Heidi Melancon

Heidi Melancon is regional director for the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

I grew up in Luling, a small town located in St. Charles Parish. I am one of six children and come from a large extended family. I attended the public schools in the area and had a happy and idealistic childhood despite my mother being widowed at a very young age. This profound experience certainly taught my family about hard work and having to grow up rather quickly. My mother has been the guiding force in my life and taught me about resiliency and always having a positive attitude. I attended USL and worked my way through college. Not only did Lafayette become a place to attend college, it became my home where I met my husband and was fortunate to marry into another large extended family. We have been married for 26 years and have two wonderful sons.

Right out of college I had the opportunity of working for a small business organization based in Poitiers, France. One of the business owners involved in that organization approached me about starting a company for him in the United States, which certainly piqued my interest in entrepreneurship and honed my skills in helping small-business owners. I began working at the Small Business Development Center in 2005 when my husband decided to start a small business. The parallel of being a small-business owner and helping those in the same situation certainly accelerated my consulting skills and connectivity with the numerous clients that I have helped over the years. I was named the director of the center in 2014 and continue to work hard in achieving the mission of the organization while serving eight parishes of Acadiana.

The uncertainty of our economy and future is a stressor for all small-business owners. They do not know what the new normal will bring and are still waiting on guidance from local, state and federal government officials on when full operations can resume. It is a cash flow balancing act of when consumer behavior will resume to full levels. It is certainly a challenge. The disaster programs have brought some relief, but as the pandemic is enduring longer than initial predictions, no one is sure if the funds will sustain in correlation with how the programs were designed.

Inherently, running a small business has always been viewed as idyllic in having control of one’s time and finances, but now all can see it is not the case when disasters strike or in the case of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The spotlight that business owners have been thrust into as a result of COVD-19 has brought to the forefront challenges that they face each day such as employee relations, staffing, access to capital and the singular responsibility of their business with the impact of the decisions that they have to make for the short and long term. There isn’t a paycheck waiting for them, and it can be overwhelming in having to figure out how to operate in this new normal.

Because restaurants depend on daily transactions, they are one of the most vulnerable during this pandemic. Not only considering the economic fallout, the pandemic ushered in other considerations such as food safety and sanitation practices. The business model is to attract diners with menu choices, aesthetics and the ambience of a great atmosphere, but all of that went to the wayside during the last few months. Restaurateurs were faced with uncertainty of not only worrying about when operations can continue to full capacity but, quite frankly, they are having to compete with the kitchen table. Consumers began to eat at home and got back to the basics of eating as a family not just in Acadiana but everywhere. This is not to diminish other businesses and industries who are also facing similar challenges.

Planning for the future is the most impactful thing that a small-business owner can do at this time. Whether disaster funds were received or not, a cash flow analysis can be helpful in planning out the next three months of operations and to make sure adequate capital is on hand. Be open to new opportunities and consider expanding into other services that may not have been worth the effort in the past but could open up new revenue streams going forward. This is the time for recovery and evaluating your business model in developing new strategies that will help see you through these trying times.

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Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.