Path Made Clear Blog

A Heart for Small Business: Amanda Brinkman Talks COVID-19 & Revolution

A Heart for Small Business: Amanda Brinkman Talks COVID-19 & Revolution

We recently reached out to Amanda Brinkman, co-host and executive producer of Small Business Revolution - Main Street, currently in its fifth season. Small Business Revolution - Main Street is a critically acclaimed television series that reinvigorates communities, one small business at a time. Amanda and her team of experts work one-on-one with struggling small business owners to provide them with the knowledge and resources they need to turn their businesses around. Beyond her work on the show, Amanda is the Chief Brand Officer at Deluxe, a Forbes contributor, public speaker and mom to a 8-year-old little girl.

We are inspired by Amanda's story and her heart for small business and wanted to get a better understanding of the woman behind the cause. If there were any doubts about Amanda's commitment, her willingness to accept our request for interview and take the time to thoroughly answer our questions is a testament to her dedication, particularly at a time when small businesses have been negatively impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Q&A with Amanda Brinkman

Aaron: Amanda, many know you from the hit HULU series, Small Business Revolution - Main Street. In that show you help to transform small businesses and the lives of small business owners with the goal of making a larger, positive impact on the towns they serve. How did it all begin?

Amanda: I’ve been fortunate enough to have inspired a movement in my current role at Deluxe. In 2015, we were celebrating Deluxe’s 100-year anniversary. When I started at the company, I found that many people only knew Deluxe for our check business. Obviously, as the inventor of the check, that makes sense. But Deluxe also serves millions of small businesses with their marketing and operations services every year. Instead of just doing an ad campaign, I passionately believed that the best way to change perceptions and raise awareness for Deluxe amongst small businesses would be to do something truly GOOD for them. The vision from the beginning was to create a movement. The number one thing small businesses need is for people to support them. What if we could inspire that? Could we tell the stories of small business all with the hopes to inspire more people to support the small businesses within their communities? Storytelling was key - when you hear a small business owner’s story - you want to support them.

So, we decided to set off across the country to tell the stories of 100 small businesses throughout our 100th year through a beautiful photo and short film documentary series called, The Small Business Revolution. We created a capstone piece - a longer form documentary stressing the important role small businesses play in our economy, our country, our neighborhoods and communities. The momentum and response was astounding - we reached twelve times more people with that film series than we would have reached with paid media. And it wasn’t about us. It was about the kinds of businesses we are honored to serve every day. It was small business first, brand second. What I love about that is that while this exposure through earned and social media meant Deluxe did “Well” against our brand awareness goals, on our way to achieving that, we also did immense GOOD for the small business community. We were, in fact, proving a company can do both.

Six years later, the movement has gained even more traction and the concept and execution has evolved. While we were going across the country, telling these stories, we saw that nowhere were small businesses more under siege than in small towns. With big box stores moving in on the edge of town, online competition and main streets being rerouted around the historic downtowns for ease of travel - these “mom and pop” shops are suffering. And the real risk is that our small businesses are what MAKE our small towns and communities unique. We had to do something about it, and at that point The Small Business Revolution - Main Street series was born. The concept is that each year we ask people to nominate their favorite small town and Deluxe will invest $500,000 in revitalizing the winning town’s Main Street. We do this transformation by working with the small businesses. Deluxe provides marketing makeovers, physical improvements and financial advice to the small businesses and invests in aesthetic improvements to the Main Street. We film the transformations in an original series so other small businesses and small towns could learn from the marketing and operational advice we share in the show.

We are now filming Season 5 and I have to say, as we’ve traveled across the country these last five years, meeting small businesses in small towns, we’ve seen the type of movement we’ve inspired. We’ve seen businesses and towns who haven’t won doing amazing things because they were inspired just by our team’s visit to their town. For me to travel to these towns and hear stories of businesses, like how Jack and Jill who own FauxyFurr Vintage in Arlington, Washington watched the show and were inspired to open their own brick and mortar store, those stories are inspiring and make my team and I realize that what we’re doing, is really making a difference in people’s lives. The show is available on HULU, Prime Video and streams online at SmallBusinessRevolution.org.

A Message for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19

Aaron: With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the US, many families who own small businesses have serious concerns about their futures. What message do you have for these families?

Amanda: I would tell them that you didn’t start your business from a place of weakness – you started your business because you are strong and had something you wanted to bring the world. Go back to that place of strength and power through this. Business is a constantly evolving organism. While this is particularly stressful on the business (and humans!), you’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit to flow with the changes. Focus on what your community needs, what this situation calls for, and adapt your business to help people during these difficult times.

