In addition to the arrival of the weekly jobs report, we’ve been greeted by some more snow (yay?!?!). Today begins the process to start a reconciliation vote on the Biden administration coronavirus aid package, relief for gig workers and the self-employed, and we wrap things up with some tips on marketing for 2021.
Today’s good news to share is that we’re right back where we were in July/August with business operations and gatherings functioning in Phase 4 with no tier mitigations.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
And So the Process Begins to Pass the Next Coronavirus Aid Package
Senators are preparing for a chaotic, potentially all-night session as Democrats race to lay the groundwork for passing coronavirus relief legislation.
The Senate is expected to pass a budget resolution by the end of the week that will allow Democrats to bypass the 60-vote filibuster, and the need for Republican support, on their coronavirus package proposal. But first, the Senate will need to undergo a marathon session known as a vote-a-rama — the first in more than three years. And unlike the normally tightly controlled Senate, lawmakers will be able to force a vote on anything and stir up political fodder.
As of Wednesday night, there were nearly 550 amendments that had been filed, with that number expected to grow before the hours of back-to-back voting gets underway. If any amendments are adopted, it would require the budget resolution to be sent back to the House, which is staying in session Friday in case they need to pass it a second time.
When, exactly, the vote-a-rama will start is unclear, but senators are eyeing Thursday afternoon. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess, but senators are anticipating a late night, potentially going into Friday morning. “If we do 20-minute votes, and do three an hour, we start at 1 tomorrow, we will get 36 in by 1 a.m.,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), gaming out how long it could take if the Senate sticks to roughly 40 amendment votes similar to 2008, 2013 and 2015.
Republicans are already laying potential political traps as they try to get Democrats to go on the record on controversial issues. With the GOP back in the minority, their ability to force votes is limited, making this week’s free-for-all a rare political opportunity over at least the next two years.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered a preview of the topics that Republicans would bring up, warning that the items he was highlighting were just a “taste.”
“We’ll be getting senators on the record about whether taxpayers should fund checks for illegal immigrants, whether Democrats should raise taxes on small businesses in the midst of this historic crisis and whether generous federal funding should pour into school districts where the unions refuse to let schools open. And this is just a small taste,” he added.
Republicans, for example, are offering amendments to try to box in how school funding can be used in the eventual coronavirus bill. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), two potential 2024 contenders, are offering amendments to try to restrict the ability for funding under the upcoming coronavirus bill from being used by schools that don’t reopen for in-person learning.
Republicans are also targeting a push by President Biden to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour as part of the coronavirus bill. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has filed an amendment to try to block future legislation that would result in a minimum wage “mandate” on private sector businesses, while Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) is taking aim at any future legislation that would change the minimum wage.
McConnell, Rubio, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) filed an amendment related to keeping the Supreme Court at nine justices. Some progressives have championed the idea of expanding the high court, which Republicans view as a potent political issue that plays well with their voters. Republicans have filed a slew of immigration-related amendments, as well as proposals on foreign aid, abortion and a tech shield that has become a top target for former President Trump and conservatives.
New claims for jobless benefits came in a bit less than expected last week though U.S. employment gains remain sluggish. First-time claims for unemployment insurance totaled 779,000 for the week ended Jan. 30, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was below the 830,000 estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones.
The reading was the lowest since Nov. 28 as the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The total represented a drop of 33,000 from the previous week’s downwardly revised count of 812,000.
Continuing claims also continued to drift lower, falling 193,000 from the previous reporting week to 4.6 million. The pandemic-era peak for continuing claims was 24.9 million in early May. Continuing claims data runs a week behind first-time claims.
In addition, the total of those receiving benefits fell sharply, dropping by nearly half a million to 17.8 million. That reflects a continuing decline of those getting benefits under pandemic-related programs that were slightly offset by those on extended benefits.
Last week’s drop in claims came largely due to a decline of more than 55,000 in Illinois, though much of that drop was offset by a gain of more than 46,000 in California, according to unadjusted numbers.
