What You Will Learn hide
15 Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship in the United States
15.3 Business Strategy Methods
15.3.3 The PESTEL Model
15.3.4 POLC Framework
Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19

Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19


The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted normal business practices for organizations worldwide. The damage caused by the global outbreak resulted in many small business owners permanently closing their operations. The impact of small business closure adversely affected the American economy. Despite having contingency plans in place, COVID-19 tested business leaders’ managerial and operational strategies. A contingency tactic suggests that the effectiveness of a particular principle is linked to circumstances in a particular situation. Although the United States’ economy is no longer crippled by COVID-19, understanding the business strategies that were used by small business owners who sustained their companies is the aim of this study. The problem is that small business owners lack the strategies, resources, and knowledge to sustain their businesses amid COVID-19. This single qualitative exploratory case study purpose is to explore organizational and business strategies that were used by small business owners located in northwest Arkansas despite the challenges during the crisis. Data will be collected using semi-structured interviews. NVivo 12 will be used to help analyze and code the results. Furthermore, NVivo 12 software will also aid in generating themes from the study.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Key words: Business failure, entrepreneur, small business, small business administration, small business owner, sustainability


            I would like to thank everyone who participated in this study. I am grateful to my committee members, Dr. Melanie Shaw and Dr. Todd Fiore, who believed in me and were always there to guide me. I also want to acknowledge my parents, S.T. and Bessie Walker, who instilled in me a strong sense of self-worth. To my siblings, Juanita Hutchins, my late brother Wayne Walker, and Cardell Walker, I thank you for your love and encouragement. Further, since the nature of this study seeks to explore leadership strategies, I also want to acknowledge my late aunt, Nanell Walker, who at the age of six, taught me the essence and importance of strategy through multiple games of checkers. I want to acknowledge my kids, Donovan, Donté, and Dion Walker, who motivated me to do more by setting examples and achieving milestones others thought were impossible. Lastly, I want to acknowledge my husband, Douglas Walker, for being the wind beneath my wings. You have always been my greatest supporter, and I am blessed to have you in my life.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Table of Contents


Background of the Study. 3

Problem Statement 6

Purpose Statement 8

Importance of the Study. 8

Theoretical Framework. 10

Research Questions. 12

Research Design. 12

Definition of Terms. 14

Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations. 15

Summary. 16


Search Strategy. 20

Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship in the United States. 20

Small Businesses and the Economy. 26

COVID-19 Economic Impact 27

Business Strategy Methods. 28

Crowdsourcing. 30

Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) 31

The PESTEL Model 42

Political 43

Economic. 43

Social 44

Technology. 45

Environment 46

Legal 46

POLC Framework. 47

Planning. 48

Organizing. 49

Leading. 49

Controlling. 50

Crisis Management 50

Crisis Management and Organizational Leadership. 54

Business Operations Theories. 56

Resource-based View Theory. 56

General Systems Theory. 57

Open Systems. 59

Closed Systems. 59

Resource-based View Theory and General Systems Theory. 60

Knowledge Gap. 61

Summary. 62


Methodology Selected. 64

Research Design. 65

Benefits of Case Studies. 68

Types of Case Studies. 68

Instrumental Case Studies. 69

Intrinsic Case Studies. 70

Collective Case Studies. 70

Explanatory Case Studies. 70

Exploratory Case Studies. 71

Descriptive Case Studies. 71

Strengths and Limitations of a Case Study Design. 71

Unit of Analysis. 73

Bounded Systems. 73

Research Method and Design. 74

Research Questions. 77

Study Participants. 77

Population and Sample. 79

Data Collection. 81

Instrumentation. 81

Role of the Researcher in Data Collection. 82

Interviews. 83

Interview Guide Development 84

Field Test 84

Triangulation. 86

Procedures Followed. 87

Trustworthiness. 88

Ethical Concerns. 89

Informed Consent and Confidentiality. 90

Data Security and Privacy and Computers and Cloud Security. 91


Sample. 94

Data Collection. 96

Data Analysis. 96…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Summary. 104

References. 105


Appendix A.. 136

Appendix B.. 137

Appendix C.. 138

Appendix D.. 140


Leadership, leadership strategies, and strategic planning are complex subjects. The terms are used interchangeably to mean different things. Multiple authors such as Lancet et al. (2021), Lawson (2014), Marx (2015), Proctor-Thomson (2019), Rusu (2021), Venus et al. (2019), and Welch (2020) have commented on the various aspects and dimensions of leadership and leadership strategies used by organizations to sustain a company’s goals and align with its mission and vision statement. According to Kazmi and Naaranoja (2015), organizational leaders should apply strategic thinking to overcome hurdles that prohibit and derail operational performance. Furthermore, organizational leaders must know how to balance the humanistic behavior of their employees and customers, manage internal and external resources, recognize, and evaluate potential threats, problem solve, and make noteworthy decisions that align with their firm’s vision and strategic goals (Kazmi & Naaranoja, 2015).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

COVID-19 caused organizational leaders to consider questions about how well they were trained in crisis management situations. The pandemic caused uncertainty, which required small business owners to consider new approaches to remain viable. Hutchinson et al. (2021) commented on some of the leadership practices small business owners exercised during the COVID-19 crisis to prevent their businesses from closing; however, these findings did not address the risks that were associated with their actions. During the pandemic, business leaders were required to create and implement a coherent action plan that tackled organizational leadership and management during a pandemic. Additionally, Marx (2015) asserted that managers can assume different roles, develop the required skills, and alter their leadership style to implement alternative strategic approaches to sustain their business operations. Grint (2020) noted that the impact of the coronavirus challenged organizational leaders and leadership theories and predicted that some business operations might be forced to realign and adjust to a new status quo. Grint (2020) further suggested that a critical element of leadership is an individual’s ability to communicate effectively, and COVID-19 tested many leaders’ ability to communicate strategically. Communication and communication behavior are essential for organizational sustainability (Borner & Zerfass, 2018). The underlining principles and strategies that align with organizational communications are essential in sustaining a firm’s mission, values, and goals. Buffington et al. (2021) stated that at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, small businesses were considered to be the most vulnerable and the United States economy relied heavily on their contributions. COVID-19 also caused disruption in the global supply chain, which delayed delivery of goods and services and affected sales during the pandemic’s lockdown period. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be more than a health crisis. The strength and stability of America’s economy were dependent upon the longevity and sustainability of small businesses (Hawkins & Hoon, 2020). Operating a small business was challenging, and the multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus negatively impacted small business owners’ ability to remain operational. Specifically, the adverse effects were noticeable in the supply chain, and there was a significant worker shortage. The supply chain disruption and worker shortage were linked to the federal, state, and local mandates that restricted individuals from being in close proximity, and social distancing was implemented to help reduce the spread of the virus. Furthermore, small businesses worldwide began to experience a decline in production and revenue (Global Economic Effects of COVID-19, 2021). Fairlie (2020) stated that the outbreak’s global effect on local economies proved unprecedented doubt and disruption as it paralyzed economies. Dua et al. (2020) mentioned that approximately 1.4 to 2.1 million, or 25 to 36%, of small businesses, permanently closed from January to April 2020 as a direct result of the pandemic. Similarly, Gianina (2021) said that the pandemic’s collision with local economies resulted in the permanent closure of many small organizations. If the COVID-19 crisis was not addressed, the vast leadership problems that were caused by the coronavirus may have lasted for decades. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small business owners were faced with unexpected hurdles that had to be addressed. Many small businesses are viewed as the heartbeat of the communities where they operate. According to Decker et al. (2014), small businesses in the United States significantly contributed to America’s gross domestic product and were commonly referred to as the country’s backbone. Aggressive action was justified to minimize the risks of small business closures. In 1953, Congress approved the Small Business Administration (SBA) as a federal agency (SBA, 2020). The SBA provides counseling, assistance, and aid to safeguard the welfare and interest of any company that meets the definition of a small business or entrepreneur as outlined and defined by the SBA guidelines (SBA, 2020). Despite valiant efforts, neither the SBA nor the small business sector could have predicted or prepared for the lasting, adverse effects and irreversible consequences of the global crisis. Ioannidis et al. (2020) voiced that forecasting the likely outcome or parameters of the pandemic proved to be dubious and resulted in failed attempts for some small business owners. Bongaerts et al. (2021) and Grint (2020) stated that the onset of COVID-19 challenged business operations which affected the stability of the economy.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Background of the Study

Before the outbreak, small businesses contributed to the growth and sustainability of the United States economy (Zvarych, 2017). Bartik et al. (2020a) conducted research from March 28 to April 4, 2020, to evaluate the impact COVID-19 had on small businesses in the United States. A total of 5,800 small businesses participated in the study. At the conclusion of the research, the results suggested that the outbreak caused a dislocation within the small business sector shortly after the virus arrived in America in January 2020 and before the government offered aid via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Bartik et al., 2020a; Sencer, 2022). The outcome of Bartik et al.’s (2020a) research suggested that 43% of the small businesses that partook in the study temporarily closed their business because of the pandemic. Bartik et al. (2020a) further mentioned that the closures were directly linked to a reduction in demand, health concerns of employees, and supply chain disruption.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The Small Business Administration said that small businesses accounted for 10.5 million, or 65.1%, of net new jobs from 2000 to 2019, compared to big box companies that produced 5.6 million occupations during the same timeframe “Small Business Administration and Job Creation” (2022). Nguyen et al. (2021) and Iqbal and Bullard (2021) mentioned that the gross domestic product (GDP) is an instrument used to measure the health of the economy. Iqbal and Bullard (2021) further stated that the COVID-19 damages were not temporary, and that the growth trajectory diminished compared to the United States’ projected growth before the pandemic. Evidence of America’s weakened economy was reflected in its labor market, as suggested by Nguyen et al. (2021). Furthermore, Iqbal and Bullard (2021) compared August 2021 employment data which reflected 5.3 million occupations that were lower than pre-pandemic levels. The data from Iqbal and Bullard (2021) study was interrelated to the drawn-out ramifications of the pandemic and aligned with the data from “Resources For Small Businesses In Response To The Covid-19 Pandemic” (2021), in which the U.S. Census Bureau surveyed the pulse of small businesses in August 2020. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau (SBA, 2019), 31.7 million small businesses operated in the United States in 2020. Iqbal and Bullard (2021) averred that 34.2% or 10,841,400 of the organizations that participated in the study reported being financially affected by the pandemic. Nguyen et al. (2021) mentioned that the COVID-19 economic crisis was comparable to the Great Depression.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small businesses’ contributions are unparallel and necessary for the success of America’s economy. Small businesses created more net jobs than large firms “Small Business Administration and Job Creation” (2022). Additionally, the employment prospects offered by small businesses enhance the sustainability of the economy “Small Business Administration and Job Creation” (2022). However, when the crisis occurred, some operational shortcomings that small business owners faced included a lack of sales, visibility, and strategic planning and decision making (Kahveci, 2021). Kitching et al. (2009) mentioned that a crisis often required organizations to reconfigure their organization’s standard operating procedures to meet and address the imminent situation. To help remedy the negative impact of a crisis, business leaders created policies that mitigate losses while working through the crisis (Newman et al., 2022). Doern (2014) defined a crisis as an unpredictable situation that disrupts normal business operations and requires an intervention and strategic planning to ensure the sustainability of a(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19) company’s future. Crisis management fostered coherent actions that were established by policies and produced counteractive results to the internal and external threats that constituted an unbalanced shift in business operations and continuity (Carter & May, 2020). The COVID-19 virus required swift and urgent actions and exposed vulnerabilities within the crisis management policies needed to address organizational stability during the pandemic (Kahveci, 2021). 

The importance of organizational leadership and crisis management cannot be overstated. Trachsler and Jong (2020) claimed that the mental approaches of individuals who were essential to a crisis prevention team were understudied and underestimated. Employees who were members of a crisis management team often made tough decisions instantaneously while they were under pressure (Trachsler & Jong, 2020). Lukas et al. (2020) voiced the importance of combining and communicating relevant information that was required to make on-the-spot decisions to lessen the effect of a crisis. Crisis management and good decision making are two essential pillars for damage control within organizations. However, a third pillar, the implementation phase, was often difficult and resulted in consequences that led to more significant risks or the premature closures of small businesses (Kim & Krishna, 2017). Implementing new strategies often required revisions or adjustments when required. Additionally, when business owners implement new strategies, organizational leaders must provide a clear set of goals that aligned with the new strategy and determined the roles and responsibilities of everyone who was delegated to perform the additional duties.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Problem Statement

Small businesses are essential to America’s economy. According to Artinger and Powell (2015), small businesses were responsible for significant job growth, which aided in sustaining a lucrative economy; however, despite best efforts to remain afloat, COVID-19 resulted in many small business owners permanently closing their operations. A comparative analysis of the small business sector suggested that in December 2019, small businesses in America included 30.7 million or 99.9% of all firms that operated in the United States and employed 59.9 million or 47.3% of the American workforce (SBA, 2019). However, the 2021 Small Business Profile suggested that from March 2019 to March 2020, 909,808 small businesses opened and 843,229 closed (SBA, 2021). Furthermore, in 2021, a total of 32.5 million or 99.9% of small firms that operated in America employed 61.2 million or 46.8% of the nation’s workforce (SBA, 2021). Simon (2021) mentioned that since the start of COVID-19, 60% of small business owners permanently closed their operations due to the pandemic. Crayne (2020) and Rugaber (2020) posited a positive correlation between small business closures and COVID-19 by stating that the nation’s economy was comparable to the Great Depression during the 1930s.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Simon (2021) reported that COVID-19 resulted in the widespread closing of roughly 200,000 small businesses nationwide. The imminent economic crisis caused by COVID-19 continued to raise concern as the global outbreak forced organizations to reshape their operational and business strategies. The general problem is that small business owners failed to sustain their operations due to COVID-19. Marshall and Schrank (2020) stated that small business closures negatively affected the economy, employment opportunities, creativity and innovation, and growth in the communities where they operated. 

Teresiene et al. (2021) suggested that small business operations were jeopardized when the pandemic negatively impacted their cash flow resulting in many small business owners being limited in their abilities to pay their business expenses. Bartik et al. (2020a) mentioned that most small businesses were financially unstable before the pandemic, and when the outbreak occurred, small businesses that accrued more than $10,000 per month in expenses only had approximately 50% or $5,000 of cash on hand to cover their monthly expenditures. Furthermore, not knowing the duration of the global crisis played a significant role in small business owners’ decision to close their businesses temporarily or permanently (Bartik et al., 2020a). The specific problem is that small business owners may lack the strategies, resources, and knowledge to sustain their business amid COVID-19. If the problem is not strategically and aggressively addressed, many more small businesses would close, and the consequences will adversely impact America’s economy.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this qualitative single case study was to explore the strategies used by small business owners who sustained their organizations despite challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The target sample for this study was 10-15 small business owners located in northwest Arkansas or until data saturation was achieved. Creswell and Poth (2017) mentioned that data saturation may be obtained using 5-25 participants for qualitative case studies. The findings from this study contributes to small business owners’ understanding of the different strategies that increased their organizations’ survivability during a crisis. The methods for collecting data consisted of interviews and open-ended questionnaires. NVivo-12 was used for analysis to locate and find patterns within the data.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Importance of the Study

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses played a critical role in sustaining a strong economy (SBA, 2018). The United States’ economic growth and development are influenced by small businesses (Zvarych, 2017). According to Fairlie (2020), swift and aggressive action was needed to mitigate small businesses from closing during the economic crisis. The research focused on filling the gap in the literature regarding the strategies used by small business owners who remained operational and those who did not. A thorough understanding of the theories that resulted in sustainable strategies for managing small businesses during COVID-19s was warranted. Filling the knowledge gap will help current and future small business owners sustain their businesses during a crisis.  

Kalogiannidis (2020) suggested that small business owners lacked the required knowledge and strategies to sustain their company’s future during a crisis. This study aimed to gain knowledge about the successful strategies small business owners used during the pandemic that enabled them to direct or redirect their resources, resulting in the survival of their business operations. The knowledge gained from this study will aid small business owners with alternative strategies that would allow them to remain operational during an outbreak.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

           Early approaches to organizational management would be classified as universal, meaning they would work in all situations or be universally effective. One of the outcomes of the systems view of management was that organizations must adapt, and that there are different avenues to the same endpoint (Kankaew & Pongsapak, 2020). Thus, some approaches to management are not universal. Lockett (2005) stated that during the 1950s, Edith Penrose coined the term resource-based view (RBV). The resource-based view is a framework managers use to determine an organization’s resources to achieve an advantage within their competitive markets (Lockett, 2005). Penrose (1955,1960) voiced that organizational resources include all human, physical, financial, and informational resources and internal and external organizational processes that small business owners use to remain operational during a pandemic.

Small business owners found that the COVID-19 outbreak challenged their survivability (Kahveci, 2021). Despite the economic downturn that all organizations suffered, the small business sector experienced more complexities than its larger counterparts (Fairlie, 2020). According to Gianina (2021), federal, state, and locally imposed restrictions, combined with the COVID-19 crises, resulted in many small businesses permanently closing. Pinpointing the strategies that contributed to the effectiveness, sustainability, and best business practice amid a crisis added to the existing literature on improving the longevity of small businesses during an economic calamity.  

