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COVID-19 / Ecommerce / Philly Tech Week / POC in Tech / Startups

Black-owned businesses should adapt to ecommerce, says Katika’s founder

Jason Coles shares his tips on how Black-owned businesses can thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic by using digital tools.

Katika founder and CEO Jason Coles during his PTW20 event. (Screenshot via Zoom)

Ecommerce has seen rocket ship-like growth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when brick-and-mortar shops closed and consumers shifted to buying goods online.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has decimated Black-owned businesses on the whole: Over 40% went inactive during the first few months of the pandemic, double the rate of white-owned businesses.

Jason Coles wants to reverse the latter trend, and thinks ecommerce is one way to do it. His company, Katika, is a platform that helps people find products and services from Black-owned businesses locally and internationally with an office in Johannesburg, South Africa.

For the founder and CEO’s Philly Tech Week 2020 presented by Comcast event “Black Business E-Adoption During COVID-19,” Coles shared ways Black-owned businesses can establish themselves online and better participate in ecommerce. (Note that some of his tips could also be used by business owners of other backgrounds who are interested in ecommerce.)

Incorporate your business online.

A factor contributing to Black-owned businesses’ disproportionate decline during the pandemic is that government loans only made it to a disproportionate percentage of them. Many of those businesses missed out on accessing that capital because they didn’t have the right infrastructure to appease the loan-making powers that be. And sole proprietors — which make up 95% of Black-owned businesses — weren’t eligible for PPP funding at first; they became eligible only after the first round passed. (Don’t discount systemic racism, too.)

“The most important thing for applying for [Paycheck Protection Program] loans was having proper infrastructure,” said Coles, whose Katika was recently accepted into Philly Startup Leaders’ second Founded In Philly accelerator.

Coles said doing things like incorporating your business and establishing your employer identification number can help — and can now be done online with sites like RocketLawyer, which he prefers to use over competitors because it’s Black owned.

“Traditionally, these things would be done by paper. Now everything is electronic. You can do all of these things online,” he said.

Online tools can help make branding easier.

Coles recommends building your brand identity with logos and graphics. Fiverr and Upwork can help you connect with freelancers and Canva can help you create your own graphics.

Social media is a tool to better understand your audience.

Using social media and creating customer profiles to reflect your audience can help business owners better reach their customers.

“Look at your product and who your audience is, and that’s how you will understand what social media platforms you will use,” Coles said. “Who’s my audience? What do they buy? When do they shop?”

Your packaging is a key part of how you connect with customers.

“Product, messaging and packaging are important,” he said. “When people open a package, they should receive some kind of message” about who you are and what your company stands for.

Online retailers can help with the shipping process.

Coles recommends using sites like Stickermule, Alibaba and Rollo to buy products like labels to support your shipping process.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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