Small Businesses Staying Afloat During COVID, Due to Low-Interest Loans from Northwest Native Development Fund and Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund

A Message From Wells Fargo.
By Jessica Pacek and Hector Batista for Wells Fargo

It’s not until she says it out loud that Roxanne Best truly realizes all of the different jobs she does. “I always think, ‘Wow, how do I do all of that?” Best said. Years ago, she was a scuba diving instructor and filmed students’ underwater trips, developing a knack for photography and videography. She then worked for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation’s casino and started her photography business on the side. Eventually, it grew into her full-time job.

Like most businesses during the pandemic, Roxanne Best’s photography business struggled. But like she has done for most of her life, she pivoted to another one of her passions: wellness.

Her business, Roxtography, has evolved to include yoga and stand-up paddleboarding yoga classes as well. Best also consults and teaches marketing and social media through Northwest Native Development Fund’s, or NNDF, Indianpreneurship course and other organizations. A large part of Best’s small business includes photographing conferences for organizations supporting Native American communities.

But when the pandemic began, many of these opportunities were abruptly suspended. “In a matter of two weeks, everything I had in my budget for income in 2020 was gone because no one was doing photo shoots, and in-person yoga classes were not happening,” said Best, who is a single mom to her two sons. “Anybody in that position would start to lose their mind a little bit. You kind of hunker down and think, ‘What now? What am I going to do?’”

Last summer, Best combined her love of teaching, yoga, and the water by offering stand-up paddleboarding yoga classes. Photo: Roxanne Best

‘Entrepreneurs are trying to navigate a tough time’

Best began teaching online classes through NNDF and other organizations, but her income was still far from what she projected for 2020. She reached out to NNDF, a nonprofit community development financial institution, or CDFI, that provides Native Americans with access to capital and financial and entrepreneurial education in areas such as bookkeeping, business planning, and budgeting. Wells Fargo recently provided NNDF with a $500,000 grant from the Open for Business Fund, which launched last year with gross processing fees the bank would have received from the federal government for lending through the Paycheck Protection Program. To help entrepreneurs recover, Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund is investing $400 million in organizations like CDFIs that provide needed capital, technical support, and long-term resiliency programs for small businesses, particularly those owned by underrepresented individuals.

Photo: Roxanne Best

“NNDF is a great organization and represents our touchpoint with tribal communities and geographies with which we’re very familiar,” said Dwight Prevo, Community Relations senior consultant for Wells Fargo in Seattle. “Being able to assist these businesses, whether on or off the reservation, has been rewarding. NNDF has effective leadership, and with the resources Wells Fargo has and our relationship there, it makes for a great opportunity to support individual businesses and the community.” NNDF used the grant to implement its Small Business Mercy Loan program to provide working capital loans to small businesses like Best’s. “The Open for Business Fund grant has allowed folks to be able to do things they couldn’t have done before,” said Ted Piccolo, executive director of NNDF. “Roxanne is just one example. We have been able to get those dollars out and into the hands of people. It’s really a godsend to some people. They’re able to get this inexpensive capital, as entrepreneurs are trying to navigate a tough time, when everything is still so much up in the air, and yet this particular fund was able to do it.”

Roxanne Best started her photography and videography career while working as a scuba diving instructor and filming students’ underwater trips. Photo: Roxanne Best

‘All of a sudden, I wasn’t stressed about the everyday things and bills’

Best received a loan of about $6,000, which also inspired her to apply for and receive grants. She used the funding to pay her bills and purchase new equipment to teach online and pivot her business. “As soon as that loan happened, all of a sudden, I wasn’t stressed about the everyday things and bills, and I was able to focus on the big picture again,” Best said.

Tips from Roxanne Best and NNDF on recovering from the pandemic

  1. Understand the purpose of your business to find alternate ways to deliver your product.

  2. Be flexible and willing to adjust to situations that may arise.

  3. If it seems like an idea may not work, accept it and be willing to move on.

  4. Be prepared and equipped for the worst-case scenario.

  5. Connect with organizations that can provide resources to help you, and take advantage of them.

Last summer, Best combined her love of teaching, yoga, and the water by offering stand-up paddleboarding yoga classes to support her family. This summer, she plans to continue the classes and add in her love of photography by allowing her students to purchase images she takes during the classes.

Photo: Roxanne Best

As business is starting to pick up again, Best said she is grateful for the support she has received from NNDF. “I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in now with my business if it weren’t for NNDF, between the classes they offer and the support I’ve gotten from Ted and his staff,” Best said. “Ted says, ‘You did it yourself,’ and my response is, ‘No, Ted. You showed me doors — in some cases, opened doors — and it was up to me to walk through,’ and that’s what they do for so many people in our community.”

Roxanne Best plans to continue teaching stand-up paddleboarding yoga classes this summer and add in her love of photography by allowing her students to purchase images she takes during the classes. Photo: Roxanne Best

Helping entrepreneurs stay ‘Open for Business’

If you are a small business owner seeking support, visit the Small Business Resource Center or explore this list of Open for Business Fund (PDF) grant recipients to find nonprofits helping small businesses
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Carmen Davis - Founder, Publisher and Executive Editor

Mrs. Davis is the founder, publisher and executive editor of the only Native American wholly owned and operated national tribal business publication, Native Business Magazine, and the producer of the annual and nationally attended Native Business Summit.

Mrs. Davis is also president of Davis Strategy Group has over 23 years of service to Indian Country and as an entrepreneur she has successfully established, operated, managed and grown several businesses in multiple sectors. She is equal parts a strategic visionary and behind-the-scenes implementor, essential in guiding and overseeing every process of brand development, business expansion, nation-to-nation relationship building and more.

She was named in 2009 as one of the first recipients of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development’s, “40 Under 40” award which recognizes up and coming community and business leaders from across Indian Country.