Relief for Gig Workers and Self-Employed
Illinois is reaching out to gig and self-employed workers who may be eligible for another 11 weeks of unemployment benefits — but there’s now more paperwork involved to lessen the chances of fraudulent claims. The stimulus package enacted last spring created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offered 39 weeks of benefits to gig and self-employed workers through Dec. 26. The $900 billion relief legislation signed by President Donald Trump late last year extends that program for 11 weeks, through March 14.
People who exhausted benefits under the program before it expired in late December may be eligible for benefits under the extension, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Wednesday. The state said it started notifying people of the additional weeks and the new requirements this week, based on the contact method they provided to the department. Anyone who files a new claim on or after Jan. 31 is required to provide documentation, like pay stubs or earnings statements, within 21 days of filing an application for benefits.
People previously approved for benefits will need to present documentation within 90 days, though deadlines may be extended for good cause, the state said. Other forms of documentation could include W-2 forms, employer identification numbers, business licenses, tax returns, business receipts, affidavits verifying someone’s self-employment, offer letters from previous employment, affidavits verifying an offer of employment or written business plans or a lease agreement, the state said.
The additional verification, a federal requirement, is a move to cut down on rising unemployment fraud, said Kristin Richard, the state agency’s acting director. “Congress clearly had an awareness around the extent to which the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was being manipulated by fraudsters to access benefits and have tasked the U.S. Department of Labor and state’s unemployment agencies to put some additional safeguards around verification processes,” Richards said in an interview with the Tribune last week.
Illinois said it has stopped nearly 1 million fraudulent unemployment claims from March 1 through mid-January. The state also announced it is participating in a federal program that would relieve some recipients from having to repay benefits that were higher than they should have been. Last summer, several gig workers told the Tribune they owed thousands of dollars back to the state after learning they were overpaid. At the time, the state agency said the issue of overpayments were an unfortunate consequence of the quick rollout of the federal program.
The problem, the state said at the time, was that gig workers and other self-employed claimants were asked to enter their 2019 net income to establish their weekly benefit amount before the state could verify the figures, and some people overstated the amount. It’s unclear who can apply for the waiver, but the process will be on a case-by-case basis, where applicants submit a request to have overpayments waived, Richards said.
All 11 Regions Move to Phase 4 Without Mitigations
Illinois public health officials eased coronavirus restrictions in a southwest region that includes Monroe and Clinton counties Thursday, meaning the entire state is now under the same rules in place this summer under phase four of Governor Pritzker’s reopening plan. The entire state previously reached phase four in late June before the fall resurgence of the coronavirus.
Tips to Make Marketing Easier in 2021
Marketing your business rarely comes easily. There’s always room for improvement and new things to learn. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make marketing a little easier on yourself for 2021.Let’s talk about seven ways to make marketing in 2021 easier — including marketing planning, marketing systems and marketing strategies.
- Use quarters and sprints to plan your marketing.
- Invest in the right tools for the job.
- Focus your attention on results.
- Make customer service first.
- Develop relationships and partnerships.
- Press pause on new and shiny.
- Build your brand.
1. Using quarters and sprints for planning
In most cases, when you think about a tactical marketing plan (which campaigns you’re going to run, when you’re going to run them, what the offers are going to be, and where you’re going to run them), people think of planning on an annual basis. But if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that planning too far in advance can be detrimental to your overall success.
The most effective marketing tactical plan is scheduled every quarter and then executed in two six-week sprints. When you plan quarterly, you get the flexibility to adjust based on your current market conditions.
Whether that’s a new product you were inspired to create, a joint venture that you can take advantage of, or a total market shift (like when restaurants had to go to a fully take-out model in the spring of 2020), quarterly planning keeps you agile.
You execute each quarter in a 6-week sprint. Each of these sprints allows you to focus and do your best work. You can also see what’s performing (and what’s not) to make incremental improvements.
2. Invest in the right tools for the job
With so many freemium marketing tools in the market, it’s easy to minimize your investment in marketing tools. From email marketing to making graphics to scheduling social media, you can do almost everything the free way. But those free programs usually aren’t without their limits.
For example, the popular social media scheduling tool Later has a free tier that allows you to schedule 30 posts per platform per month. If your strategy has more than one post per day, you’ll either have to adjust your strategy to fit within their limitations, manually post, or jump between scheduling tools. You can also upgrade for as little as $15/month to schedule 60 posts per profile. For the price of a take-out burger, you can save yourself headaches every month.
