need to ensure a safe workplace and our job is to help them do that, no matter what.

These steps seemed natural to us. Yet, we saw others seemingly hide behind their COVID-19 mask and make excuses, claiming they could not fulfill their obligations for one reason or another. We never looked for excuses, only for solutions to the unique circumstances in which we found ourselves. I have never been more proud of our resiliency and determination as a team.

This is not to say that larger companies can’t get the job done. Of course, they can and do. It is also not to say that you can’t have a great relationship with someone at a larger company. I have plenty of them. What I have realized is that oftentimes, their hands are tied. As such, their inability to help is not their fault at all, but rather a by-product of the layers of red tape and restrictions found within larger organizations. Whatever the reason though, the end results are often the same—generally, less than adequate communications and outcomes.

During the pandemic, I saw the effects of small business ideals in another situation.  As most of us are aware, the Paycheck Protection Program, while theoretically beneficial for small businesses, logistically, was a nightmare for most. For the first round, I applied through my bank, which is a large bank and one I have worked with for many years. I submitted my application on time and did everything I was required to do. Yet, when I asked for updates, I barely got a response. And, when I didn’t get the loan, there was no explanation whatsoever. As their long-time customer, I deserved more. For the second round of funding, I was able to work with a local credit union. The entire experience was different. They guided me through each step and kept me informed throughout the process. As if that wasn’t enough, my application was also approved.

This got me thinking that it wasn’t just about getting the money. Why was the process so difficult the first time around? It was the same process, yet the level of care and guidance I received the second time could not compare to the first. Again, not to mention, I actually received the desired end result as well. And then I remembered what I already know—small businesses not only get the job done, but they do so in a way that makes you feel as if you matter. That is exactly what I experienced with the local credit union.

Again, this is nothing new, at least not for me and for countless other small business owners. What has been revealing is the extent to which the ideals of small business have played a part in this pandemic. My hope is that this increased exposure to the benefits of working with small businesses will remind people not to discount us simply because of our size. And instead, to remember that what we offer is far larger than our size and far more valuable.


Christine Cunneen is the CEO of Hire Image.  She is Past Chair of the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA) and a SHRM member, serving on the advocacy and legislative committees.  Cunneen has a BBA in accounting, is a CPA, and has been in the HR industry for 14 years. She is a frequent speaker at events educating employers and other professionals about background screening and is often quoted for her expertise.

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