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Black small business owners are optimistic about 2021

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A Black small business owner wearing a face mask stands near the entrance of his business.

FG Trade via Getty Images

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A new survey by Bank of America found that roughly half of Black small business owners think they’ll bring in more revenue this year, and a quarter say they plan on hiring.

So far, 2021 hasn’t been all that bad for Sherard Duvall, who runs OTR Media Group, a video production company in South Carolina. A lot of its work producing short films dried up last year, so it pivoted to building and installing live streaming equipment.

So far, his revenue is where it was a year ago.

“I don’t want to speak too soon, so I’m going to try to let this first quarter go by,” Duvall said. “If this continues, on into April, I’ll feel a little more comfortable about that.”

Now he’s hearing back from some of the clients who walked away last year.

“A lot of those folks are coming back and saying, ‘Hey, we still want to do it, but we want to retool it for today’s climate,'” Duvall said.

Over half of business owners surveyed said they have had to reinvent their businesses like Duvall did.

AJ Barkley, head of Neighborhood Lending with Bank of America, said that helps explain why a quarter of Black business owners say they plan to hire more staff.

“I mean, there were some that were doing restaurants and now that are catering, for instance,” Barkley said. “Now, do you need to hire when you’re catering? Probably more than you did when you had a restaurant, perhaps.”

The survey found that more than half of Black small business owners say their growth has been limited because it’s been hard to get capital.

“I’ve talked to many business owners that said, ‘I’ve applied for an SBA loan in the past, I got denied,’ ” said Apollo Woods, the founder of OKC Black Eats, a restaurant marketing firm in Oklahoma City.

Woods said the current round of the Paycheck Protection Program has done a decent job targeting businesses owned by people of color. But he said don’t forget that during the first round, Black business owners had a hard time getting loans.

“The trust isn’t there,” Woods said. “So you have to build this level of trust to get the business owner to want to give the energy and effort again to try.”

Many Black-owned banks are trying to step into that breach. Robert James II with Carver State Bank in Savannah, Georgia, said his bank’s hiring to try to do that.

“We need people who can help us beat the bushes and find those great loan opportunities to make so we can get the capital out,” James said.

The Bank of America survey also found that over 80% of Black business owners said they had to work harder to achieve the same level of success.

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