The same is true of email marketing programs, graphic design programs, video hosting — almost any third-party tools you use for your business.
3. Focus on results
There are aspects of your business that you do just because you always have — things like maintaining your Twitter account or running paper coupons in a local mailer. But take the fresh start of 2020 to evaluate your marketing tactics and identify which are working for you and driving results and which are not.
You’ll find what’s working for your online business most often by looking at your analytics. Consider your referral traffic sources and what traffic is leading to conversions. For your offline business, one of the best ways to find out what’s working is to ask, “How did you hear about us?” on your customer satisfaction surveys. If you offer coupons, track unique coupon use by the source to help you measure ROI.
Just as important as the activities that help your business grow are the ones where you are spending time but not getting results. For these activities, evaluate if they’re worth the time and energy you’re putting into them. If they’re activities that you love doing, then assess how you may be able to help them drive more conversions.
Activities that drive results but aren’t in your area of expertise are ideal for outsourcing or delegating. When you uncover activities that you don’t enjoy doing and don’t drive results, then discontinue them. (This advice does not apply to legal requirements, including paying taxes. You have to do that, but you can consider outsourcing.)
4. Make customer service first
While 2020 had many people staying home more, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing, the importance of human connection grew. Customers helped decide which businesses could survive the economic shifts by buying from those businesses that had already gained their trust.
As we move into 2021, continuing to build on that trust will help make your marketing easier. If your customer service was tested in 2020, strengthen your feedback loops, and improve your response times. As part of your customer experience, be sure to proactively ask for feedback through an anonymous survey system where the customer can choose to share their contact information.
When your customer service got a gold star, make sure to make that shine. Ask for reviews, especially on your Google My Business™, Yelp, and social media, as appropriate. These independent third-party reviews help new customers decide to try you while also boosting your SEO rank. Take it a step further and ask your loyal customers for a testimonial or personal recommendation that you can share in your marketing efforts, including your website, on social media in print ads.
5. Develop relationships and partnerships
Customers aren’t the only human connections that are important. The relationships you have with other business owners can provide benefits beyond just increased sales. Here are three ways you can work with other businesses to benefit everyone. Working with other business owners can help your business grow in several ways:
- Create a cooperative program (or two!)
One of the most common ways to build relationships with other business owners is to develop a collaborative program or event. Each of the participating businesses brings an area of expertise, product, and audience to the program. All of your customers who participate in the program experience something new and all of the businesses get new customers.
The types of cooperative programs are endless — from online summits with a deep well of expert speakers to crafters partnering with supply makers to develop and sell DIY kits to restaurants partnering with breweries to do unique meal pairings. You don’t even need to be in the same area to create a great cooperative program!
- Develop an advisory board
Most small businesses don’t have an official board of directors, leaving owners making all the decisions. But by creating an advisory board for your business, you can leverage others’ expertise to help you decide which direction to go.
Advisory board members do not hold an official governance role, nor do they represent shareholders. Your advisory board should include leaders in your industry as well as thought leaders in adjacent sectors. Start by reviewing your network to see who you already know and trust. You can also ask for introductions to others. You can also be on the advisory board for other businesses.
- Identify up-and-coming influencers
Influencer marketing is predicted to be a $15 billion industry by 2022. It can be pretty expensive to work with top influencers (including celebrities and sports stars), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of influencers’ power.
Identify up-and-coming influencers in your niche to work with. If you can start with them early, you may secure coverage for your business for less and develop a long-term relationship that grows as the influencer grows.
6. Press pause on new and shiny
This isn’t new or fresh advice for 2021, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Don’t feel like you have to jump on the latest marketing trends and fads just because it’s the hot topic on marketing podcasts. Over the last few years, we’ve seen many new shiny platforms and tactics that can take a lot of effort to convert to a real ROI for most businesses, including TikTok, Instagram Reels and Pinterest stories.
If you want to try something new, by all means, do! But make sure that your traditional and top-performing marketing programs are stable before you throw your energy into something new. That includes your website and search engine placement and email marketing strategy — two less volatile platforms based on market trends.
