DC-area small businesses get creative in connecting with clients online

Many D.C.-area entrepreneurs have had to flex their creativity as the coronavirus pandemic shutters their businesses for the foreseeable future. And those whose businesses rely on personal contact are connecting with clients online.

In her last class before nonessential business were ordered to close, Wendy Lai of Fit Body Bootcamp in North Bethesda, Maryland, shared an idea with her clients.

“Hey guys, we’re going to try this virtual boot camp thing. We’re going to upload it so our other members who couldn’t do the workout today can follow along, and we’ll see where it goes,” Lai said.

Lai didn’t realize that is how she would be doing business going forward.

Several times a day, Lai holds workout classes on Zoom, a video conferencing program. In addition, she records classes that subscribed members, and eventually members of the public, can watch on YouTube.

She started by streaming a class live on Facebook; then, she began recording on her phone. Currently, she is using a GoPro camera.

Lai said she feels closer to her clients now than when she saw them in the studio.

“We get to see each other before class (on Zoom). We sit there and say to each other, ‘Oh my God, this is really keeping me sane.’ It’s just nice to hear that. I crave that because it gives me a sense of purpose (that) we’re doing something here,” Lai said.

D.C.-based artist Maggie O’Neill wondered how she could get people, who did not know her work, to take an interest in her colorful paintings without the advantage of visiting her studio at The Wharf in Southwest D.C.

Artist Maggie O’Neill plans to share her proceeds with charities, and she is increasing her presence on social media to connect with clients. (Courtesy Maggie O’Neill)

“I get people up and close with the painting and tell them about it. And, there’s no reason I can’t do that via video, right,” she asked herself.

O’Neill began posting art classes online, showing how to recreate one piece from her popular sign language series. She takes followers behind the scenes of her colorful painting process, and she said that she is donating the proceeds from some sales to those neighbors in a tough spot.

“If I can at least make my money back on the cost to produce, and I can help my friends in the hospitality industry … I mean they are hurting,” O’Neill said.

Proceeds from O’Neill’s current studio inventory sold in the past week are being donated to Jamie Leeds Restaurant Group and Hook Hall Helps. O’Neill said she plans to give to a different initiative each week.

“If you want to help small businesses, you don’t have to buy their product, just share it, or like it or let two or three other people know about it. It’s a small step, but a bunch of little cuts, man, can help. You never know where your next customer will come from,” O’Neill said.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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