Speaking of helping people, when the COVID-19 crisis hit, it hit small businesses especially hard. Our hearts were so heavy for them and we were so moved by the inspiring stories we were seeing from the Small Business Revolution community about entrepreneurs who were not backing down but actually stepping up to help others! In response, we started a story sharing series called “Small Business, Big Heart” where we interview small businesses who are doing extraordinary things for their communities in the face of this pandemic. It is amazing to also see how businesses are truly pivoting their business model while paying it forward. In a time where they have every reason to fear for the loss of their own business, instead we are seeing entrepreneurs step up and help in disproportionate ways. This is the heart we have always seen in small businesses. We are honored to share their stories and highlight the fundraising (i.e. Go Fund Me campaigns) efforts for each of the businesses to help them survive and continue their important work in the community. Their stories are featured online and being shared across Small Business Revolution social channels.

Amanda Gets Personal

Aaron: Women and moms throughout the country face daily challenges trying to balance work and life, particularly now in the face of so much uncertainty. How do you approach this challenge in your own life?

Amanda: Not well. I would love advice from others! I’m kidding (not kidding). I try to remind myself that there is no such thing as balance. Especially now – all of our worlds as mothers are literally in the same square footage! We are teachers, cooks, cleaners, mothers – oh yeah, and working full time! When it comes to my family, we have found that having set times when I am completely off limits for requests and a dedicated room where I go to “work” has helped with boundaries. But, I also make sure that early in the mornings before I start work for the day, my daughter and I have “choice time” where she gets to choose what we do together for an hour. It gives her dedicated time and attention – two things I have learned are vital for kids (and adults ;)

Aaron: Beyond your advocacy on behalf of small businesses, you're also known as a powerful speaker and marketing expert. Can you tell us a little bit about the road that got you here and what inspired you to do what you do today?

Amanda: Well, thank you! I grew up in a household where giving back and volunteering was important. I always knew I wanted to do something that helped others when I grew up. But I was also attracted to the field of marketing - production, creative, and design - although advertising didn’t seem like the most obvious choice for “doing good." One day in high school, my teacher and I were discussing the classic “what field are you going to study?” question as I was considering colleges. So, I voiced my concern - that I wanted to do something that helped others. I told him that non-profit work seemed like the most obvious choice, but that I was intrigued by the field of creative marketing. He responded, without missing a beat, “But Amanda, if people who want to do good in the world only go to work for non-profits, don’t we limit the impact business can have on spreading goodness in the world?” With that slight paradigm shift, I started my career-long quest to prove that for-profit companies can also do good in the world. Throughout my career, I have learned that companies can “Do Well by doing good” - it was even the topic of my TEDx talk last year. Brand and marketing is the heartbeat of our organizations and I love being able to do work that initiates brand action for making the world a better place.

Aaron: Along the path of life there are many ups and downs. Would you be open to telling us a little bit about some of the more difficult moments in your life? What have you had to overcome to become the woman that you are today?

Amanda: Early in my career I had a terrible public speaking fail. I was working at a prestigious advertising agency and we were rehearsing our pitch for an important new client. It was a big deal that I was being included. I was young and the only woman on the pitch team. I made the mistake of memorizing my part of the presentation. When it was time to present, my mind went blank and I completely froze in front of the entire leadership team, including the namesake of the agency. It was mortifying. Absolutely horrific. I was pulled off the pitch and it hurt my reputation with a few of the leaders.

What I learned from this unfortunate event was that although the worst had happened, it didn’t kill me. I continued to rise in my career and now I LOVE public speaking! (It also taught me never to try and memorize my talks!) While I hated that it happened (it was so embarrassing), it also took the power out of ever fearing a moment like that again because I had gotten to the other side and everything ended up just fine. Take that, fear!

Aaron: Of all the influences in your life, which ones left the biggest mark on you and why?

Amanda: I have learned so much from travel. From the people you meet, the different cultures, landscapes, customs, cuisines, history…traveling has rounded out my view of the world and my perspective immensely. As we grow and evolve it is so helpful to open our minds to different ways of seeing the world. I still have so much more learning ahead of me and many more places to go!

Fear As Fuel

Aaron: Our small business, Path Made Clear, offers daily encouragement and inspiration for women and families. Where does your inspiration and energy come from? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Amanda: My favorite quote is one from Lauren Thatcher Ulrich: “Well-behaved women seldom make history." Now, this sentiment had a different contextual reference when first stated in 1976. But, what I have always taken from this quote is that if I’m not working on something that scares me a little bit - something that if it is not successful, could get me fired - then it’s not bold enough, it’s not brave enough and it won’t make a difference in the end. I don’t want to work to just work. I love being a mom, but I don’t think that is my only calling. I think we are all called to play a specific role in helping others and making the world a more loving and inclusive place. I feel like I have a responsibility to keep doing work that truly matters – that is what keeps me going!

Aaron: Amanda, thank you. How can people stay connected with you

Amanda: Find me on Instagram or Facebook. My handle is @amandakbrinkman.

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