Here are four steps to introducing a new marketing tactic to your strategy, whether that’s a new platform or just a new tool for that platform:
- Define your goals and how you will measure success
- Set a timeline for testing
- Understand how it fits with your brand
- Plan at least five pieces of collateral before you launch
7.Build your brand
After a tumultuous 2020, customers want to work with brands that fit with their values and that they can count on in 2021 and beyond. How does a customer know about your values? You communicate your values through your brand, which goes far beyond just your logo and color choices.
It includes the tone you use in writing, how you handle customer service, and who you choose to work with. Now is a great time to revisit your brand and develop a brand guide — even if you’ve done it before. Consider how things have changed in your business and in your market as a whole to use your brand to connect with your ideal customers.
Having a complete brand guide can make all of your marketing much easier because it allows you to ask (and quickly answer) the question, “Does this fit with my brand?” Share your brand guide with your internal team and any subcontractors and freelancers so they can evaluate their decisions to keep your whole business moving in the same direction.
2020 was one for the history books, whether your business was booming or busting. But with these tips, you can make your marketing easier in 2021 and beyond.
Program Notices & Reminders
Join the US Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, February 11, at 12 PM ET for the first episode of CO— Roadmap for Rebuilding: Starting a New Business, an interactive discussion focused on giving you the information and insight you need to start up smartly and smoothly, even under tough conditions. RSVP here: https://events.uschamber.com/COStartingaNewBusiness?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=SFMC&utm_campaign=MO_Newsletter&utm_content=2021-02-04&i=NwZEz7aSH9wgs-lRKEBhD5D_oCWot-_z
Illinois DCEO’s Office of Regional Economic Development
Join DCEO for a webinar to learn more about the US Small Business Administration’s Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This federal forgivable COVID-19 Relief Loan Program will help Illinois small businesses keep their employees on payroll during this unprecedented time.
Date: February 5, 2021
Time: 10:00 am
Presenters: Jacqui Bevelheimer, West Central Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=e7bfb7c60ada7f7a37a90e00da70e3d0f
Date: February 9, 2021
Time: 2:00 pm
Presenters: Kala Lambert, Southeast Regional Manager of Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Aly Grady, Central Regional Manager of Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ece784409dbfe8e2ff55a7a1253ba9088
Date: February 10, 2021
Time: 10:00 am
Presenter: Tracey Glenn, Southwest Regional Manager for Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=edf5666e7f568ba6b693af980d224e132
Date: February 11, 2021
Time: 2:00 pm
Presenter: Joe McKeown, Northeast Senior Account Manager for Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ed0fa7b16a8d5532fecc820656415fd48
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
1st draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/first-draw-ppp-loans
First draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
2nd draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans
Second draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
SBDC at JJC Update
Quick Books (with Annette Szobar)
February 10th 2pm
Learn why keeping track of your finances is important, what information can you get from QuickBooks, and which version should you get! Join independent entrepreneur and small business expert Annette Szobar who will help you solve your QuickBooks problems.
SEO (with Jason McCoy)
February 17 at 2pm
More consumers are doing research and shopping online than ever before due to circumstance, convenience, and cost. Businesses that wish to remain relevant and profitable need to adapt to the shift in consumer behavior. Creating optimized content for your website that will deliver interested consumers is critical now more than ever. Crafting a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan is imperative and second only to building a website in ‘getting your business online’.
Starting Your Business in Illinois
February 23rd at 11am
Thinking about starting a business in Illinois? This informative workshop helps entrepreneurs understand many of the steps and requirements. In this no-cost overview of Starting Your Business in Illinois, we will touch on many aspects of your business plan, including legal, accounting, banking, marketing, and sales.
Starting Your Business in Illinois Webinar (ecenterdirect.com)
Finally, we would like to ask that you take a few minutes to fill out a new survey that we’ve put together. This member survey is intended to gather feedback on the continuing issues, opportunities, and perceptions based around covid, the economy, and your business.
As we move forward during the pandemic and shifting political landscapes, please share your feedback so that we can best serve our membership.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry