Lambda Vodka founders and TD Bank small business clients, Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon, know a thing or two about growing a thriving business amid a global pandemic.
The business partners, soul mates and best friends founded their vodka brand out of their love for the LGBTQ2+ community and in early 2020, decided to open a lounge. Then COVID-19 happened.
Richard and Charles rolled with the pandemic, creating outdoor seating, even adding a dining menu so that they could bring in customers during this trying time. The community came out in full force to support the lounge and they thrived.
Now, the inspiring pair wants to pay it forward and support other small businesses. Here are 5 tips to all small business owners, who want to be pandemic proof, want to grow their life's work, or even inspire the community they serve.
1 – It's just business
Take the emotions out of it.
"I know with my partner and husband, we can tend to intertwine the personal and professional," says Charles.
He adds that you should never bring business home with you or let it invade into your personal life, even if you are starting a business with your partner. This advice also lends itself to starting a business with friends and family.
"Focus on what's best for the business at hand and not the approach you're going to have with your business partner," he said.
(RELATED: Soul Mates took a Shot at Starting a Vodka Brand & Ended up Creating the Spirit for the LGBTQ2+ Community)
2 – Complete transparency
Everyone involved in your business should have complete insight into what they are involved in.
"It's their business just as much as it is yours and their feedback into the business is what often makes it successful," says Richard.
Differing perspectives and diverse opinions will help reach a more diverse customer base.
It's also important to have everyone on the same page when making major decisions for your business.
(RELATED: Meet the Game-Changing Founders of Lambda Vodka – The Spirit for the LGBTQ2+ Community)
3 – Take baby steps
"Never bite off more than you can chew," says Charles.
He says there is nothing wrong with having set steps and doing them one at a time.
Then, you can see the outcome of each step and move on from there or change your focus.
As part of those baby steps, Richard and Charles worked with TD Bank and Steve Garibell, LGBTQ2+ Business Development Officer at TD, who introduced the duo to the NYC Department of Small Business Services, among other local organizations, to help them build a comprehensive business plan and strategy.
This growth and support are intangibles the duo says were selling points about banking with TD.
4 – Don't forget to breathe
"Often times, we forget to take a moment and take time for ourselves," says Richard.
You can't run a successful small business if you're not healthy and able to do so.
With that in mind, the duo suggest regular check ins with your business partner, even those to make sure all of the owners are feeling good about the business and about how it's affecting their lives.
5 – Surround yourself with a team that knows as much, if not more, than you do
Prior to Lambda Lounge, Richard and Charles had no prior experience in the restaurant industry.
"So, we decided to bring in employees who had knowledge and had been in the industry a lot longer than us," Charles said.
These employees gave the duo valuable advice and how to run the lounge on a daily basis.
Making an impact
To help inspiring small business owners like Richard and Charles, and so many others, TD Bank recently announced the establishment of a $100 million equity fund in support of minority-owned small businesses.
The goal is to combat racial inequities and provide opportunity in underserved communities, while also providing small business loans and technical assistance.
The equity fund stems from a larger commitment made by TD Bank Group last year to advance racial equity for its Colleagues, Customers and Communities.
Three quarters of the capital ($75 million) will be funded through a Specialized Small Business Investment Companies (SSBICs) initiative, to be launched later this year. SSBICs provide financial assistance to disadvantaged businesses that are minority-owned, women-owned or are in areas of need.
The other $25 million will be specifically earmarked for Black- and Latinx-owned small businesses, funded through Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are notably skilled in helping businesses in communities of color secure financing.
"The pandemic has highlighted the depth of disparities that exist in communities of color, especially as it relates to small businesses, which serve as the backbone of our economy," Greg Braca, President and CEO, TD Bank, AMCB.
Greg added, "The equity fund will infuse capital and help stabilize these small businesses. But it's also about contributing to job creation, stimulating economic development, revitalizing these vibrant communities and, just as important, breaking the cycle of disinvestment which systemically prevents communities of color from thriving. Small businesses are the heart of our communities – especially communities of color – and it's up to us to help them succeed."