A Small Business Entrepreneur’s Pandemic Story: Q & A with Guinevere DiPiazza By: Guinevere DiPiazze Aerial Acrobat & Circus Entertainment, LLC Founder. Many small businesses continue to face an uphill battle as entrepreneurs navigate the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Affinity Federal Credit Union has been supporting many entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout the pandemic, most notably with the process of applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans from the Small Business Administration. To mark the Small Business Week Virtual Summit (Sept. 13-15), Affinity is highlighting our relationship with a business client who has persevered through these tough times. Guinevere DiPiazza is the founder of Aerial Acrobat & Circus Entertainment, LLC. The owner of the high-flying entertainment company was forced to hang low due to pandemic restrictions and discussed her experience over the past year and a half, her relationship with Affinity and her outlook for the future. Tell us a little about your business and the customers you serve. I own Aerial Acrobat and Circus Entertainment in Branchburg, New Jersey. It's a home-based business. I started out really small. I booked myself as a freelance artist years ago and, more recently, the business has grown a lot. We are an entertainment company for hire. Clients come to us and we create the shows according to their vision (song choices, themes, costumes, etc.). We use our skill set to customize the experience each client would want, whether it be for corporate events, galas or weddings. We're very much an entertainment provider versus a theatrical company. How was your business impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic? We were having our best year ever in 2019 and then the pandemic hit and we had our worst year ever. 15 months of no work, no income. It was pretty tough. The pandemic has crippled me. We had been ramping up for a few years and every year had been better than the last. I was working towards scaling up my business, getting out of my house and opening up a work space. I was setting up an increasing number of client accounts. I had big plans, and then, with the pandemic, that didn't happen. How has the pandemic shifted your business' strategy? It’s really different the way people are booking events. They are waiting until the very last second. People are doing events on every day of the week. For example, being able to do a Wednesday night event is awesome. It’s not usually a night where we could work and make money. The downside is people are definitely waiting until the last minute. We didn’t get a signed contract for an event held this past Wednesday night until the day prior. That’s an extreme example but typically people plan things weeks, if not months, in advance (or weddings a year or two in advance). Now everyone is waiting until the last second before they commit any money because they’re not sure if they’re actually going to have their party due to the coronavirus. Beyond aerial acrobatics, all of my backup skillsets are not feasible in the pandemic. How do you teach circus arts in a pandemic when a teacher and student can’t both touch things like juggling balls or a trapeze bar. I am really looking forward to getting through this time and being done with social distancing and not having events so I can get back to the things I have to offer. Why was Affinity Federal Credit Union the right choice for your business in guiding it through the PPP loan process? I received a PPP loan in both rounds of disbursements. I was extremely skeptical of the PPP process and a nervous wreck about everything. I was scared to take the loan. I knew if I got the money it would be great and then I would be okay but then if I spent the funds on rent and food and had to pay it back, I’d be in a worse position than before. I was really paranoid about the whole process because I really didn’t understand it. What was really helpful about Affinity is I actually connected with real people on the other end. I had been working with another, bigger organization, which gave me blanket responses and auto replies. At Affinity, I spoke with people who know me. They remember me and know about my business. They were able to help me navigate this loan process and give me the assurance I needed that I wasn't gonna dig myself into a deeper hole financially. What challenges did you face in the PPP loan process and how was Affinity Federal Credit Union able to assist you? The applications changed a little bit during the process of filing for the two rounds of PPP loans. Also there were some glitches on the back end (of the SBA.gov application website) regarding logging in. I was able to call my Affinity representative, who guided me through those glitches and helped me sort out which paperwork I needed to fill out, since the SBA portal listed a broad spectrum of applications. Their guidance was perfect. If not for Affinity, I would have not known what to do. How has Affinity Federal Credit Union helped your business succeed? A big part of my company is building relationships with venues. Before COVID hit, I was able to do this with a handful or so. With one business in particular, I spent three years building a relationship. They referred us to clients. We had plans to install these motorized aerial hang points in their largest ballroom. That came to a screeching halt. Back in the spring of 2021, with things picking up, I looked to get this project in motion. Without this equipment, it was limiting what we could offer our clients. To rent the equipment, it would cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. To buy and install my own equipment, I would incur a huge cost up front but it would provide long-term benefits and help me solidify my relationship with this venue and their clients. Just recently, I took out a small business loan with Affinity for the equipment. I submitted an inquiry and then I was connected with an Affinity representative by phone. She advised me of the best route to take, in terms of the type of loan. I went into the Flemington branch, signed the paperwork, was approved and presented with a check. Now, I’m able to expand my offerings to the clients at this venue! I am really happy about switching to banking with Affinity. I really appreciate all of the personal interactions, not getting automated responses. I have some bigger goals to expand to community-based offerings and I look forward to working with Affinity when conditions allow me to get there. What are the future goals for your business? Down the road, I love the idea of a unique space. A converted building to double as an event space for student showcases or dinner theaters, offering a space for our own productions or event space for parties. We have the ability to hold summer camps and could use some land to do trapeze and things like that. I’ve taught theater, dance and circus arts for years. I would like to do that again. I would also like to expand my business into Social Circus, a tool used to bring social change. It’s an avenue I would like to explore but need a physical space to do so. I’ve also explored grants allowing me to bring arts into schools, for example replacing acrobatics with gym for a week. Being able to scale a bit where I have an office with admin and other people doing the costuming and offering jobs for more performers, teachers and coaches is an ultimate goal I have. You can’t just perform 40 hours a week. It’s just not possible. Affinity Federal Credit Union is here to help small businesses with a variety of needs, whether it’s opening a checking account, line of credit or taking out a loan. To learn more about the services we offer small businesses and the benefits that come with it, visit our website.