A thorough understanding of small business operations and business leadership aided in reducing small businesses from closing. Dimov (2017) stated that there was a connection between work experience and education that increased the survival ratings of a small business. Other areas of interest included the level of knowledge, creativity, innovation, and development skills (Prajogo & Oke, 2016; Rauch & Rijsdijk, 2013). A new paradigm of business operations was essential for small businesses to survive. Gumusluoglu and Acur (2016) averred that small business owners’ decisions and strategies must align with society and its environment to remain competitive. Even though Gumusluoglu and Acur (2016) statement was pre-pandemic, the essence of its meaning remained valid during the onset of COVID-19.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Theoretical Framework

The resource-based view (RVB) theory served as the primary conceptual lens for this study, and the systems view theory was used in conjunction to support the RVB theory. The resource-based view theory is a leadership strategy that organizational leaders use to outperform their rival competitors (Freeman et al., 2021). The resource-based view theory evolved over the decades and will continue to adapt to meet the demands of the constantly changing business landscape (Davis & DeWitt, 2021). Further, Freeman et al. (2021) noted that the RVB theory implied that a firm’s tangible and intangible resources that are difficult to emulate are its strengths and aids in providing a strategic and competitive advantage.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Takahashi (2015) noted that Edith Penrose coined the concept of RVB in 1959. Additionally, Takahashi (2015) said that according to Penrose, economies would continue to grow regardless of a stalled economy or the economy size. The RVB theory suggest that it is an internal view of an organization’s experiences, and companies who adopt this approach achieve their competitive advantage by exploiting their internal capabilities. Newbert (2013) said that the theory further mentioned that the strength of a firm was found in its internal resources. Accordingly, an organization’s longevity and competitiveness rely on tangible and intangible resources to remain a mainstay within its respective industry.

The general system theory, also known as systems view theory, was created by Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the 1940s (Boulding, 1956; Lopreato, 1970; von Bertalanffy, 1972). Its purpose is to analyze and understand how objects interconnect with each other and function as a whole. Boulding (1956) compared the systems theory to the human anatomy and suggested that the human body cannot operate appropriately if certain parts are not functioning and not connected to other vital parts such as the heart, lungs, or musculoskeletal system. The fundamental aspect of the systems view theory examined the interrelated complexities of a system (von Bertalanffy, 1972). General systems theory focused on the different and independent elements used to make up and support the wholeness of a unit (Skyttner, 2001). The general systems theory claimed that each element of an object has subparts that support its whole (von Bertalanffy, 1972). Further, Skyttner (1996) said that the general systems theory was beneficial in understanding and developing theories in research. Analyzing the inner workings of small businesses proved to be beneficial in developing patterns and themes of how small business owners sustained their operations amid COVID-19.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small businesses do more than provide goods or services. Small businesses encouraged cultural and social interactions and contribute economically to their communities. The system theory approach examined how small businesses interacted with other agents. The concept was beneficial for understanding the environment and aids in job management as it outlined a combined view of the internal and external variables and how they influenced small business operations. Systems management theory considers businesses as a system in the content and context of strategic organizational management (Skyttner, 1996). According to Purgina (2020), the system management theory aims to understand how different assets within an organization work together. Purgina (2020) further mentioned that technical systems and machinery alone were insufficient in maintaining a sustainable business operation. Instead, businesses consist of different components of the whole, and when all of the components work together in harmonization, the entire business operates at its optimum level (Atkociuniene et al., 2021). (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Research Questions

  1. What business strategies did small business owners use to sustain their business during


  1. How did small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid the economic downturn?

Research Design

A qualitative case study approach supported the framework for this study. According to Hammarberg et al. (2016), qualitative research seeks to explore and understand the lived experiences of a phenomenon. Creswell and Poth (2017) echoed Hammarberg et al.’s (2016) claim and stated that qualitative case study designs were intended to explore real-life and complex phenomena. Further, Yin (2014, 2018) mentioned that qualitative research designs were appropriate when there is little knowledge regarding the specific problem to be investigated. Furthermore, Yin (2014) mentioned that case study designs were appropriate for developing a detailed description and analysis of the cases to provide an in-depth understanding of the phenomena. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Identifying the need for a specific qualitative approach is essential when conducting research. Creswell and Poth (2017) suggested that there are five different qualitative approaches. For this dissertation, a case study approach aligned with the problem statement, purpose statement, and aided in addressing the research questions. Case study research seeks to explore and understand real-life cases through a detailed and in-depth collection of data that involve multiple sources of information (Creswell & Poth, 2017). 

This study used a qualitative research method and a single case study design to explore the leadership strategies used by small business owners who sustain their business amid COVID-19. Furthermore, Yin (2018) said that exploratory, descriptive, and explanatory are the three types of case study designs. To better understand the leadership strategies used by small business owners located in northwest Arkansas, an exploratory case study design was warranted because it helped explore and describe the phenomenon being studied. Yin (2018) said that the purpose of qualitative methods aims to improve a person or population’s social atmosphere by seeking answers to researchable questions and by using a qualitative research design.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Qualitative research is a type of scientific research used to explore a phenomenon associated with a person’s daily life or multiple individuals (Creswell & Poth, 2017). A qualitative research method was suitable for this study because of the human interaction needed to answer the open-ended semi-structured interview questions for thematic analysis. Yin (2018) and Lewis (2015) mentioned that case study methods could examine a single case or multiple cases. Yin (2018) voiced that single case studies allow the researcher to analyze the data collected based on a single bonded case. Specifically, the bond can be a person, group, institution, or event. Single bonded case studies differ from multiple cases, requiring the researcher to study two or more cases. Yin (2018) expressed that multiple case studies allow researchers to compare and contrast the differences between each case. Further, Yin (2018) stated that knowing the similarities and differences amongst cases suggest that the researcher can construct a thorough conclusion of their findings.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Definition of Terms

The information provided below are definitions of commonly used words or phrases throughout this study. The definitions aid readers in having a common understanding of the terms used throughout this document. 

Business Failure. A business failure is a deviation from a business owner’s anticipated expectations that renders less than desirable results (Gulst & Maritz, 2009).

Entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is defined as an innovative person that assumes and manages unavoidable risks in creating new start-up firms (Ripsas et al., 2016; SBA, 2022a).

Small Business. The Small Business Administration defines a small business as a privately-owned firm that employs no more than 500 employees with annual revenue that does not exceed $23 million and does not dominate the industry (SBA, 2021).

Small Business Administration (SBA). The Small Business Administration is a government agency that offers aid and resources to entrepreneurs’ and small business owners in the United States (SBA, 2022b).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small Business Owner. Small business owners are the chief decision makers within their firms (Volery & Mazzarol, 2015). Further, small business owners are independently owned with limited resources, have a smaller market share than larger companies, and the owner is responsible for most, if not all, of the working capital for daily operations (Volery & Mazzarol, 2015)

Sustainability. According to Abdelrahman et al. (2021), sustainability keeps businesses operationally afloat while futureproofing the firm’s existence and accomplishes success without sacrificing the company’s future (Abdelrahman et al., 2021).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

An assumption is a concept that researchers believe to be accurate but cannot be verified. For instance, if the research participants provided erroneous information, the study will more than likely be irrelevant. The first assumption for this study was that the research design and method were appropriate for this study. Furthermore, information gathered from participants was assumed to be truthful and the sample size was an accurate representation of the population being studied. Confidentiality and anonymity were practiced throughout the study and was thoroughly explained to the research participants which helped and encouraged honest responses. Additionally, the participants were made aware that they can withdraw from the study at any time without ramifications. Participants who provide truthful information aid researchers in creating theories that help influence the research findings (Wolgemuth et al., 2017).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Limitations are the probable disadvantages in a researcher’s study that are out of their control. Yin (2018) mentioned that limitations are conditions or restrictions in a research study. A limitation may consist of an inadequate sample size and the availability of small business owners that operate in diverse industries. Henderson et al. (2013) concurred with Yin (2018) statement and added that limitations correlate to the absence of evidence. Furthermore, additional limitations included biased responses to interview questions and the allotted timeframe to complete the study. Additionally, bracketing aids in establishing trust and confidence in the researcher’s findings. Tufford and Newman (2012) suggested that bracketing adds rigor and helps reduce bias in qualitative research. Edmund Husserl coined the term bracketing in 1913 (Tufford & Newman, 2012). Specifically, bracketing aids researchers in understanding how the world is perceived, which may improve the researcher’s ability to connect with particular phenomena or experiences and view the world authentically.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Delimitations are controlled by the researcher as it is used to provide the scope and define the boundaries of a study. The research problem, purpose statement, and research questions were forms of delimitations. Other forms of delimitations included specific criteria for participants, such as being a small business owner who has been in business for at least 10 consecutive years including the pandemic to present day. Another delimitation of this study is its geographical region, northwest Arkansas.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)  


            The aim of this study was to seek the strategies that were used by small business owners who sustained their business during unstable times. Small businesses are innovators and create jobs and growth within their local communities. The growth and sustainable prosperity of small businesses have been researched for decades as worldwide governments consider small businesses to be the leading force in creating strong economies. The United States economy declined at the onset of the coronavirus and resulted in many small business owners closing their establishments. It is vital to the American economy to understand the lived experiences and the business strategies that were implemented by small business owners during the COVID-19 economic downturn. Further, this study exposed the phenomenon that the participants endured during the crisis situations and the contingency plan they used to prevent their organizations from failing. Conceivably, every small business owner during the outbreak was immersed in decisions to maintain their firm’s operations while analyzing their risk propensity.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Chapter I presented an overarching assessment of the situation that was associated with the sustainability of small organizations as the coronavirus presented unstable and turbulent problems that resulted in small business failures. The problem statement, purpose statement, the importance of the study, and research questions that aligned with the study were presented. In addition, the theoretical framework, definitions of terms, assumptions, limitations, and delimitations were discussed. The study aimed to understand better the complexity and strategies that small business owners used to remain operational during a crisis. Chapter II will review the professional and academic literature that correlates with the history of small businesses and the strategies used by small business owners for longevity and prosperity.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


            The purpose of this literature review is to investigate past leadership strategies used by small business owners who sustained their operations amid a crisis. A literature review is fundamental in doctoral research. According to Allen (2017), the goal of a literature review is to understand, explore, compare and contrast, and synthesize relevant literature that is significant to the research problem and purpose statements, and is linked to the research questions. Byrne (2017) said that a review of the literature identifies theories and past research that has been completed, and help researchers pinpoint gaps in the literature that have not been studied. Chapter II will present a review of the literature that begins with an introduction and followed by the origins of the Small Business Administration, the importance of small businesses to the United States economy, and lastly, how organizational and crisis management strategies are vital to the sustainability of small businesses amid a crisis to mitigate losses and to prevent business failure.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            The importance of this study may be significant to the United States’ economic growth, profitability, and sustainability (Ozili & Arun, 2020). Information taken from the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council suggest that approximately 50% of the American workforce is employed by small business owners (Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, 2022).  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), there were approximately 30.2 million small businesses operating in America in 2020, and prior to the pandemic, small businesses accounted for 97% of all firms in America, produced approximately 75% of new jobs, and led in innovation (“Business Employment Dynamics” (2020); SBA, 2018). Despite the number of businesses that remained operational during COVID-19, the small business sector suffered massive closures, which resulted in business failures and bankruptcies (Ben-Ishai, 2020). Fairlie (2020) averred that from February to April 2020, the number of American businesses decreased by 22% which was the largest decline in America’s history. Shehazad et al. (2020) voiced that the sustainability of the small business sector is in peril and the American economy will continue to weaken if aggressive actions are not taken. The ratio of small businesses that open each year is comparable to the number that permanently closed (SBA, 2018). COVID-19 shook the world’s economy, and many small businesses disappeared from the business landscape.      Bellamy (2021) and Schweikart (2011) posited that small business failures have been researched for centuries. Previous research from Kautonen et al. (2015), Khelil (2015), Kohlbacher et al. (2015), and Wang (2013), commented on common factors that contributed to business failures such as insufficient working capital, failing to monitor and track business expenses, inadequate business plan, and poor location; however, their research did not comment on organizational and management strategies leaders used to avoid business failure. Organizations that do not have an adequate crisis management plan that provides unambiguity guidance during troubling times place their firm’s existence in jeopardy which may lead to workflow interruption, a significant decline in revenue, or business closure. Despite Human Resource Management practices which can improve organizational performance, Suresh et al. (2021) mentioned that some seasoned small business owners are aware of the consequences of not having a business strategy to mitigate a crisis. Yet, many of the small business owners stated that operating a small business was time consuming and took a lot of energy and did not have the time to have written policies and procedures in place to protect the survivability of their firm should an unexpected event occur. It is important to the American economy and to small business owners to recognize and detect crises and implement crisis management techniques to avoid closure and to continue to promote positive social change.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Search Strategy

            Trujillo and Long (2018) posited that a thorough examination of the literature aids researchers in promoting scholarly conversations. The methods and instruments used for collecting data to construct the literature review came from the University of Arizona Global Campus Library, SAGE Research Methods, the Pro-Quest database, EBSCOhost, Google Scholar, and government websites. Keyword searches and cross-referencing materials provided an overarching and historical perspective on previous issues that relate to the core elements of this research. The literature review was reinforced via the lens of the theoretical framework for this study. Several keywords were used to search for scholarly peer-reviewed articles and included: small businesses, entrepreneurship, small business failure, resource-based view theory, systems theory, strategic and organizational management, and crisis management.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship in the United States

The blueprint for America’s business model, innovation, and strategy can be traced back to the early colonial period when merchants manufactured, produced, and sold their goods (Lanivich et al., 2020). According to Lanivich et al. (2020), entrepreneurship is amongst one of the oldest methods of generating income as a small business and has been grounded in America’s history for centuries. The term entrepreneurship was coined by French economist, Jean-Baptiste Say in the 1800s (Guy, 2019). During the 1800s, the terms entrepreneur and small business owners were used interchangeably; however, the words have different meanings in the 21st century. Historical data suggested that entrepreneurs and small businesses have contributed significantly to the local communities where they operate, and to America’s economic development, growth, and sustainability (Zvarych, 2017). For example, small business owners help local communities and their economies by offering employment which also helps the business grow and aids in creating an increase for goods and services. The taxes that generate from the sales are funneled back into the local communities. The political roots of the Small Business Administration began during World War II (SBA, 2021.). According to Ashcraft (2018), the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) is the foundational bedrock of the SBA. President Hoover signed the RFC into law the RFC on January 22, 1932 (Joan, 1978; Perchard, 2019; SBA, 2021). The justification for the RFC was to improve the nation’s economy via direct intervention during the Great Depression by providing assistance and relief to the beleaguered financial crisis through loan disbursements to large and small businesses (Fishback, 2017; Joan, 1978). The Small Business Administration (2018) and Townsend (2022) said that during the Second World War, larger organizations outperformed smaller businesses in producing products in direct support of the war; therefore in 1942, Congress established the Smaller War Plants Corporation (SWPC). The SWPC was exclusively for small business owners. The purpose of the SWPC was to award loans to small organizations and encouraged large businesses and federal agencies to purchase goods and services from small business owners who produced material in support of the war (SBA, 2021). At the conclusion of World War II, the SWPC was decommissioned, and the RFC was the sole source for financial business loans for entrepreneurs and small business owners (SBA, 2018).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            The Small Defense Plants Administration (SDPA) was established during the Korean War on July 11, 1951, because of complaints from small business owners who were not provided the same opportunities to secure material for civilian markets and defense contracts were limited (SBA, 2018). As a result, the SDPA recommended and endorsed small business owners who were competence and capable of handling government contracts to the RFC (SBA, 2018). In 1952 the RFC ended but not without President Eisenhower realizing the economical contribution made by the small business sector. President Eisenhower suggested the establishment of a new small business agency which is recognized today as the Small Business Administration (McMahon, 2018). (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The Small Business Administration is an independent organization of the federal government that offers aid, counseling, and protects the well-being of small business owners and entrepreneurs (SBA, 2021). Because of the vast array of services offered by the SBA to entrepreneurs and small business owners, the federal government appointed the SBA as the sole organization that is responsible for providing a detail definition, description, and specify the unique criteria of what constitutes entrepreneurship and small businesses in America (SBA, 2021). Sharma and Sharma (2020) suggested that the definition of an entrepreneur is any person who takes a business risk in creating a new product, service, or solution for a profit. In addition, entrepreneurs are considered to be non-linear thinkers who do not accept the status quo. Instead, entrepreneurs are creative innovators that take risk to develop different approaches. Turner and Endres (2017) describes a small business as a privately owned organization that takes on a new business venture. Small business owners are usually sole proprietors, partners, or a limited liability company (LLC) that is in business to generate profits. Additionally, small business owners are not aggressive risk takers or innovators but will make drastic changes to ensure their business survivability. Westerlund et al. (2017) alleged that small business owners design business models to leverage their resources for a competitive advantage and to create niche markets. Lastly, small businesses and entrepreneurs must align their organizations with the definitions and criteria that was established by the Small Business Administration (SBA, 2021; Turner & Endres, 2017).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            The discussion that surrounds small business failures has been researched for centuries. Federal policymakers developed initiatives and programs to aid in addressing the deterioration of small businesses. To assist in providing support to this endeavor, a definition of what constitutes a small business was necessary. Osteryoung and Newman (1993) and Turner and Endres (2017) stated that by defining small businesses, researchers can help policymakers provide nourishment and protect small businesses from collapsing or being consumed by larger big box enterprises. Defining what a small business consist of is crucial in academia. The definition establishes a framework for researchers to use when studying small businesses. Any information gathered by researchers that does not align with the description or classification of what a small business consist of is invalid (Osteryoung & Newman, 1993).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Laurie et al. (1975) proposed that one of the first analyses regarding small businesses was the Philadelphia Social History Project. The title of the project was named Immigrants and Industry: The Philadelphia experience, 1850-1880. According to the study, organizations that retained 50 employees or less were considered to be small and medium size, and companies who had 51 employees or more were thought to be large firms during that era (Laurie et al., 1975).  Laurie et al. (1975) voiced that from the 1880s to the 1930s, there was a lot of ambiguity in the definition of small business between small business owners and the government. Laurie et al. (1975) reasoning may be associated with previous research conducted by Adelman in the 1960s. Specifically, Adelman (1960) suggested that small businesses do not exist. Adelman (1960) stated that there were 4.5 million businesses that existed in 1959, and a significant quantity of the businesses were small by scale. Further, Adelman (1960) said that 3.3 million of those organizations employed fewer than four employees therefore, there was no distinguished criteria that defined firms that were miniscule, tiny, small, or fairly small.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Laurie et al. (1975) stated that large and small businesses in the United States had grown since previous definitions were developed and a viable definition of what classified a small business was no longer true. In 1938, a small businessman conference was held in Washington, D.C. At the conference, the chairman of the RFC addressed the committee and said that small business owners could not compete with larger firms based on their employee size and he further mentioned that smaller firms would always generate less revenue compared to larger businesses because of the number of organizational employees (Laurie et al., 1975). After learning about the economic impact caused by the broad definitions of what constituted small businesses, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce modified the description of small businesses within the manufacturing industry. Laurie et al. (1975) further commented that the new definition stated that business owners who employed 500 or fewer employees were considered as small business owners. Altering the definition of small businesses from 50 to 500 employees allowed small businesses to receive a fair amount of business during World War II. In 1939, the Census Bureau established guidelines in identifying small businesses. The new criteria outlined by the Census Bureau was based on the number of employees per company and its annual net sales (Osteryoung & Newman, 1993). (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

During the 1940s, there was an overabundance of new criteria and definitions of what a small business should consist of. The plethora of reasons was primarily as a result of World War II.  Osteryoung and Newman (1993) mentioned that the criteria of a small business changed for small organizations that were in direct support of World War II as compared to firms that were not. From the 1940s to the 1950s, numerous government agencies continuously updated the definition of what small businesses should consist of. Koistinen (1973) mentioned that in 1944 Congress authorized the War Mobilization and Recovery Act. Because of the enactment, the number of employees for small business owners reduced from 500 to 250 which allowed more companies to qualify as a small business (Koistinen, 1973). Numerous organizational businesses landscape changed if they were not in direct support of the war efforts to qualify as a small business owner. Osteryoung and Newman (1993) voiced that the Department of Commerce classified small businesses by its industry, number of employees, and annual net sales. In contrast, Osborn (1950) proclaimed that the reclassification of small businesses was an attack on larger companies. Specifically, Osborn (1950) stated that the connotation of efficiency, relative cost, and return on investment (ROI) for larger organizations ought to be divided into smaller units to increase their profits. The rationale for a study entitled The Relative Efficiency of Large, Medium-sized, and Small Business suggested that there was a need to reclassify companies based on their chosen industry (Osborn, 1950). Additionally, in the 1950s, the characterization of small businesses began to include its size, industry, finances, and management. The factors for reclassification were discussed in Kaplan (1950) study where the four areas were analyzed based on an economic analysis of the small business sector. In 1953, Congress enacted the Small Business Administration (Osteryoung & Newman, 1993).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            Bellamy (2021) mentioned that since the 1600s, small business failures have been a problem in the United States. Hanaysha et al. (2022) noted that a chief concern for new small business owners were sustaining profitable organizations beyond their fifth anniversary. Hawkins and Hoon (2020) commented that managing and sustaining customer relationships is a strategy for retaining loyal customers which increases the survivability of a firm’s existence. Further, Hawkins and Hoon (2020) alluded that small business owners who surpassed five consecutive years of operations were viewed as a personal success. Congress did not fund the Small Business Administration until July 30, 1953; therefore, there was limited investigation into the root causes or reasons that contributed to small business failures before the 1950s (SBA, 2018). A thorough examination is still needed to analyze the reasons why small businesses fail compared to larger companies (Lee et al., 2021).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small Businesses and the Economy

            Small businesses contribute significantly to the American economy and to the gross domestic product by producing and driving innovation, employment growth, and by helping develop the communities where they operate. Additionally, small businesses continue to influence the wealth and employment of the United States. The Small Business Administration defines a small business as a privately-owned firm that employs no more than 500 employees with annual revenue that does not exceed $23 million and does not dominate their industry (“Small Business Administration,” 2021). Small businesses generate more employment, create new markets via innovation, and are more resourceful than larger organizations (Love, 2019; Zahra, 2021). Meyer and de Jongh (2018) suggested that small businesses are the fountainhead for creating new employment. From a global perspective, the materials, goods, and services produced by American small business owners help developing economies worldwide. Pratono (2020) mentioned that small business owners and entrepreneurs compete with large enterprises by influencing worldwide economies through innovation and technology.  (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

According to Tobocman (2021), small and young firms employ more personnel than larger organizations. Additionally, Ahmed et al. (2018) stated that the flexibility of small firms allows them to quickly adjust to changing market trends which aids in economic growth. Flexible management is an advantage of small business owners. Specifically, small business owners are able to modify existing work methods and implement change faster than large, big box organizations which have to await approval from senior authority via hierarchical chain of command (Abdullahi et al., 2021). The adaptable leadership style often results in smaller organizations experiencing rapid growth which benefits the economy. Small businesses do more than create new jobs, lead in innovation, and provide wealth back into the local community. Several small firms have developed into large businesses. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook grew their businesses from small, humble beginnings and are some of the world’s largest and most successful corporations.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

COVID-19 Economic Impact

            Business closures, employment displacements, and unbalanced stock markets were some of the global and negative effects caused by COVID-19. According to Mofijur et al. (2021) the consequences of COVID-19 resulted in confusion due to the unpredictability of the economic markets. The confusion was a result of global restrictions that mandated limited human interactions. The mandates regulated human movement in an effort to monitor and control the spread of the virus (Mofijur et al., 2021). Consequently, travel restrictions, social distancing, and self-isolation, resulted in global economies being forced to reduce their workforce which led to unemployment, reduction in revenues, and supply chain disruptions (Fairlie, 2020). Papadopoulos et al. (2020) stated that the impact of COVID-19 and the vulnerability of small organizations caused a decreased in productivity which resulted in fewer assets and lower their capital reserves. Furthermore, to help manage the control of the virus, companies that had the infrastructure in place, allowed their employees to work from home. Pirouz et al. (2020) voiced that the influence of COVID-19 upended people lives which contributed to an economic and social downward effect which are two fundamental elements to an economy’s sustainable growth and development. Additionally, the virus raised questions about its duration which prevented economies from forecasting future business operations (Rodrigues et al., 2021a).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            According to Dua et al. (2020) the pandemic shuttered several businesses, but its impact on the small business sector was most severe as the downward demand shift had a widespread effect on business closures. Dua et al. (2020) further commented that from January to April 2020, roughly 1.4 to 2.1 million small companies were forced to permanently close their operations. The global recession caused by COVID-19 resulted in smaller firms becoming more susceptible to the pandemic mainly due to their attributes, gaps in knowledge, and the lack of financial resources. The organizational sustainability crisis forced many companies to alter their business practices seemingly overnight as several business owners shifted to eCommerce and eMarkets. Papadopoulos et al. (2020) said that because of the size of small businesses and their flexibility, some small business owners developed promising strategies to sustain their business operations. Organizational leaders ought to identify the appropriate actions and strategies to implement in crisis situations and be able to measure the effectiveness of those strategies based on their company’s capabilities.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Business Strategy Methods

            Limitations such as establishing realistic goals and expectations exist for all business owners. Williams et al. (2018) suggested that successful organizations understand the importance of planning. Likewise, Rossmiller et al. (2017) mentioned the importance of having a business plan to negate business disruption and failure caused by technical difficulties. Gibson and Cassar (2002) proclaimed that forecasting future experiences that could negatively or positively impact a company’s future is essential in business management. Similarly, Altman et al. (2020) and Wiśniewski (2021) mentioned that many stakeholders used future predictions to avoid a disruption in their business practice or to prevent organizational failure. Organizational plans are created by business leaders to accomplish a specific goal, outcome, or to help balance an organization during an unexpected crisis (Williams et al., 2018). Small business owners succeed when smart goals and objectives are identified, and a plan of action is solidified in case of a crisis situation. Williams et al. (2018) continued and voiced that when business objectives are identified, a strategy must be developed to meet the organizational goals. The company’s mission and vision must be integrated in the organizational strategy for optimal results. Similarly, Dunne et al. (2021) suggested that external resources and assistance is warranted when new business strategies and ideas emerge. Baidoun et al. (2018) voiced that some small business owners do not engage or confide in external communications with professionals although an expert analysis is warranted. External professional assistance may come from seeking the advice from attorneys, accountants, consultants, and various government agencies.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            The word strategy suggests that there is a degree of analytical thinking that is combined with pinpointing and articulating specific actions to take during certain situations. Aladag et al. (2020) mentioned that the term strategy is used differently amongst practitioners for different reasons and that a strategy is a plan of actions that aligns with an organization’s mission, vision, and goals. Witek-Hajduk and Grudecka (2018) further mentioned that strategy consist of businesses being aware of their organizational position within their respective industries. After an organization understands its competitive landscape, the strategic planning process may commence. As the American business landscape continues to improve and evolve, its progression will aid in determining which businesses will survive. For example, small business owners who offer the same products and services as larger companies and other small businesses may find it difficult to coexist; therefore, small business owners who are not aware of their positioning within their industry may be crowded out when new firms enter into their markets, or they may be absorbed by larger organizations (Andrevski & Miller, 2022).

Strategic management involves collecting data and resources that aids leaders in defusing complex and dynamic issues. Small business owners who embrace strategic management increases their company’s opportunity to remain operational, generate profits, and remain small or to evolve into a larger firm. Developing a strategic plan takes time and effort, but implementing the plan is what make the strategy work. An organizational strategy is crucial for firms to succeed. Choong and Islam (2020) said that strategies are a predetermined list of activities such as planning, instruments to measure performance, and budgeting that were created to aid business leaders in achieving their goals. According to Trachtenberg (2021), the term strategy originated in the military. Military commanders developed strategies to further advance their cause and to win wars. Business strategies involve an indebt examination and thorough analysis of perceived threats that could weaken a firm’s existence (Trachtenberg, 2021). Popular frameworks exist that aid organizations in creating and implementing its strategy.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


            Small business owners can benefit from crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is an inexpensive business strategy of which the objective is to collect intelligence from likeminded professionals to solve complex problems (Nakanishi & Syozugawa, 2021). Wazny (2018) stated that Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson coined the term crowdsourcing in 2006. Chan et al. (2021) stated that crowdsourcing allows small business owners to collect information, compare and contrast the data, and synthesize creative ideas from other business owners to construct strategic organizational plans or to develop new business models. Furthermore, crowdsourcing allows organizational managers to maximize their resources. A company’s resources are important during normal daily operations but are vital in times of a global or national crisis. Raineri and Sohmen (2021) agreed with Chan et al. (2021) findings and mentioned that crowdsourcing seeks to challenge and change the status quo and to create and enhance a business strategic competitive advantage. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in global turbulence and uncertainty. Government agencies worldwide used crowdsourcing to collect and analyze data to understand the severity and the ramifications of the outbreak, the impact it had on society, and which agencies are best suited to address the dilemma (Chan et al., 2021). In similar fashion, small business owners should have embraced crowdsourcing during the time when self-isolation orders were mandated to collect data and information that could have been used to assist their business operations or convert their brick-and-mortar business to ecommerce.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The hardship caused by COVID-19 crippled the world’s economy. Further, when the world closed its borders and stay-at-home orders were implemented, small business owners were restricted and limited in increasing their revenue and innovation. Yang et al. (2021) mentioned that small business owners rely on internal and external capital to maximize innovation efforts through collaborative work. Wu et al. (2017) and Malhotra et al. (2020) said that crowdsourcing is a high-demand business strategy that can be used to elevate a company’s goods and services by offering products and services to untapped markets. Additionally, organizational and business leaders used crowdsourcing to incorporate new methods of generating income to sustain their businesses. Crowdsourcing allowed world leaders and business owners to share and express their ideas via various online social platforms. Feasibly, small business owners or people who relied on Main Street foot traffic or people were in the service industry to generate capital to sustain their companies, were not prepared for the lasting effects of COVID-19.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT)

Another strategic framework used by business leaders is the strengths, weakness, opportunity, and threat (SWOT) model that was developed by Albert Humphrey in the 1960s (Szum & Nazarko, 2020). A SWOT analysis is commonly used in the military; however, it has gained popularity amongst business owners. SWOT is a tool that helps business owners analyze their position within their markets and evaluate specific project or business idea to determine if it is worth pursuing (Spichak et al., 2021). An organization that uses a SWOT analysis examines its industry and the internal and external features that may impact its business performance. An internal business SWOT analysis may assess an organization’s intangible features such as its work culture, experience, knowledge, and other unique qualities. A company’s expertise suggests the number of people within a firm that have vital skills that their competitors may not have. Employees that have unique skillset help their organizations maintain and improve their market share. Benzaghta et al. (2021) noted that a company’s strengths are internal features that adds value to the organization or provides the firm with a competitive advantage over existing companies, and a firm’s weakness hinders a company from achieving its goals. Furthermore, Benzaghta et al. (2021) mentioned that opportunities and threats are external features that may help or impede a firm’s goals. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

A company’s status quo strategic response proves to be inadequate as companies are continuously evolving and changing the way business is conducted. Witek-Hajduk and Grudecka (2018) professed that the positioning approach is a strategic requirement for organizations in sustaining a competitive advantage over rival competitors. Han et al. (2021) mentioned that the positioning of a company emphasizes the type of strategic advancement a company aims to make. Witek-Hajduk and Grudecka (2018) stated that a firm’s strategic plan should include three primary elements to include its objective, scope, and advantage. The basic elements can aid an organization in filling gaps and overcoming limitations.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            Consumers are the lifeblood of a company’s existence. Westjohn and Magnusson (2017) claimed that to attract new customers and increase current client’s awareness, small business owners ought to position their company’s products and services as the answer to their customer’s needs. In addition, small business owners must be strategic thinkers to advance their organizations’ agenda and to compete within their respective industries. To effectively compete in a dynamic business environment, small business owners should exhibit innovative thinking by creating and offering new and different products and services to their customers. Small business owners should plan and formulate strategic objectives to help their organizations develop unique and attractive qualities. John-Eke and Eke (2020), suggested that all firms should have a well-defined strategy that serves as a framework and is aligned with and aids in guiding organizational stakeholders to its company’s mission and vision without error. Correspondingly, Akpamah et al. (2021) voiced that an organizational strategy is intertwined with its company’s mission and vision statements, beliefs, values, and norms which provides the scope and objective for organizations to gain an advantage over competitors via the manner in which the company configure its tangible and intangible resources. 

Competition within respective industries is expected and unavoidable. To ensure a company remains balanced and does not lose a foothold within their industry, barriers must be created that separate existing small business owners from new entrants. New entrants are viewed as potential threat when they operate within the same industry (Sulistyadi et al., 2019). New entrants can change the competitive landscape by lowering their prices as they enter into new markets. Lower pricing is a strategy used to attract customers which negatively impact the profits and market shares of existing companies. According to Sulistyadi et al. (2019), existing organizations experience a decline in return customers primarily because of new entrants that have entered the market. The threat of new entrances is not limited to startup firms. A new entrance may evolve from a medium or large company diversifying their organization. A thorough analysis should be conducted before small business owners enter into new markets to ensure that the industry’s structure and attractiveness are not significant barriers to overcome. Those barriers may include capital and utilizing, distribution channels, differentiation in products and services offered to constituents, varying costs, and government policies (Niño Durán et al., 2020).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Business owners are encouraged to execute a SWOT analysis to maximize resources and to solve problems. Pereira et al. (2021) stated that business owners and managers consistently think about their organization’s sustainability and the strategies and resources needed to adapt to their customers’ demands and the fast pace of changing markets. Further, Pereira et al. (2021) voiced that firms need a new SWOT analysis that aligns with the forward-looking business world. Herliana et al. (2018) mentioned that the results of a SWOT analysis will be different for each business but, its straightforward procedures will work for any company. The results and accuracy of the analysis depends on all four pillars, strength, weaknesses, opportunity, and threats, being completed. It is expected for the results to offer different findings due to how the research is conducted and the company’s method of gathering information for the SWOT analysis. Additionally, a company’s age will impact the depth of each pillar regarding the opportunities and its competition within their respective industries (Herliana et al., 2018). 

The onset of COVID-19 resulted in global economic crisis. Business leaders worldwide were not prepared for the effects of COVID-19 nor the consequences it had on their organization. A business SWOT analysis could have been used and may have offer a different solution to generate wealth. A SWOT analysis can be used by a Fortune 500 company, a small startup firm, an entrepreneur, or a student preparing for an upcoming exam. According to Yogi et al. (2017), most military operations commence after a thorough SWOT analysis is performed. Furthermore, the SWOT analysis should be conducted on a regularly scheduled basis or during times of uncertainty.

Strength. The strength of a small business SWOT analysis may be that the business owner harnesses the full objectives of the analysis and determine that as a small business, they do not have to wait on managerial decisions to react or respond to things as they occur in their market. Instead, small business owners can pivot and adjust to the changing market demands. Further, a comprehensive SWOT examination during a crisis may influence business owners and leaders to rethink their priorities. According to Wicaksono et al. (2021) the COVID-19 outbreak shifted organizational leaders’ mindset which resulted in refocusing their attention on the resources that were mission essential and non-essential projects were placed on hold. Before the federal and state stay-at-home orders were implemented, small business owners who wanted to expand their brick-and-mortar stores decided to repurpose their funds and adapt to new platforms aimed at generating sales (Wicaksono et al., 2021). Yacob et al. (2021) commented on the current and foreseeable rise in global ecommerce as small business owners were most concern with their firms’ bottom line and transitioned their brick-and-mortar business to online platforms. Fedirko et al. (2021) reported that since COVID-19, e-commerce sales increased. Specifically, online traffic in June 2019 reflected 16.2 billion people which increased in June 2020 by approximately 35% to 21.96 billion people within a year. Additionally, Fedirko et al. (2021) said that during the quarantine, e-commerce inventory turnover doubled. Fedirko et al. (2021) concurred with Yacob et al. (2021) analysis and stated that online services are unlikely to lose its foothold in the future. The transition from in-person shopping to online purchases catapulted many small businesses who were on the edge going of business failure. 

Weaknesses. Using a SWOT analysis to help identify weaknesses within an organization is admirable but converting those weaknesses into strengths helps solidify a company’s competitive advantage. Small businesses are considered to be the cornerstone for economies where they operate. However, they are also the most vulnerable. The global impact of COVID-19 created a rippling effect worldwide and the protection of small businesses became a priority. Bartik et al. (2020b) commented on the challenges and weaknesses COVID-19 created for small business owners. Specifically, business closures, layoffs, mental health and morale, working from home, and safety concerns were identified as some of the weaknesses the pandemic caused small business owners. An organization’s weakness has the ability to interfere with its ability to operate effectively and efficiently. However, a company that can pinpoint their weakness via a SWOT analysis may find areas that require improvement. In addition, a SWOT analysis can aid in finding tangible and intangible resources that are needed.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Various safety and health restrictions prevented many small business owners from conducting normal business operations. Furthermore, as the pandemic progressed, the demand for consumer products changed. As revenue continue to decline, some small business owners identified their weaknesses and transformed them into strengths. Caballero-Morales (2021) posited that despite government loans that were designed to help small business owners pay their rent, retain employees, and to invest in infrastructure, found that it was insufficient as additional monies were needed to sustain their operations. Innovation and creativity were hallmarks that helped small businesses remain operational. The creativity and innovation accelerated many small businesses which created new business models and opportunities. Harel (2021) echoed Caballero-Morales (2021) statements and voiced that despite the economic woes caused by COVID-19, some small business owners were not negatively impacted by the pandemic due to innovation tools and promotion developments. Harel et al. (2020) mentioned that small firms who welcomed open innovation for knowledge and processes sharing were successful in adapting and adjusting to innovation. Harel et al. (2020) statement suggested that a company’s ability to create networks to share knowledge and processes may influence or determine their net worth and growth. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Opportunity. A SWOT analysis aids business owners in strategically identifying their strengths, weaknesses, and any opportunities or threats that may exist. After the completion of a SWOT analysis, business owners, managers, and leaders can objectively view areas within their business operation for improvements in their core competencies. According to Vlados (2019), opportunities showcase areas that can be leveraged to grow a business. Opportunities manifest themselves in different forms. Some opportunities will be revealed from the organization’s strengths whilst others may be suggested from outside market trends (Peart & Knowles, 2018). Peart and Knowles (2018) and Valenturf and Jopson (2019) acknowledged that every positive opportunity, however small, aids in creating a competitive advantage. Additionally, business owners must decide if new opportunities align with their company’s current mission and goals or will new opportunities afford business owners to enter into new markets. Furthermore, opportunities may suggest that business owners enhance or leverage their current networking ability by utilizing technology. As technology evolves and small business owners ought to adapt to technological changes to remain competitive within their competitive markets. Opportunities may also aid business owners in identifying targeted population for new products or services that are not currently offered (Vlados, 2019).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Threats. Threats are factors that negatively influence a company’s operational performance and its ability to generate income. Benzaghta et al. (2021), Naradda-Gamage et al. (2020), and Vlados (2019) mentioned that SWOT analysis explores threats that are external to an organization and prevents it from optimal performance. External threats maybe imposed via laws and regulations or by competitors offering new products and services. Similarly, the strengths of major competitors are viewed as threats. Larger organizations help small companies when it is a matter of convenience which aids in keeping them in power. Zastempowski and Cyfert (2021) suggested that an influential threat between large businesses and small organizations is that smaller firms’ creativity and innovation are consumed by big box stores which allows them to diversify their footprint in other markets.

A challenge most small business owners face is the decision about whether or not to diversify. Diversification may be viewed as a strategy or as a threat if proper analysis is not completed beforehand. Diversification allows business owners to expand into new markets. However, diversification can be highly unpredictable with no return on investment. Small business owners may experience threats due to unplanned losses. Additionally, small businesses are more susceptible to economic changes compared to larger companies. COVID-19 resulted in many unanticipated disruptions which had a negative impact on revenue. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic and the government required lockdown created many business and supply chain interruptions. Liu et al. (2022) and Sombultawee et al. (2022) reflected on the supply chain disruptions that resulted in many unanticipated losses due to essential raw material, goods, and services being delayed. Naradda-Gamage et al. (2020) noted that some business owners have minimal knowledge in understanding their internal and external environments.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Financial Threats. A thorough risk assessment should be the first thing a small business owner should complete before opening a newly established business. In addition to some of the most common causes of business failure which are business interruptions, employee retention, lack of innovation, and data breaches, Dyer (2021) said that poor implementation of a financial strategy plan leads most businesses to failure. Further, Bartik et al. (2020b) suggested that when small businesses were impacted by COVID-19, many business owners did not have the financial stability to survive past 2 weeks. Dyer (2021) and Robinson (2017) voiced that financial resources, knowledge, and skills are required to sustain businesses. Furthermore, Robinson (2017) mentioned that small business owners who have more financial resources are least likely to fail compared to business owners who do not have financial resources readily available.

Lamoreaux (2019) and Upson and Green (2020) agreed that some larger organizations monopolize industries which negatively impact small businesses. Forrest et al. (2017) explained the monopolizing industries and markets is a strategy used to prevent competitors or new entrants from gaining market share. Monopolization has social implications (Forrest et al., 2017). Consumers choices, price discrimination, and decline in innovation are a few of societal drawbacks caused by an organization controlling industries and markets. As a result of operating in a controlled environment, small business owners may be forced to compete within the established market or seek new markets for opportunities.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Economic Threats. Economic risk occurs when government laws and regulations, fluctuating rates, economic sanctions, and political instability impact the economy. Small organizations do not have the same resources as larger companies therefore are more vulnerable when changes occur. The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted worldwide economies which caused economic downturns, an increase in unemployment, and organizational failure (Loxton et al., 2020). Liu et al. (2020) posited that the inexistence of a COVID-19 vaccine aided in creating an unstable market and a volatile economy. Furthermore, government enforced self-isolations exacerbated consumer spending which limited and restricted many consumers decisions to purchase items.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Human and Technology Threats. Internal decisions related to human and technology threats may also hinder a company’s performance such as relying on a single supplier or manufacture for its goods and services. For example, a leader’s decision to refuse to diversify or expand suppliers and manufactures may result in existing competitors or new entrants maximizing on products and services that are not offered to consumers (Golmohammadi & Hassini, 2020). Additionally, internal threats include poor or insufficient management practice. Poor leadership or incompetent management are viewed as internal threats. Poor leadership and unstable management practices may result in low morale and low retention rates. Allen (2019) mentioned that employees that have low engagement is often linked to bad leadership and management. Schouteren (2019) voiced that disgruntled employees are likely to cause cyber-attacks within an organization. Small business owners are more vulnerable to cyberattacks compared to big box stores. Unger (2021) said that in 2020, approximately 75% of global organizations reported receiving fraudulent emails from different agencies purporting to be reputable companies. Cyber-attacks and threats were enhanced when business owners allowed their employees to work from home due to the COVID-19’s self-isolation orders. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

COVID-19 reshaped the business environment, as Americans were allowed to work from home to ensure social distancing and to prevent overcrowding. According to Jacobs and Barrett (2020) and Scott and Gross (2021), stay-at-home orders issued by state and government officials resulted in 30% to 42% fewer crimes; however, Oki and Ngotshane (2021) acknowledged that the increase in online activity resulted in online criminals defrauding people and compromising companies. Hawdon et al. (2020) mentioned that during the COVID-19 lockdown phase, 88% of companies in the U.S. encouraged and required their employees to telework. House (2021) suggested that on a yearly basis, approximately 1% global GDP, or $600 billion, is stolen by cyber criminals.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Small business owners who shifted to online platforms accumulated customer data. Cyber thieves took advantage of the pandemic’s hectic and turbulent times. Fisher et al. (2021) commented that organizational cyber-attacks will evolve to become more recurring and more sophisticated. Fisher et al. (2021) agreed with Schouteren (2019) regarding employees being a liability to cyber risks but added that properly trained employees can be a company’s best defense against illegal cyber activity.

Phenomenological Threats. Natural disasters and hazards may present threats in epic proportions. Natural disasters cause environmental and demographic damages. Emmer (2018) and Seeger et al. (2018) mentioned that tornados, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, snowstorm, and hurricanes are examples of natural disasters. Huang et al. (2018) expressed the recovery of small businesses is a critical factor when disaster occurs because of the social and economic impact they have in the communities where they operate. Further, Huang et al. (2018) stated that disasters create lasting disorder, disruption, and interruption to business owners. Disaster or hazards that interfere with supply chains results in small businesses experiencing a reduction in revenue. Marshall and Schrank (2020) and Azmi et al. (2021) professed that organizational learning and innovation are vital for the success of small firms and business owners who possess these capabilities sustain and recover from natural disasters faster than those who do not. Further, Azmi et al. (2021) averred that innovation is the cornerstone for small firms to survive and aids businesses during a phenomenological crisis. Marshall and Schrank (2020) stated that 18.9% of small business discontinue their business after hurricane Katrina. Furthermore, Marshall and Schrank (2020) mentioned that some small business owners reopened but later closed due to the aftermath caused by Katrina.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The PESTEL Model

The second instrument small business owners can use to strengthen their sustainability and survivability is the political, economic, social, technology, environment, and legal (PESTEL) analysis. Similar to the SWOT analysis, the PESTEL framework can help business owners explore and analyze critical external factors that may be a threat to a firm’s growth and existence. The PESTEL acronym was created by Harvard professor, Francis Aguilar in 1967 (Carruthers, 2009). Mokhtar (2021) voiced that the goal of the PESTEL instrument is to educate and help business owners have a better understanding of their market conditions. Operating a small business in an unstable market proves to be difficult and a PESTEL strategic analysis examines an organizations external surroundings using the six components of the acronym. The factors from the acronyms will expose future influences on business development. Vintilă et al. (2017) and Ghotge et al. (2020) stated that a PESTEL framework may suggest an opportunity versus risk business decision so that organizational leaders can anticipate strategic decisions about their company’s trajectory after identifying future economic variables that may impact their strategic plans and development. Further, Ghotge et al. (2020) said that the PESTEL model aids business owners by providing a holistic or bird’s eye view approach to business management and to track external changes that are occurring within their market. Similar to the SWOT framework, a PESTEL analysis is a fact-finding activity that could influence a business owner’s decision while maximizing opportunities and reducing threats. According to Abdullah et at. (2022) and Zentner et al. (2020), when business owners conduct a PESTEL analysis, the proper questions must be asked to establish the strategic framework for the foundation. A PESTEL analysis will provide helpful information to business owners regarding what their company should do regarding sustaining organizational goals and the strategies they should use to attain them. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Political. The political component of the PESTEL analysis determines how, if, or when a government agency may impact a company and its industry. According to Dalirazar and Sabzi (2020), state and government policies can influence an organization’s ability to generate profits and operate efficiently. De Matteis et al. (2022) suggested that such barriers that align with political factors and may affect the outcome of a business consist of the government’s stability, tax reform and labor laws, fiscal laws, tariffs, diplomatic affairs to include wars, changes in national or global leadership, industry standards, and how elected official regulate a company’s industry. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Economic. The goal of a PESTEL model is to identify changes that might have a significant impact on the growth and development of businesses. Serfointein and Govender (2020) posit that economic factors such as monitoring the quarterly and annually gross domestic product, interest rates, inflation, unemployment rates, trends in the stock market, and being aware of consumer confidence and spending behaviors may provide business owners the opportunity to prepare for fluctuations within the economy and allow them to make strategic managerial decisions. Further, Serfointein and Govender (2020) mentioned that factors that influence the economy ought to be continuously monitored for business owners to remain competitive and profitable. Additionally, uncertain and unstable fuel expenses result in fluctuating business operating cost which proves to be difficult to forecast and strategically plan for (Mhlanga & Steyn, 2017). Supply and demand also impact an economy stability. Jafari and Akhavian (2019) mentioned that the increase in inflation rates will influence how companies price their products and services; however, it will also impact the consumer’s purchasing power which will affect supply and demand.

Social. The social aspect of PESTLE aids small business owners in organizing, planning, and marketing for societal changes. Small business owners must be aware of the societal changes as humanistic behavior and expectations continue to evolve. Amankwah-Amoah (2018) and Serfointein and Govender (2020) mentioned that the competitiveness of a firm reduces when organizational leaders’ lack the knowledge regarding external changes within their environment. It is essential for small business owners to understand their target audience and what that population consist of. Social factors can include the surrounding populations’ education, health, religion, ethics, media, and a particular brand preference. Understanding the demographics and culture of a population aid business owners in marketing and advertising their product and services.

            Understanding and adhering to a populations’ buying behavior is crucial in sustaining a competitive advantage. Additionally, sociocultural influences such as media and fashion trends can influence when and how a targeted group engage with new products and services. Carlson and Stenberg (2020) mentioned that cognitive functions develop when interactions between people take place. Sociocultural impacts the psychological development of individuals. Specifically, sociocultural not only influence how a person learns, but also how a person attitude and cultural beliefs are shaped and developed.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            To help control the spread of COVID-19, government, state, and local officials mandated restriction that prevented humans from being in close proximity of each other (Fairlie, 2020). The restrictions altered how people interviewed for jobs, learned, and worshiped. As a result, the outbreak resulted in new social norms (Lecossier & Pallot, 2020). Business leaders sought new business strategies to uphold the demand for services.

Technology. The PESTEL analysis examines technology in terms of its existence, availability and usage, and its innovation. Organizational leaders who sought new avenues to adopt and overcome the pandemic were more likely to succeed. The COVID-19 crowd control restrictions affected small business more severely than larger companies. Digital advances in technology help business leaders pivot their business to meet the demands of their customers and employees (Saadat-Nakyejwe et al., 2021). According to Bai et al. (2021) and Nandi et al. (2020), as COVID-19 continued to force a new business operational model, organizations that did not have technology in place were in dire need to survive. Moreover, Bartik et al. (2020b) stated that the absence of technology and no online presence was damaging for small business owners and further increased their vulnerability.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            The pandemic resulted in organizational leaders transforming their business culture, model, and strategy. E-commerce and social media were widely adopted by organization during the pandemic. Trawnih et al. (2021) voiced that online social media became a dominate platform for organizations to survive and to generate sales. Fernandes (2021) commented that online connections via virtual reality and other remote services enhanced customers’ behaviors dramatically. Furthermore, Fernandes (2021) stated that because of COVID-19, the Internet of Things (IoT) has had great success in connecting business leaders to public service which allows them to have access to different resources. The stay-at-home order and the IoT resulted in e-commerce having significant success (Cesarovic et al., 2021). Further, Cesarovic et al. (2021) said that before COVID-19, approximately 46% of business leaders suggested that through digitalization, small and medium size organizations had the same opportunities as larger companies.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Environment. The PESTEL environmental factor impacts businesses. Environmental factors are external to an organization, and may include climate change, pollution, and how organizations dispose of waste. Energy consumption regulations are also covered under environmental laws. Kardes et al. (2021) and Morgunova and Bolkina (2021) mentioned that a business external environment may be considered stable based on its political, legal, social, and ethical variables.

Legal. The legal factors consist of how laws affect a company’s business operations and its customers. Specifically, business owners ought to be concerned with legal factors that have a direct impact on its business. Such laws consist of discrimination, employment, technology, how goods and material are imported and exported, consumer laws, copyright laws, taxation, and health and safety laws. Casañ et al. (2021) and Kardes et al. (2021) agreed that government laws are required and are essential in establishing markets. The fundamental performance of an organization is linked to laws that are used to protect intellectual property rights and aid in solving disputes. Further, a company’s internal laws establish policy that all employees are expected to abide by. A legal analysis will aid business owners in developing strategies that align with the law.

POLC Framework

            Organizational challenges exist in all businesses. Challenges that are not managed and controlled may present many threats and result in the company’s demise. Management involves a combination of interrelated functions that creates, direct, implement and oversee organizational goals. Business owners, managers, and leaders strive to keep business afloat yet many fail. According to Frota-Vasconcellos and Martens (2019) and Yonk et al. (2017) startup firms, entrepreneurship, and small business failures have been discussed extensively over the past decades. Additionally, when small businesses fail, serious implications and consequences to the American employment rates and the economy are at risk. To aid in minimizing the risk of continued business closures, several theories have been written to address leadership and management practices.

            The planning, organizing, leading, and controlling (POLC) framework is a management tool that aids managers in maximizing their internal, external, tangible, and intangible resources for sustained and superior performance. The four elements of the framework are interwoven to achieve optimal results. The POLC is considered to be the essence of management. Guseynova (2020) suggested that small business owners are challenged daily to solve complex problems and the POLC holistic framework was designed to aid business owners’ in carrying out day-to-day activities while effectively and efficiently operating their businesses.  Guseynova (2020) further mentioned that the four pillars of the POLC management framework was coined by French manager, Henri Fayol. Guseynova (2020) said that when exercised properly, the framework provides a gateway for managers and subordinates to gain interpersonal trust which encourages a healthy working environment.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Planning. Planning is a strategic objective business owners use in choosing the appropriate organizational goals and to determine the best course of action to accomplish those goals. Additionally, planning is required for substantial, long-term success. According to Victor et al. (2019), a company’s strategic blueprint should encompass its business process management (BPM) cycle. Malinova and Mendling (2018) voiced that the BPM is an organizational discipline that allows business owners to objectively view each business process. Understanding how each process performs aid business owners in justifying their decision making and planning (Malinova & Mendling, 2018). A business owner’s strategic plan is a plan of action designed to outperform their competitors and achieve superior growth and profits (Anderson, 2019). Furthermore, Anderson (2019) proclaimed that an essential part in developing a successful strategy plan, is for business owners to be aware of current situations within its organizations and its industry. Furthermore, during the planning phase, business owners should predict and anticipate desired outcome based on their strategy plan’s agenda. Victor et al. (2019) concurred with Anderson (2019) and voiced that a company’s business model and strategic plan aids business owners and managers in identifying their intended audience and how their firm will benefit from value propositions.

The planning phase consist of managers forecasting future events and outcomes. During the planning phase, managers must ensure that the proper resources are available to accomplish the goals that have been outlined. Furthermore, managers should make sure that employees have the proper skillset to perform jobs that are critical to its success. Additionally, after a thorough scan of the internal and external environment, managers outline or identify their course of actions and select the best course of action that meets its company’s objective using the fewest amount of resources. All projects must be measurable, monitored, and evaluated with suspense dates assigned to ensure time management.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Organizing. Organizing is the second function of the POLC management framework. Specifically, organizing is linked to the planning phase and it involves strategically assessing and allocating all resources at the right time to maximize a company’s efficiency and effectiveness. Dolechek et al. (2019) acknowledged that organizing emphasizes the relationships among employees and other resources. In addition, organizational management refers to the management and distribution of all available resources that a project requires (Li-Fan et al., 2019). Donada et al. (2019) mentioned that the purpose of organizational management is for companies to allocate the proper resources to achieve its business goals. Organizational management involves assigning the right person who has the right skillset to perform the right job at the right time. Organizational management is more than organizing resources; instead, it involves planning, monitoring, and implementing (Li-Fan et al., 2019).                             Leading. The next phase in the POLC frameworks is leading. Leading is a function of management and requires authenticity (Azanza et al., 2018; Semedo et al., 2018). Shafique and Loo-See (2018) voiced that leaders play an important role within an organization. Leaders are responsible for understanding the objectives of the planning and organizing phase and motivate employees in achieving their goals (Shafique & Loo-See, 2018). Semedo et al. (2018) said that a key attribute of leading is having self-awareness. Azanza et al. (2018) mentioned that the behavior and attitude of leaders affect employees’ performance. Authentic leadership is associated with organizational performance in terms of employees’ willingness to do extra (Azanza et al., 2018). The conceptual framework that supports authentic leadership suggests that lead through positive modeling. Furthermore, employees are less likely to be influenced by leaders who are not authentic.  Several leadership theories exist that leaders can use to encourage individuals to do their best work; however, Shafique and Loo-See (2018) mentioned that leaders ought to be conscious of their leadership style and approach.

Controlling. The final pillar in the POLC framework is controlling. Controlling and allocating resources is critical to a firm’s success (Mladenova, 2019). Controlling resources helps ensure that a company’s performance is aligned with its objectives and future goals. Allocating and managing resource is vital to an organization as the proper distribution of resources must be done to prevent over and under allocating resources to tasks or projects (Mladenova, 2019). Yan (2021) voiced that a company’s business strategy often times is associated with cost management, therefore, controlling involves measuring and comparing organizational standards and making the necessary adjustments when corrective action is warranted. In the controlling phase, managers should measure performance via different methods to determine the degree to which its goals are achieved. 

Crisis Management

Crisis management plans are needed to maintain a company’s stability and continued growth during unstable times. The onset of the global pandemic caused a downward impact to the world’s economy (Mou, 2020). Not having an adequate crisis plan to implement when unexpected business disruptions arise will more likely than not result in a major financial loss or business closure. According to Lukas et al. (2020), organizations that create and implement a crisis management plan are more likely to resolve unanticipated business operational tasks during a crisis.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Throughout history, many leadership theories were developed to assist in sustaining profitable organizations. Despite the number of theories coined, there has never been a one-size that fits all approach. Many organizations face internal and external challenges that may threaten or weaken their firm’s existence. Moreover, what maybe a threat to one company may be an advantage to another. Scherr (1989) stated that prior research focused exclusively on a firm’s financial data although failure in managerial practices were viewed as critical to a company’s survivability. Dun and Bradstreet (1993) stated the differences between a business failure and discontinuance. Specifically, Dun and Bradstreet (1993) identified Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings to define a business discontinuance and failure. Dun and Bradstreet (1993) said that any business that files Chapter 7 will involve court proceedings because of the financial losses to its creditors, and courts may order firms to liquidate their assets to repay their creditors. Organizations that file Chapter 11 remain in business by restructuring their debt to repay their business expenses. Both Chapter 7, and Chapter 11 are viewed as business failures due to losses to their creditors. Discontinuance occurs when a business owner decides to no longer remain operational and there are no financial losses to creditors (Dun & Bradstreet, 1993).

To learn more about the successes and failures of small businesses, Lussier (1995) used predictive modeling to determine the likelihood of a small business success or failure and explored if organizations that succeed or fail have equal resources made available to them. Lussier (1995) examined 15 variables to determine the possibility of a business success or failure. At the conclusion of Lussier (1995) research, common themes emerged. Planning, professional advisors, education, and staffing were the top four variables and were considered to be the most significant to business strategy and longevity (Lussier, 1995). Furthermore, Lussier (1995) mentioned that the sustainability and failure of a business do not have the equal number of resources. Specifically, small businesses that were successful sought and adhered to professional advice which allowed them to create specific business plans. The professional consultant’s advice correlated to developing strategic plan that measured internal and external threats and aided in identifying future goals. Organizations that failed had more education and experienced difficulties in hiring competent staff (Lussier, 1995).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Mullen (1965) mentioned that past literature on organizational sustainability suggested that leadership strategies were abstract and does not align with a firm’s environment. According to Mullen (1965), leadership, organizational structure, technology and systems, and measurement were four variables that were identified as contributing factors to a company’s rate of productivity and its efficiency. However, Chinomona (2013) voiced that an organization’s culture and performance is influenced by its owner leadership style. Sikdar and Payyazhi (2014) noted that small firms often operate in continuously changing environments. To remain competitive in fluctuating environments, small business owners ought to develop business strategies to assist in their business operations.

Bundy et al. (2017) described an organizational crisis as a notable and unanticipated disruption that would negatively impact a company’s performance if immediate action were not taken to prevent or minimize further harm or damage to their firm’s missions and goals. Additionally, Bundy et al. (2017) stated that organizational crises have four primary characteristics which consist of: (a) disruption of change; (b) the crises is threatening and harmful to the organization; (c) the crises are behavioral phenomena; and (d) the crises are part of a larger process versus a single occurrence. Bundy et al. (2017) defined crisis management as the strategies used by organizational leaders to combat crises to reduce or eliminate the negative events or consequences that was caused by the unexpected event.

Organizations that function in a homeostasis manner may not survive during a crisis situation (Kahveci, 2021). Furthermore, Kahveci (2021) mentioned that depending on the longevity and severity of a crisis, some firms may be demolished. Kitching et al. (2009) posited that a crisis may require companies to reconfigure their organizational structure and operational configurations. However, the reconfiguration of a company’s organizational structure may lead to new innovative opportunities as organizational leaders acknowledge that a new status quo exists for business operations (Marikova et al., 2016; Williamson & Zeng, 2009). (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Dwiedienawati et al. (2021) said that organizational leaders can future proof their company’s existence by developing a strategic plan of action that is designed to respond to significant situations and to help protect their firm’s reputation. Furthermore, the framework that supports a crisis management plan ought to depict how a company should respond should a crisis occur. According to White (2014), crisis planning, crisis management, and managing the repercussion of a crisis is vital to a company’s existence. 

The economic impact combined with the small business vulnerability suggest the need to examine and understand how small business owners think, prepare, and respond to crisis management to avoid workflow interruptions. Developing and implementing organizational strategies that aids in crisis management situations is crucial to America’s economy. According to the Small Business Administration (2018), there are approximately 32.5 million small firms operating in America. Furthermore, small businesses produced 61.2 million, or 46.8% of America’s net jobs (Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, 2021). Crisis management strategies are vital in sustaining and contributing to the economic improvements of human and social conditions.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The success and failure rates of small businesses have been researched extensively. According to Harris (1994), Murphy’s Law suggest that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong and if something can go right, it will go right. Crisis management is an essential element in organizational management. Small business owners who do not have a crisis management plan are more likely to experience chaos and failure. According to Mackey (1996), small business owners who are primed to succeed are likely to experience failure due to unforeseen complications and their ability to mitigate losses. Additionally, Mackey (1996) mentioned that organizations that recognize that change, failure, and chaos are likely to occur are more prone to focusing on changing fiascos to accomplishments and chaos to order. Ley et al. (2012) noted that unlike most smaller firms, larger companies are more likely to develop and effectively implement a plan of action should an unexpected event occur. Furthermore, LiPuma et al. (2013) averred that small business owners may lack the required resources to plan for unexpected events or operational interruptions. Herbane (2010) hypothesized that educating small business owners of the consequences of a crisis is less effective compared to experiencing a crisis firsthand. Antonacopoulou and Shaffer (2013) said that there are several obstacles that may prevent small business owners from producing strategies and contingencies plans in case of a crisis. Kim (2016) stated when a crisis occurs, business leaders should have the ability to respond to the crisis to prevent further delays.

Crisis Management and Organizational Leadership

Business owners ought to create and articulate an organizational strategy that outlines their long-term goals and objectives in a coherent manner. Furthermore, when creating the strategic plan of action, the business owner should consider the firm’s internal and external resources that can be used to exploit their company’s growth and future opportunities (Kurniawan et al., 2021; Orr, 2019). The strategy’s purpose must align with the organization’s short or long-term objectives. Creating a strategic plan is essential in every organization because it provides a clear and detailed framework for employees and leaders to use as a guide while working. For this reason, strategy is a vital to management.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Before the pandemic, Turner and Endres (2017) voiced that to remain competitive in today’s evolving business environment, small business owners must be innovative and adopt to their customer’s demands and expectations. However, to remain operational during the economic downturn, COVID-19 presented new challenges and expectations for small business owners. Specifically, business owners had to reassess their organizational strategy and develop new approaches to remain operative. Rodrigues et al. (2021a) mentioned that the coronavirus exposed weaknesses and presented obstacles to daily business operations within organizations that attempted to respond to the pandemic. Furthermore, Rodrigues et al. (2021b) noted that to prevent a future business crisis or work stoppage, it was imperative for small business owners and their managers to be prepared to manage their business operations during unstable times.

Rattanaprichavej (2021) researched the effect COVID-19 had on crisis management strategies in real estate. According to Rattanaprichavej (2021), pre-crisis, ongoing-crisis, and post-crisis were the three phases used when implementing a crisis management strategy; however, the deployment and utilization of the strategy was depicted in five stages which consisted of offensive, challenge, passive, termination, and internal process changes (Rattanaprichavej, 2021).  (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Business Operations Theories

Resource-based View Theory

            The Resource-based view (RVB) theory contributes to an organization’s operational strategy by examining and exploiting how the company’s internal resources are related to their firm’s performance, growth, and sustainability. The resource-based view theory was originated in the 1950s by Edith Penrose (Esteve-Pérez & Mañez-Castillejo, 2008). Kozlenkova et al. (2014) mentioned that the resource-based theory is a managerial framework that relies on a firm’s internal resources to grow and sustain its operations. Furr and Eisenhardt (2021) mentioned that utilizing RVB in disrupted environments may not be beneficial; however, Gibson et al. (2021) voiced that communities are a valued resource for companies especially in tumultuous times.

The core essence of the RVB strategy relies on resources that are rare, valuable, inimitable, and non-substitutable (Gibson et al., 2021). The sustained superior performance offered by RVB derive from tangible and intangible resources. Tangible resources are things that can be purchased and are not considered to be long-term advantages because competitors may also purchase the items in an open market. Such tangible resources include but are not limited to factories, delivery vans, and warehouses. Further, intangible resources provide value to a firm because those resources are considered to be rare and unique and not easily replaceable. Intangible resources include a person’s leadership abilities, skills and know-how, and certain capabilities. An intangible resource may also include a firm’s working environment. Organizations that exhibit a healthy working environment are highly productive, tasks are completed on time, employees are happy, and staff members display a high quality of work (Webster, 2019). Intangible resources may take time to fully develop; however, they are not merchandise that can be purchased. The RVB model has the potential to forecast assumptions and outcomes and provides small business owners with competitive advantages within their industries (Kozlenkova et al., 2014).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The RVB theory suggest that a company’s strategic resources should be considered as its competitive advantage. Strategic resources are those items that are rare and valuable, and most companies cannot afford to acquire them via the open market. Additionally, strategic resources are difficult to replicate. Copyright laws, trademarks, and patents have made it difficult for other companies to replicate other organizations resources. Non-substitutable resources limit other competitors from benefiting from a particular resource because resources that might be strategic comparable does not exist. Non-substitutable resources are not the same as resources that are rare and valuable. Some resources that rare and valuable can be imitated and the advantage of having those resources are short lived.

The backbone of the RVB is the resources a company has it its disposal. The resources must be either controlled or owned by the firm. Resources alone is not sufficient to sustain a company’s competitive advantage. Instead, an organization’s capabilities are needed to perform an action competently. Further, small business owner who use RVB ought to know their competitive position and tailor their unique resources to acquire sustainability, profits, and longevity. 

General Systems Theory

Another framework that managers use to gain a competitive advantage is the general systems theory (GST). Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy created the systems theory in the 1930s (Kast & Rosenzweig, 1972; von Bertalanffy, 1972). In creating the systems theory, von Bertalanffy sought to understand the basic principles of the universe. According to von Bertalanffy (1972), any portion of the universe should be perceived as a system. Further the term system was used as a general name to independently clarify things of a particular field of study (von Bertalanffy, 1972). Checkland (1994) and Williams et al. (2017) posit that the systems theory approach is an interconnected multi-disciplinary that uses interrelated functions and concepts aimed at a universal understanding of how processes work. The system theory approach seeks to understand the wholeness of a system by dissecting, analyzing, and understanding each component that makeup the system. The system theory focuses on the examination of subsystems and how those systems interact with other systems, their environments, or the universe to achieve organizational success. According to Williams et al. (2017), organizations are viewed as systems and may be interpreted as being open or closed. Andre-Luiz Barbosa and Parente (2019) suggested that businesses cannot survive without the exchange of products and services within its environment. Kantabutra and Ketprapakorn (2021) agreed with Andre-Luiz Barbosa and Parente (2019) and voiced that an open system interacts with its environment. Additionally, Skyttner (2001) mentioned that open systems consist of four primary components: inputs, processes, output, and feedback. Such interactions may include procuring items and transforming those items to be sold. The sale of those items generates sale tax which goes back into the local economy or holistic system. For example, sales tax is used to pay for state and city improvement which may include improvements to local schools and streets. Furthermore, Kantabutra and Ketprapakorn (2021) said that the systems theory embodies how relationships between subsystems are integrated and interact for the good of the whole. Furthermore, the systems theory approach examines how processes within each subsystem are defined and work together which enhances human knowledge that may be used to streamline processes or to create new innovative ideas. Checkland (1994) and Johnson et al. (1964) stated that systems theory is a management strategy that organizations use to maximize its resources. Specifically, Johnson et al. (1964) expressed that systems theory approach is a modification of the classic management view of a company which sought to find the best way to produce a product or service. The system theory approach describes each resource as unique and contributes to the organizational goals (Johnson et al., 1964).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Open Systems

            The GST created boundaries to study particular phenomena. The framework for open systems is different from closed systems. Open systems must interact with its environment to remain competitive and to survive within its industry. Keiper and Barnes (2021) suggested that environments influence how organizations operate. Specifically, Keiper and Barnes (2021) commented on how the economy and political and social factors affect change, growth, and the sustainability of a company. Open systems use environmental inputs and transform the contributions into outputs. Further, Keiper and Barnes (2021) stressed that a company’s environmental surroundings must be well-thought-out when determining the location to operate a business. If the surroundings are less than promising, the organization may not prosper. Knowing the environment may attribute to a business survival. Small business owners ought to have a thorough understanding of their internal and external system processes. Understanding these processes will aid in developing strategies to generate profits and sustainable growth.

Closed Systems

            Closed systems are independent and does not require environmental influences. Closed systems are used internally to advance a company’s agenda. An internal or closed system may include an internal output from workers who were treated properly. Valenturf and Jopson (2019) averred that closed systems are the actions within a particular subset that does not involve external resources from its environment. For example, a company’s research and development department of a business may be considered closed because the creative thinking and innovative ideas emerge from within the department and no outside resources, recommendations or other types of influences is needed.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Resource-based View Theory and General Systems Theory

            The resource-based view theory and systems theory are two approaches that small business owners can use to increase their competitiveness. Nagano (2020) acknowledged that proper knowledge aid business owners in making holistic and strategic decisions. The RBV frameworks uses a company’s internal resources and processes as leverage to gain a competitive advantage. Unlike other theories that focus on the external environment, RVB strengthens it competitive foothold by analyzing and maximizing its internal resources. Pigatto et al. (2019) mentioned that the affect companies will have on their insertion into a larger competitive pool will depend on its ability to combine their resources (Lopotenco & Ciobanu, 2021; Nagano, 2020). Internal resources may be tangible or intangible and maybe considered strengths or weaknesses. The RBV model asserts that an organizations’ resources are its building blocks for growth and sustainability. After resources are identified and its creative value starts to unfold, competitors may find it difficult to imitate and implement similar resources that have the same effect.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            The system theory approach explores the wholeness of a structure while placing emphasis on relationships between the parts that form the whole. Systems theory strength comes from learning how parts of a system work together to benefit and form the whole (Lopotenco & Ciobanu, 2021). Further, when single parts of a system unite, it becomes a new function within the system. Therefore, the function of the whole takes on a new role and is different from single components.

Knowledge Gap

            A knowledge gap exists in the literature regarding leadership strategies amid a crisis. A significant amount of literature mentions the impact COVID-19 had on small businesses and the governmental policies and regulations that affected the survivability of small firms (Everett & Watson, 1998; Fairlie, 2020). Despite the overarching aim of crisis management and sustainability amongst small business owners, crisis management and sustainable business growth continues to have separate paths in academic literature. The current crisis management literature acknowledges that a crisis can have long-term negative effects for small businesses and as a result of the pandemic, several business owners modified their business model to remain operational.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

There is an abundance of literature that mentions crisis management, however, there is an insufficient amount that is linked to sustainable growth and development. Acknowledging the current literature about the current state of leadership theories and crisis management and how and when contingency plans should be implemented to sustain small firms are warranted.

Utilizing tools such as a SWOT, PESTEL, crowdsourcing, and the POLC frameworks aid organizational leaders in locating and surveying locations that may be profitable for their organization and aid business leaders in recognizing their organizational position within their respective industries (Witek-Hajduk & Grudecka, 2018). Furthermore, the resource-based view theory and system theory capitalize on an organization’s external and internal resources that may be used to create barriers for competitors. The RVB and systems theories approach emphasized the importance of a firm’s resource as its greatest benefit in creating a sustainable competitive advantage. The results of this study will help fill the knowledge gap highlighted in the literature. Specifically, this study aims to showcase how small business owners can use the SWOT, PESTEL, crowdsourcing, and POLC strategies to enhance their business performance by examining their internal and external resources to maximize their sustainability and competitiveness within current markets.


            The literature in Chapter II highlighted the economic contributions small businesses have on local and global economies; yet many fail before their 5-year anniversary. Common obstacles may include lack of planning, being keenly aware of internal resources that may offer a competitive advantage, controlling and allotting resources, and understanding the holistic and functionality nature of a company processes. Several instruments were outlined in Chapter II that may help in creating and sustaining a competitive advantage. Each instrument has a unique purpose that will aid organizational managers in leading and directing their company objectives and agenda.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


            The purpose of this chapter was to present an in-depth overview of the methodology that was used in this study. A qualitative method and a single case study design provided the framework required for a thorough examination of the strategies that were used by small business owners in sustaining their business operations during a crisis situation. Specifically, the purpose of chapter III was to illustrate the logic that supported the reason for choosing the research method and the research design as its framework. Additionally, I explained why a qualitative exploratory single case study was most appropriate over other possible research methods and designs. This chapter will include a discussion of the specific techniques, procedures, and instruments that were used throughout this study. Furthermore, this chapter will reflect how the recruitment of participants was selected and how the tools that were used for gathering data was determined and implemented. Chapter III will also comment on the ethical concerns and challenges, trustworthiness, and the role of the researcher.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

A country’s economic growth and sustainability rely on the contributions made to it by small businesses. Small businesses in the United States have been researched and discussed extensively since their approval by Congress in 1953 (Bellamy, 2021; Osteryoung & Newman, 1993). Small businesses are important to the growth of the American economy as they help increase the gross domestic product, create new jobs, and spark innovation (SBA, 2018). According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses are responsible for 44% of economic activity in America and before the pandemic, accounted for 97% of all companies operating in the United States (Small Business Administration, 2019). Despite the economic importance and benefits offered by small businesses, there was a growing concern about the lack of sustainability and high failure rates of small firms in America. The problem identified in this study is that small business owners lack the strategies, resources, and knowledge to sustain their organizations amid an economic downturn. The research questions presented in this study were used as a guide to help shape, frame, and focus the research process.

Methodology Selected

            After carefully vetting the research methods, this study used a qualitative research method and an exploratory single case study design. Inductive case study explorations are commonly used to investigate unknown phenomena (Creswell & Poth, 2017). Yin (2018) mentioned that qualitative studies are a naturalistic approach for researchers to observe and explore multiple aspects to include but not limited to people, the environment, and worldly phenomenon. Qualitative case studies allowed me to grasp the holistic view of the issues that were explored. After observing an occurrence, I was able to interpret its meaning based on how individuals perceived and experienced the events (Creswell, 2009). Similarly, Yin (2018) voiced that case study designs provide a path for researchers to study about complex situations. The situation being researched was centered on a thorough understanding of the circumstances via exploring the phenomenon and describing and recording the participants’ findings via a thick and rich description text. Turner and Danks (2014) implied that qualitative studies generally focus on humans’ social reality; therefore, the contextualization and interpretation of people beliefs were inferred from their viewpoint. Hence, case study designs align with an earnest analysis of people, their communities, and their organizations.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            Alignment is a critical component in research regardless of the method selected for a study. Essentially, a study’s alignment consists of three fundamental aspects that logically intertwines to support the basis of a study. According to Kross and Giust (2019), the three elements are the problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions. Heitner and Sherman (2014) wrote that a properly aligned study will have methodological rigor and reflect that the researcher has a thorough understanding of the research method and design which are essential to the research objective and aid in answering the research questions. To ensure the research objectives were met in this study, a qualitative method was chosen for an in-depth exploration of the situation outlined in this study.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

A quantitative method does not support the aim of this study and therefore was not chosen. Quantitative research methods are used to decide if statistical evidence exists to support a hypothesized relation, effect, or difference (Heitner & Sherman, 2014). Unlike qualitative research methods that use a bottom-up approach to generate new knowledge, quantitative methods exercise a top-down approach. At its core, quantitative research methods originate from a hypothesis that is supported by an existing theory, whereas qualitative research collects and analyzes data to generate new theories. Furthermore, in quantitative studies, the researcher assign independent and dependent variables to data and the variables are used to represent a numeric value. Lin et al. (2019) voiced that quantitative variables can be either discrete or continuous. Discrete variables count individual items whereas continuous variables measure values. Additionally, quantitative research methods generate yes or no outcomes and represent groups or teams that are with and without rank structure (Lin et al., 2019). The focus of this study did not seek to count or measure variables, nor did it aim to prove or refute an outcome.

Research Design

            The goal of this study was to explore the business strategies small business owners used to sustain their business during COVID-19, and how small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid an economic downturn. Variables were not assigned to represent numeric data. Instead, a detailed description of words provided by the participants provided a rich and thorough account of the strategies that were used to explain their lived experiences that were caused by the phenomenon. Creswell and Poth (2017) and Yin (2018) expressed that there are five qualitative designs researchers can use to support their method research approach. The five research designs are case study, ethnography, narrative, phenomenology, and grounded theory. Despite each qualitative research design’s purpose, its methods of data collection to include interviews, focus groups, and observation are the same and the researcher must be aware of ethical obligations while conducting research and collecting data. An ethnography research design is better suited for studying culture-sharing patterns within groups over a period of time (Creswell & Poth, 2017). Based on the research questions and the research method chosen for this study, an ethnography design was not suitable primarily because the researcher was not interested in examining people that share commonalities in their daily processes and actions. Further, an ethnography design did not aid the researcher in describing business strategies used by small business owners who sustained their firm’s existence during COVID-19.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

A narrative research design seeks to capture and analyze the recalled stories from individuals who had direct knowledge or insight of a particular phenomenon (Clandinin, 2013; Heitner & Sherman, 2014). Yin (2018) mentioned that narrative designs were often a chronological timeline of stories that support a particular phenomenon or situation that occurred. A collection of stories from individuals based on past phenomenon did not align with the aim and purpose of this research design. Thus, a narrative research design is not suitable for this study.

A phenomenological research design was considered for this study. Phenomenological research is similar to case study designs as its purpose aims to explore individuals’ feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. In addition, Creswell and Poth (2017) and Yin (2018) acknowledged that phenomenological research designs aids in providing an in-depth understanding of individual’s lived experiences. Miller et al. (2018) suggested that a phenomenon should be considered as an object of human experience. Creswell and Poth (2017) further noted that the basic principles of a phenomenological research design were to capture each individual’s experience regarding a situation and collect enough data to provide a description of a universal essence. Creswell (2007) and Yin (2014), wrote that a phenomenological research design aims to explore the essence of a phenomenon, whereas a case study design examines and thoroughly describes bonded or multiple cases which was the goal of this study.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Grounded theory is a qualitative research design that collects and analyze data to create new theories that were grounded in the data (Creswell & Poth, 2017). Aldiabat and Le Navenec (2018) said that new theories derived from data collection via interviews, observations, and focus groups in real world settings. A grounded theory design was not appropriate for this study because the purpose of this study was not to create new theories from existing data.

A case study research design was appropriate for this study. A case study aligns with the purpose and intent of this research and supported answering the research questions. Case study designs describes the lived experiences of one or more individuals who experienced a particular phenomenon (Yin, 2014, 2018). Yin (2014, 2018) further mentioned that case study designs may also be used to research organizations. Creswell and Poth (2017) emphasized that case studies may be used to describe a single or multiple cases. Creswell (1997) voiced that case studies may be bounded, which suggest that they are separated for research purposes. A bounded case includes a select group of people, an event, an activity, or a process to name a few. Employing a case study design requires the researcher to be interested in how the complexity of a particular phenomenon affected the participants. Additionally, Yin (2014) added that researchers ought to consider case studies designs if: (a) the aim of the research is to answer how and why questions, (b) the participants’ behavior cannot be manipulated, (c) the researcher’s goal is to study contextual conditions because if its relevance to the phenomenon being researched, and (d) the phenomenon and context boundaries of the study are ambiguous. A case study design aligned with the purpose and intent of this study and aided in answering the research questions.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Benefits of Case Studies

            Qualitative case studies are used frequently in social science. According to Creswell (2007), case studies in anthropology and sociology were discovered in the early 19th century. The type of qualitative research design should be considered so that it aligns with the intended purpose of the study. For example, qualitative research is grounded in the theory that is based on researchers acquiring an extensive understanding of a specific issue or occurrence, rather than uncovering a basic or general idea of what transpired. Creswell and Poth (2017) mentioned that the appropriateness of collecting accurate and relevant data was linked to the timeframe that the event occurred. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic altered the way individuals lived and worked and some people contributed different meanings to how the outbreak affected their daily lives. Wolgemuth et al. (2015) stated that qualitative studies allow researchers to acknowledge and understand the participants’ perspectives via interviews, focus groups, and observations.

Types of Case Studies

            Case studies are an empirical examination that analyze contemporary problems in its real-life setting. The term real-life setting is a key attribute to qualitative case studies as it helps researchers understand a phenomenon holistically. Specifically, the phenomenon is researched where it occurred rather than in a different location or facility. Case study methodologies are a common approach in qualitative research and may be used to explore one or multiple cases simultaneously (Yin, 2018). Crowe et al. (2011) suggested that there are several types of case studies that aid researchers in answering their research questions. Crowe et al. (2011) continued and mentioned that case study designs are utilized in a variety of ways. Creswell and Poth (2017) claimed that the intentions and focus of a case study were determined by if it is exploring a single person, several individuals, a group of people, an activity, or program. Creswell and Poth (2017) further stated that the intent of a case study is to conduct exhaustive research on a precise and explicit case. The three variations of intent that were noted by Creswell and Poth (2017) and Mills et al. (2010) were instrumental case studies, intrinsic case studies, and collective case studies. In addition, Yin (2018) wrote that explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive studies are different frameworks that are used in qualitative case study research.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Instrumental Case Studies

Instrumental case studies are used as a tool or as a secondary interest to assist in understanding a particular phenomenon. According to Creswell and Poth (2017), Mills et al. (2010), and Stake (1978), instrumental case studies are focused and driven by their results and not by the subject or nature of the problem. Likewise, instrumental case studies are popular when the researcher has a quest to expand their knowledge regarding an issue, challenge a generalization, or to pursue external interest (Mills et al., 2010). Creswell and Poth (2017) mentioned that instrumental case studies could consist of a single bond or an array of multiple cases to explain an issue. For example, an instrumental case study includes researching how pre and post COVID-19 affected the learning behaviors in elementary kids. The study should not be interested in what the children learn, instead, it is concerned with how online learning differs from face-to-face learning.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Intrinsic Case Studies

Stake (1978) voiced that intrinsic case studies are unique and specific. Furthermore, there is a genuine interest in the case which can be studied in a bonded context. Intrinsic case studies do not extend theories, rather it is exploratory in nature (Crowe et al., 2011). An example of an intrinsic case study includes recruitment and graduation rates of Asian students diagnosed with dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) from Ivy League medical schools.

Collective Case Studies

            Collective or multiple case studies are used to explore bonded cases to explain issues (Creswell & Poth, 2017). The focus of collective case studies is to showcase multiple perspectives from a single issue. Yin (2009) said that collective case studies use replication to reproduce the same procedures for each case selected. An example of a collective case study design includes studying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among military veterans. The research can examine multiple frameworks that resulted in a veteran’s diagnosis of PTSD. Such framework includes past wars or deployment to a war zone, military sexual trauma, and military training accidents.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Explanatory Case Studies

            Explanatory research is an in-depth analysis of a particular situation. Furthermore, the in-depth examination seeks to understand the outcome or impact of procedural changes. Yin (2018) said that explanatory studies aim to explain the how or why certain outcomes exists. Explanatory frameworks are used to collect data to explore and analyze patterns that contributes to a cause-and-effect relationship between items. Creswell and Poth (2017) alluded that explanatory research aids in filling knowledge gaps by analyzing and explaining the phenomenon which may provide new opportunities to study new subject matter regarding the incidence. Despite explanatory research efforts to gain a rich understanding of a particular occurrence, it does not provide conclusive outcomes. Instead, its aim is to comprehend the why and how of a problem.

Exploratory Case Studies

            An exploratory research methodology seeks to investigate new phenomenon that has not been studied (Yin, 2014, 2018). Similar to explanatory research, exploratory case studies do not offer a final solution to a research problem. Instead, exploratory studies are best used to investigate problems that are not clearly defined (Menon, 2019). The overarching goal of exploratory research is to discover new insight via clarifying vagueness or uncertainty regarding the phenomenon and to learn as much as possible about the essence of the problem (Menon, 2019; Yin, 2014).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Descriptive Case Studies

            Descriptive case study uncovers real world phenomenon that affects individuals or groups of people. Additionally, descriptive case study describes how the phenomenon was addressed and the outcomes of the circumstance (Doyle et al., 2020). Descriptive qualitative studies aim to describe the characteristics of a particular phenomenon in its real-world context (Yin, 2014). Hartman et al. (2019) mentioned that descriptive research studies concentrate on providing a rich description of the phenomenon. Descriptive research aims to answers the what of a problem instead of why.

Strengths and Limitations of a Case Study Design

Before starting a qualitative study, a topic of interest should be chosen. It is equally important to develop a case study in a manner that offers validity and trustworthiness. A study’s method, design, and research topic should be aligned with the research process to ensure it provides proper discipline, order, and rigor (Merriam, 1998). Yin (2018) reported that the type of qualitative case study design must be aligned and tailored to the research questions. Furthermore, the research questions serve as a guide for collecting proper and relevant data for interpretation. Creswell (1997) stated that a logical progression that begins with formulating the problem statement to generating a theory is significant and is viewed as a strength in qualitative research. The research model begins with a starting point and provides an outline of intermediate tasks to be completed in a specified order (Creswell, 1997). A thorough review of the literature helped in designing and creating a qualitative research framework for this study.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Strengths and limitations exist in all research methods and designs. An empowering feature of qualitative case studies is that it produced knowledge. According to Yin (2014, 2018), knowledge is obtained from individuals who participated in the study. The participants share their thoughts, motives, feelings, and beliefs that are related to the nature of the study (Ingham-Broomfield, 2015). Data was collected from participants via interviews and observations. Additional information can be obtained by reviewing historical data (Creswell, 2009). After the data was collected for analysis, patterns and themes emerged, which helped develop theories about the nature of the phenomenon. Yin (2018) voiced that selecting an appropriate research case study design ought to be inherently aligned with an all-inclusive plan for investigating the research problem. Furthermore, qualitative case studies offer rich information regarding the phenomenon and insight for future studies. Additionally, case studies provide in-depth details regarding new phenomenon that has not been studied (Yin, 2014, 2018).

Regardless of the framework and the strengths of a case study design, limitations do exist. For example, a significant disadvantage or limitation is that it cannot be easily replicated (Yin, 2018). Raeburn et al. (2015) asserted that because of qualitative limitation, some believe that qualitative studies lack credibility and trustworthiness. The credibility of research is important, and when it is questioned or challenged, the findings from the study may not be acknowledge as trustworthy or reliable (Raeburn et al., 2015). Allen (2017) insisted that establishing rigor in qualitative research consisted of conducting research in a precise and meticulous manner that acknowledges the influences that occurs when research is conducted.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Unit of Analysis

            Unit of analysis is a phrase that is commonly used in qualitative research. According to Heitner and Sherman (2014), the definition and purpose of the phrase should align with the type of data the researcher aims to collect. Heitner and Sherman (2014) further mentioned that a study’s unit of analysis ought to align with the research data analysis plan. A unit of analysis provides insight into how the data will be gathered and who will be the participants providing the data. The term unit is used to represent an individual, people, groups or teams, and organizations, to name a few (Sedgwick, 2014). Yin (2018) stated that the target population to be studied determines what the unit consists of. For example, because COVID-19 impacted business operations differently, an example of a unit of analysis is exploring the business strategies implemented by small business owners amid an economic downturn. The unit of analysis for this study was individual small business owners in northwest Arkansas who participated in the study. A unit of analysis served as the primary focus for this study because the intent was to explore and describe in rich detail the views and perceptions of each small business owner who were impacted by COVID-19 and participated in the study.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Bounded Systems

            Creswell (2009) expressed that a case study is an examination of a bounded system that is based on substantial data collection. An example of a bounded case includes an individual, multiple people, an activity, a process, or an event. The term bounded suggest that the researcher construct boundaries or limits around the phenomenon being research (Creswell, 2009). As an example, Merriam (1998) added that bounded cases are separated for research via physical boundaries such as, time, or place. The focus of this study explored the business strategies used by small business owners that were implemented during COVID-19. The business strategies were the focus or concern, and the bounded cases were the small business owners. The case would not be bounded if the business strategies that were used by any organizations that did not meet the definition of a small business as defined by the Small Business Administration and outlined in this study. (Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)  

Research Method and Design

            Research methods and designs help researchers collect credible data that supports their research questions and aids in the study’s validity, rigor, and trustworthiness (Cypress, 2017). Specifically, there are three approaches researchers can use when conducting a study. Creswell and Poth (2017) noted that the three major approaches are qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods. Creswell and Poth (2017) further noted that a mixed method approach is applied when the researcher decides that qualitative and quantitative methods are warranted in their study. Yin (2014) reported that choosing the proper research methodology depends largely on the wording of the research questions. The aim of the research questions reflects and influences the intentions of the research. Heitner and Sherman (2014) noted that qualitative queries use words such as inquire, explore, interpret, understand, rich, detailed, and in-depth. Further, qualitative methods are usually inductive, with the goal of the study being to explore the situation or phenomenon for a deeper understanding (Heitner & Sherman, 2014). von Berens et al. (2018) mentioned that qualitative researchers focus on their participants’ lived experiences and correlate their findings to generate new theories. The corresponding research designs that align with qualitative methods are case study, phenomenology, narrative, grounded theory, and ethnography (Creswell & Poth, 2017; De Vaney et al., 2018; Yin, 2018). Each qualitative research design has a specific purpose and framework that aids the researcher in collecting data to answer the research questions (Heitner & Sherman, 2014; Yin, 2018).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Before research commenced, an appropriate research design that aligns with the problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions was considered. Additionally, how data was gathered for analysis was contemplated. The research method chosen for this study was qualitative. A qualitative method and a case study design were appropriate because the goal of this study was aimed to understand and describe a social phenomenon that is based on how participants view or perceive the phenomenon (Creswell & Poth, 2017; Yin, 2014, 2018). Similarly, Bailey and Bailey (2017) and Brannen (2017) voiced that qualitative research methods allow researchers to examine and analyze the lived experiences of a study’s population. Creswell and Poth (2017) voiced that there are five qualitative research approaches and mentioned that there are various sets of data collection and data analysis. Yin (2018) said that case studies were frequently used in qualitative research to study one or more cases throughout a period of time. Furthermore, a case study approach helps in the thorough collection of data that originates from various sources such as interviews, observations, reports, and documents.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Heitner and Sherman (2014) said that a qualitative research method helps to discover and reveal an extensive and holistic understanding about a particular situation or phenomenon. Furthermore, qualitative research is a bottom-up approach that involves creating new knowledge that can be useful in generating subsequent studies. von Berens et al. (2018) and Heitner and Sherman (2014), agreed that researchers are viewed as essential instruments in qualitative data collection. For example, the researcher subjectively examines the particular situation or phenomenon being explored through the lived experiences of individuals or groups and analyze the findings by recording the results and merging the outcomes to form conclusions. Yin (2018) mentioned that the researcher has minimal or no control in investigating phenomena; therefore, the researcher’s strategies involve asking the how or why questions.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Aspers and Corte (2019) and Bailey and Bailey (2017) voiced that qualitative studies allow the researcher to pursue an in-depth understanding of a social phenomenon that occurred in its natural setting. Qualitative research is used in social science to gather information from participants who wish to comment on their real-world experiences. Creswell and Poth (2017) mentioned that an investigation of a phenomenon warrants a qualitative research method when identified variables cannot be counted or measured. Additionally, Creswell and Poth (2017) mentioned that qualitative research aims to explore the why, how, or what, that was caused by, or resulted from a phenomenon, by collecting information from individuals who experienced the event. Kekeya (2021) said that qualitative research methods are appropriate when there is a need to understand the meaning of a problem as recognized via an individuals’ social reality. Yin (2014) concurred with Kekeya (2021) and stated that the purpose of qualitative research was to account for and preserve the holistic meanings of real-life events. Qualitative research explores human behavior and studies its dynamics. Yin (2014) suggested that one method of collecting in-depth information is via face-to-face interviews with the participants who experienced the phenomenon. Despite the number of qualitative approaches, each design offers a different perspective and focus, and should be linked to the research method, design, and questions (Creswell & Poth, 2017).(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Research Questions

Research questions are essential in developing a research plan. A key attribute in constructing a research plan was identifying relevant data sources. According to Byrd (2021), identifying pertinent data sources link the research questions to the research design. Additionally, Creswell and Poth (2017) alluded that a study’s research design provides a blueprint for answering the research questions and the research method is the strategy for implementing the plan. The design and research methods are similar meaning that the research design must align with the research method; however, the research design and the data collected will provide the framework and assist in answering the research questions (Creswell, 2009). The following research questions will guide this exploratory qualitative single case study.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

RQ1: What business strategies did small business owners use to sustain their business during COVID-19?

RQ2: How did small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid an COVID-19?

Study Participants

A case study design was appropriate for this research as it allows for a smaller population sampling size. Yin (2018) pointed out that case study designs are suitable when the researcher’s focus is to thoroughly investigate a phenomenon in its real-world setting. The target population for this exploratory single case study consisted of 10-15 small business owners located in northwest Arkansas. A sample population as is a smaller or fraction of a study’s total population size. For the purpose of this study, three cities in northwest Arkansas were used. The cities were Bentonville, Eureka Springs, and Rogers. The rationale for selecting small business owners as participants for this study was primarily based on the scholarly literature that supported this research topic and goal. Chapter II provided a thorough review of the literature which illustrated leadership and managerial strategies used by small business owners amid a crisis. Another reason for selecting small business owners was the significant number of small businesses that operate in northwest Arkansas.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The following inclusion criteria was used to identify individuals who were appropriate for this study: (a) qualified small business owners must meet the description of a small business owner as defined by the Small Business Administration (Small Business Administration, 2020), (b) owns a business that employs less than 500 people, (c) must have owned or managed a small business in northwest Arkansas for at least 10 consecutive years including the pandemic to present day, (d) has not experienced business failure during COVID-19, and (e) must have access to technology for online communication and Zoom interviews. Dun and Bradstreet (1993) defined a business failure as a financial loss to creditors. Specifically, Dun and Bradstreet (1993) commented that Chapter 7 filings require a court order that mandate business owners to liquidate their assets to repay their debts to creditors. Furthermore, business owners who file Chapter 11 reorganize their debt to pay for their organizational expenses. Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 were viewed as business failures. Heitner and Sherman (2014) wrote that social media outlets and professional organizations may suggest people that may be appropriate for a researcher’s sampling criteria. Increasing the size of participants may be fruitful in achieving the desired sample size and will aid in reaching data saturation (Heitner & Sherman, 2014; Yin, 2018). Interviews continued until data saturation was achieved and no new information was generated.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Purposive sampling was used in selecting participants for this study. Purposive sampling derives from nonprobability sampling that is used in qualitative research as opposed to random sampling which is commonly used in quantitative research (Heitner & Sherman, 2014). Purposive or selective sampling allows the researcher to choose their participants based on the specific criteria and the primary goal of the research that is outlined in the study. According to Ames et al. (2019) and Sibona et al. (2020), purposive sampling is designed to represent a larger population by intentionally selecting a smaller group of people to study. The research goal was to interview as many eligible participants as possible until data saturation was reached. The northwest Arkansas City Hall was contacted to request the names, years of operation, addresses, and phone numbers of all the small businesses located in northwest Arkansas. The listing provided by the City Hall aided the researcher in identifying applicable business owners who might be suitable for this study.

Population and Sample

Heitner and Sherman (2014) voiced that while developing a research plan, the researcher ought to consider how they will select a sample from the total population of interest. A study’s population includes the total number of people who share commonalities and characteristics that align with the study’s problem statement, purpose statement, research questions, and aligns with the study’s goal (Thomas, 2016). Heitner and Sherman (2014) pointed out that there is a difference between qualitative and quantitative sampling techniques because of the study’s intended goal. For example, a chief difference between qualitative and quantitative studies is the type of sampling techniques used to represent a subset of the total population. Quantitative sampling techniques rely on probability or random sampling techniques in selecting a subset of the total population. An example of probability sampling is selecting every fifth person out of a total population of 100. Random sampling was not used in this research because it did not fit the aim of this study. Instead, nonprobability sampling techniques were used to explore the small business strategies used by small business owners amid COVID-19.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Berndt (2020) claimed that nonprobability sampling allows the researcher to use their discretion in selecting participants for their study. The discretion authorizes the researcher to identify individuals they believe share or have direct knowledge of the phenomenon of interest. Exploring a phenomenon also allows the researcher to obtain a detailed and in-depth description of the situation from individuals who have direct knowledge. Obtaining rich information that accurately describes the participants would be difficult using probability sampling. The sample population for this study consisted of small business owners who have owned and operated a small business in northwest Arkansas for no less than 10 consecutive years including the pandemic to present day, and the participants must be at least 18 years old. The participants’ businesses will be defined by the criteria outlined by the Small Business Administration. Additionally, the framework used to select participants consisted of the geographical location of the businesses and the use of purposive sampling. Purposive sampling allowed me to select participants; therefore, a demographic survey was not required, however, information gathered from the northwest Arkansas Council suggested that there are approximately 13,326 small businesses operating in northwest Arkansas that meets the criteria for this study “Northwest Arkansas Council” (n.d.). Purposive sampling was used until data saturation was reached. Etikan et al. (2016) describe purposive sampling as an avenue researchers can use to select a subset from a larger population. The recruitment of individuals largely depended on the small business owners’ experience and how well they implemented strategies to address the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Data Collection

            Interviews, field notes, focus groups, observations, records, and archival reviews are some of the data collection methods used to gather qualitative research data (Creswell & Poth, 2017). The scope and focus of this research depended on collecting primary or raw data from the participants. According to Heitner and Sherman (2014), the purpose of data collection is to seek new knowledge by analyzing and interpreting the findings of the individuals who experienced a phenomenon. Collecting data that supports the objective of answering research questions is essential. Some intangible data such as the geographical area, gender, approximate age of the business owners, industry, and ethnicity were noted in the field notes. The interview questions outlined in Appendix B were asked to the participants to answer this study’s two research questions.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


            Instruments are essential in data collection. The data collected are used to help answer the research questions. There are many tools’ researchers can used when conducting qualitative research. According to Tellis (1997), to increase the validity of a study, researchers should use different instruments. Using different instruments can showcase how the different tools can be used to collect data that intersect and render the same conclusion. Every method of data collection has a corresponding instrument. For example, if the researcher collects data via a focus group, then the corresponding instrument is focus group. Tellis (1997) wrote that using only one instrument to collect data may present bias. Instead, using more than one instrument allows the researcher to triangulate with the purpose of each instrument gathering data that intersects. The more instruments that are used and intersect suggest that the researcher checked and establish validity. For example, if a researcher only use observation as an instrument, the data collected will be from one viewpoint. According to Heitner and Sherman (2014) qualitative research instruments consist of interviews, focus group, field notes, document review, questionnaires, and observation protocol. Interviews, the interview guide (see Appendix B), field notes, and observation were used to collect data and answer the research questions.

Role of the Researcher in Data Collection

Data were collected and analyzed for this study. Further, I was responsible for orchestrating the semi-structured interviews for this study. Heitner and Sherman (2014) reported how researcher bias may develop when the researcher uses themselves as an instrument for collecting and interpreting data. All participants for this study were interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of the business strategies that were used by small business owners. Further, NVivo-12 was used to help code, organize, and analyze the data. 

            Bias is a chief concern in any research project. The goal for this study was to protect the validity of this study by reducing or eliminating bias thoughts, words, or interpretations. Heitner and Sherman (2014) said that bias is a threat in qualitative research and that researchers typically insert their expectations, beliefs, and attitudes which will impact how interview questions are presented to interviewees. Bracketing was practiced to avoid research bias. Tufford and Newman (2012) said that bracketing occurs when the researcher acknowledges their bias and suspend their knowledge or experience concerning the phenomenon while they are in the process of collecting and analyzing data. Additionally, triangulation was used to increase the confidence and validity of the study. Heitner and Sherman (2014) wrote that triangulation uses multiple data sources, theories, and methods to validate the accuracy of the intended research.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


            Yin (2014, 2018) acknowledged that interviews are an important instrument used in gathering case study evidence because case studies focus on individual affairs or actions. A valuable tool researchers can use to aid them during interviews is an interview guide. An interview guide is an outline of the issues or topics the researcher wants to discuss with participants. According to Roberts (2020), each participants’ response to the interview questions will more likely than not be different mainly because each person may perceive a phenomenon differently. Yin (2018) wrote that the researchers’ goal is to ask open-ended questions they believe to be relevant and in return, the respondents reply using their own words which may present additional key talking points that the researcher believes to be important in better understanding the phenomenon.

Semi-structured interview questions were used. Structured interviews are scripted and may be presented as closed-ended questions which does not allow the researcher to probe for additional information. Therefore, structured interview questions will not help answer the research questions. Unlike structured interviews, semi-structured interview questions have some structure, but the researcher has more flexibility. The questions are asked via an interview guide that is created in advance of the interviews. Heitner and Sherman (2014) said that semi-structured interview questions are specific, yet the researcher has the flexibility to ask subsequent questions based on the interviewee’s responses. According to Magaldi and Berler (2020), the specific wording used in creating the semi-structured interview questions should not yield a yes or no or true or false answer from the participants. Instead, the questions should allow the participants to respond using their own words to describe their feelings, thoughts, knowledge, and understanding regarding the purpose of the case study.

Interview Guide Development

The purpose of an interview guide is to help answer the research questions by allowing participants to use their words to tell their stories. The interview guide (see Appendix B) served as a prompt that outlined the major topics in an organized and sequential manner that allowed for a seamless transition between subjects. The interview questions identified in Appendix B derived from business strategies identified in chapter II. The interview questions were clear, simple, and were asked one at a time. Further, the development of each question was designed to reveal a thorough response from the participants versus single word responses. The 10-question interview guide was divided into topics. Separating the interview questions into two separate subjects allowed adequate data to be gathered to address the research questions. 

The guide was utilized when interviewing participants and the respondents’ answers were manually written and digitally recorded. According to Billups (2021), interview guides are helpful in designing a qualitative instrument. The participants were asked to share their in-depth knowledge, lived experiences, and the strategies they implemented to remain operational during the pandemic. The primary goal of the interview guide focused on the leadership and managerial strategies implemented by small business owners amid COVID-19. Each question was articulated in a manner that allowed the participants to elaborate on how COVID-19 impacted their businesses and how they overcame the challenges to remain operational. Additionally, to accurately capture and thoroughly understand how the leadership strategies were implemented, follow-up questions were asked to generate additional data and clarify initial participant answers.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Field Test

(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            Field testing was applied to test the validity of the interview guide (see Appendix B) before interviewing the research participants. Testing the soundness of the interview guide was necessary to ensure the instrument captured the data it was designed to collect. The field testing was completed using five small business owners in northwest, Arkansas. Two small business owners were located in Centerton, Arkansas and three in Bentonville, Arkansas. Before field testing began, the participants were briefed on its aim and objective which was to test the reliability of the interview guide. The participants who were involved in field testing owned and operated their businesses less than 10 years; therefore, they did not meet the requirements and were not recruited to participate in this study. One of the small business owners in Centerton owns a Martial Arts studio and the other business owner owns a chiropractor business. Both business owners were interviewed on the same day and their responses to the interview question were documented via field notes. The Bentonville business owners were interviewed across three days. The first business owner owns a barber and beauty salon, the second and third business owners’ own restaurants. The answers to the interview questions were also noted via field notes.

Using the proper instruments are essential when collecting data to be analyzed in qualitative case studies. Field testing benefits the researcher by testing their instruments ahead of conducting research such as ensuring that the questions are nonbiased and are worded in a clear and logical manner. The preliminary version of the field test consisted of nine questions that was designed to highlight the business strategies small business owners used during COVID-19. Although the pandemic was approximately two years ago, evidence from the field test suggested that three out of the five small business owners had to recall and consider the approaches they took to remain operational. Based on the feedback gathered in the field test, the interview script was modified to include unstructured questions, which allowed the researcher to start the field test with unscripted and broader questions. The unstructured questions help frame the importance of the study and aid in the business owners’ recollection of their lived experiences.


            Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches require researchers to explore different avenues to obtain data that is associated with a phenomenon. The data retrieved ought to be rich and valid. Triangulation is a concept that is used in qualitative research. According to Natow (2020), triangulation is a process that researchers use to understand a phenomenon.  Interviews and scholarly literature aided in data triangulation. The goal of triangulation suggest that the research question is thoroughly examined via multiple viewpoints. If the different data sources render that same conclusion, the study is considered valid (Merriam & Grenier, 2019). Triangulation occurs when multiple data sources intersect and reflect the same outcome. Merriam and Grenier (2019) emphasized that triangulation will help eliminate bias. Renz et al. (2018) claimed that there are four data sources, including data, theoretical, methodological, and investigations. Methodological and theoretical data collection were used in this research. Methodological data collection consists of the researcher using multiple sources of data that is linked to the phenomenon. Methodological data collection involves interviews, field notes, observation, and pictures. Interviews were the primary means of collecting the methodological data. Furthermore, theoretical data collection was appropriate for this study because it examines and interprets the findings of the data collected based on different theories. Investigator data collection was not suitable for this study because there was one researcher involved in the study.

            The data from the interviews, observations, field notes, and codebook (see Appendix D) were the primary sources used to examine, interpret, and categorize the data for triangulation. A methodological triangulation process was used to validate the data obtained from the research participants for a more profound and thorough understanding of the phenomenon (Cárdenas et al., 2018; Natow, 2020). The semi-structured interview questions (see Appendix B) were used during face-to-face interviews. Note-taking and observations also helped enhance the validity and reliability of this study’s findings. Additionally, a codebook (see Appendix D) was used to establish and categorize themes for research analysis.         

Procedures Followed

            Detailed and specific procedures that suggest how research was conducted is necessary to ensure the research can be replicated (Heitner & Sherman, 2014). The detailed procedures should entail the different channels that were used to recruit participants. For example, flyers, social media outlets, personally contacting organizations, or via individuals who have a similar or a vested interest in the study (Heitner & Sherman, 2014). Additionally, information that mentions the precise criteria that was used to help frame the participants needed for the study should also be included. For example, a specific region of the country, a company’s workforce size, and a person’s gender, race, or religious beliefs (Hayashi et al., 2019; Laumann, 2020).

The purpose of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) is to ensure that safety and ethical conduct is applied to humans who agreed to participate in research (Dutka, 2022; Lapid et al., 2019). Before contacting participants or gathering data, the researcher must receive written approval from the University of Arizona Global Campus Institutional Review Board. Additionally, data was not collected without a signed informed consent from participants. Since the organizations were centrally located, I coordinated dates and times to personally pick up the informed consent forms from participants. The objective was to use all available avenues and resources to recruit participants for this study. After receiving IRB’s approval, I began recruiting participants who voluntarily agreed to partake in the study. If a participant decided to withdraw from the study at any time, their data was going to be deleted.

            The primary instrument that was used for communication with participants was face-to-face conversations. All the participants were informed that the conversations were going to be recorded for accuracy. None of participants refused to have the conversation recorded.


In qualitative research, the researcher’s goal is to develop an understanding of a particular phenomenon via interviewing, interpreting, and describing the views of participants who experienced or have firsthand knowledge of the phenomenon (Creswell, 2007). Trustworthiness is a term that is used to assess the standards and quality in qualitative research (Kornbluh, 2015). Simon and Goes (2016) compared quantitative terms, validity and reliability, to credibility, dependability, confirmability, and transferability which are terms commonly used in qualitative research to establish rigor. According to Amankwaa (2016), research that is viewed as having minimal or no value is considered worthless, invalid, or unreliable. Lincoln and Guba (1985) wrote that trustworthiness adds value and support to qualitative studies. Lincoln and Guba (1985) said that a trustworthy framework includes the four qualitative terms, credibility, dependability, confirmability, and transferability, that were described by Simon and Goes (2016) when they compared qualitative and quantitative terms.

To assist with trustworthiness, the participants were thoroughly briefed on the purpose of the research and their rights as participants to include that they are not obligated to continue with the research, and they can withdraw at any time. Ensuring the participants freewill enhanced the study’s trustworthiness. Castillo-Montoya (2016) noted that a researcher is an optimal instrument in creating and maintaining trustworthiness. To help reduce and eliminate bias, interviews were manually and digitally coded.

Credibility was established via triangulation and interviewing participants with direct knowledge and experience with the investigated phenomenon (Merriam & Tisdell, 2019). The 10-participants interviewed had significant and relevant experience in maintaining their small business during COVID-19; therefore, each business owner spoke with confidence regarding the business and managerial strategies implemented. Triangulation and reflexivity were techniques that were used to establish confirmability. Specifically, triangulation consisted of analyzing and interpreting participants’ interviews, observations, and field notes. A codebook was used to categorize codes that resulted from the datasets. An audit trail exists that outlines the procedures that were used for analyzing the data. According to Yin (2018), dependability refers to the quality of the data collected and how it was analyzed. This study includes a detailed account of how the data was collected, handled, and documented and its conclusions. The evidence from this study outlined the protection of the participants and upheld other policies and regulations; therefore, the findings from this research could be applicable or transferred to other situations and populations (Yin, 2014).

Ethical Concerns

            The chief ethical concern in any research is the safety and well-being of the human participants (Surmiak, 2019). Participants for this study were not recruited or interviewed if they were under the age of 18 or were mentally challenged. This research did not commence until written approval was received from the university’s IRB. The participants were fully briefed throughout the study on the merits of this research. The Belmont Report (1978) identified the principles, ethics, and morals that is associated with human subjects who agree to participate in research. The three principles are: (a) respect for person, (b) beneficence, and (c) justice will be strictly adhered to. Additionally, to lessen any risk to participants, anyone who refuse or neglect to sign the informed consent were not allowed to participate in the study which informs the participants of the nature and details of the study (Vos et al., 2018). Anonymity and confidentiality helped maintain an ethical study. An ethical practice in research that involves human participants or research sites is to provide anonymity. To ensure anonymity in this study, the researcher assigned an alphanumeric code to each participant. The alphanumeric codes were used so that participant’s responses were not linked or associated with the individual.

Informed Consent and Confidentiality

            Informed consent suggests that the individuals freely volunteer to participate in a study. According to Heitner and Sherman (2014), the researcher who is conducting the study ought to thoroughly explain what the research is about and how it will be disseminated. Additionally, participants should be made aware of their right to refuse to participate and how confidentiality will be maintained and how the information from the study might be used (Grady, 2018). Appendix C is the informed consent letter for this study that was hand delivered to participants for their review and signature. Upon receipt of Appendix C, individuals were provided the option to voluntarily participate or decline partaking in the study. The informed consent letter was read to individuals who were interested in participating in the study and all questions were answered.

Data Security and Privacy and Computers and Cloud Security

            Merriam and Grenier (2019) emphasized the importance of protecting the rights and privacy of participants when handling and managing sensitive data. The safekeeping of personal and sensitive information must start immediately when the researcher begins accumulating documents or other materials that are linked to or identify the individuals who agreed to participate in their study. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services (2009) mandates that research that involved humans must be accessible for examination for a minimum of 3 years after the research is completed. This includes all field notes, transcripts, audio and video recordings, and photographs.

My desktop computer was used as the primary electronic device. Proper safety measures were taken to minimize access to the computer as well as maintain information that was stored on the hard drive. The Internet is a tool that researchers use to collect gather and analyze information (Barnhill & Barnhill, 2014). My desktop is connected to the Internet. To eliminate malware, I installed a 24-hour antivirus protection to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. The following steps were taken to prevent hackers from gaining access to my computer (a) a strong password that consist of 17 alphanumeric and special characters. The password contains upper- and lower-case letters which is changed every 4 months, (b) software and hardware firewalls, (c) current antivirus software, (d) ensure all security updates are downloaded from Apple Inc., and (d) screen saver becomes active if no activity is detected after 1 minute. Cloud services are viewed as a backup system that is used to store and retrieve information (Venkatesh & Eastaff, 2018). Apple iCloud has an encryption capability that encrypts information as it is being transmitted. Further, iCloud stores files in a secure encrypted format. Files cannot be retrieved without my encryption key. All data has been stored in a separate locked safe that consist of three steel deadbolts to secure the door, an 11-gauge steel exterior, and anti-pry door hinges to prevent crowbar attacks. The files and data will be destroyed after a period of 3 years.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Data Analysis

            Heitner and Sherman (2014) implied that data collection and data analysis are approaches used to examine a particular phenomenon and to aid researchers in answering their research questions. According to Castleberry and Nolen (2018), thematic analysis is a qualitative approach that uses textual data to identify themes. The textual data may consist of interview transcripts, observational data sheets, or written documentation, to name a few. Castleberry and Nolen (2018) continued and added that themes emerge from the participants’ responses when answering the research questions. Further, the themes may be central ideas or present a recurring pattern. Thematic data co-word analysis helped in identifying key concepts and ideas from the responses of participants (Leydesdorff & Vaughan, 2006). Vlieger and Leydesdorff (2011) mentioned that a thematic analysis approach will help detect correlations amongst words.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            After collecting the data from participants, qualitative data analysis began by transcribing the recorded interviews and coding the data. Codes were assigned to define the data that was being analyzed. Heitner and Sherman (2014) wrote that thematic analysis examines data for patterns and themes. Coding commences when important and recurring themes emerge. Codes may be based on individual’s emotions, a particular sequence or frequency, or descriptive in nature (Castleberry & Nolen, 2018). The options for coding data were relevant; however, the goal for this study is to answer the research questions. Therefore, coding had to be associated with answering the research questions. Summaries were created by organizing and consolidating the participants’ responses on data sheets. The summaries provided an in-depth synopsis of the research findings. NVivo-12 was used to analyze data. Specifically, NVivo-12 software helped identify patterns in the data.


The purpose of chapter III was to provide a detail description of the methodologies and tools that were used for this study. The research problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions helped frame the qualitative method and case study design for this research (Heitner & Sherman, 2014). For example, one of the questions presented in this study aimed to explore the leadership strategies used by small business owners amid COVID-19. The researcher chose a qualitative exploratory single case study because of the uniqueness and the lack of details of the phenomenon (Yin, 2018). Further, because this study will seek human participation, ethical compliance was followed closely and strictly enforced. The University of Arizona Global Campus provided explicit training regarding human participation in research. Additionally, the Institutional Review Board and CITI teachings were adhered to. Lastly, the research demonstrated rigor and trustworthiness. Appropriate steps were taken to ensure the quality of this research.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

The purpose of this qualitative single case study was to explore the strategies used by small business owners who sustained their organizations despite challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chapter IV is an account of the data analyzed from this study. Chapter III’s methodology was used to collect data and recruit participants for this study. The data gathered from the interviews were transcribed and coded for analysis. The scope and aim of this study focused on the following two research questions. Chapter IV contains the findings of those research questions:(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

RQ1: What business strategies did small business owners use to sustain their business during COVID-19?

RQ2: How did small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid an economic downturn?


            Purposive sampling was appropriate in recruiting 11 small business owners in northwest Arkansas; however, data saturation was attained after interviewing 10 participants. Furthermore, purposive sampling helped select business owners from various industries and backgrounds. The sample had a diverse background with respects to years of experience, education, gender, and their different leadership and managerial practices. Data from northwest, Arkansas City Hall suggested that there are approximately 13,326 small businesses in northwest Arkansas (Northwest Arkansas Council, n.d.). The number of small business owners located in northwest, Arkansas that was chosen for this study served as a sample size which was representative of a larger population. The small business owners were chosen because they shared characteristics that aligned with the goal of this study. Table 1 is a depiction of the participant demographics by industry and employees. Further, the sample population has 260 combined years of leadership and managerial practice. The combined years of leadership represent the effectiveness of the small business owner and the services they provide to their communities. The retail industry supported 50% of this study’s sample population. Three retail owners were female, and two were male. Furthermore, one male and one female supported 20% of the study’s sample population in the food and beverage industry. A female owned and operated the hospitality industry, which made up 10% of this study’s population, a female also owned the moving company, and a male was responsible for the small business in the healthcare industry. The moving company and the healthcare firm each supported 10% of this study population. Eighty percent of the participants had employees.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            Data saturation occurred using ten small business owners from northwest Arkansas. According to Creswell and Poth (2017), data saturation occurs when new and additional information ceases and no new data is discovered. Data saturation and the sample size were determined to be sufficient when new evidence and knowledge stopped emerging from the interviews. Eight interviews (80%) took place in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The remaining interviews (20%) took place in Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas. Six small business owners were female and accounted for 60% of this study’s population, and four, or 40%, were male. The 10 small business owners were recruited from five industries. Specifically, five participants were from the retail industry; two were from the food and beverage industry, one from the moving industry, one from the healthcare industry, and one from the hospitality industry. The retail industry supported 50% of this study’s population, the food and beverage industry supported 20%, and the hospitality, moving, and medical industries each supported 10% of this study’s sample population.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Data Collection

Eleven small business owners volunteered to participate in this research project; however, data saturation was attained after interviewing 10 business owners. The researcher commenced data collection after receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). After IRB approval, a recruitment letter (Appendix A) was emailed to potential participants to volunteer for the study. The purpose of the recruitment letter was to provide the participants with the study’s framework by explaining its purpose and the advantages and disadvantages of cooperating in the study. The interviews were conducted between September 14th through October 17, 2022. The researcher used the Interview Guide (Appendix B) to ask the participants 10 semi-structured interview questions. During the interview process, each question was asked to the participants in sequential order. The investigator served as the primary instrument used to collect the data.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Data Analysis

            The resource-based and the systems view theories were the frameworks used to guide the analysis process. Analyzing and interpreting the data required several iterations. Braun et al.’s (2019) six-step process was used to conduct thematic analysis of the transcriptions of the recordings of the interviews with the participants. The process consisted of (a) familiarization, (b) coding, (c) generating themes, (d) revising the themes, (e) describe and name themes, and (f) writing up and presenting the findings. Analyzing the data started by transcribing the audio files into text. The text files were read for familiarization and to understand their textual meaning. Additionally, the text files were used to interpret patterns and themes that were later used for thematic analysis. Codes were not generated until all of the participants’ interview transcripts were read. After reading the transcribed data the text was manually coded by labeling certain words and phrases that described passages or keywords from the interviews. Noticeably, the participants used interchangeable words and phrases that elaborated on their leadership and managerial strategies during the pandemic. The codes were relevant and represented the interviewees’ feelings, thoughts, ideas, and actions they took to remain operational during the pandemic. Words, synonyms, concepts, and phrases that involved managerial principles and leadership theories implemented during the pandemic were specifically targeted. The leadership theories, managerial practices, and the federal, state, and local mandates regarding the pandemic, influenced the when and how decisions were made by the participants. The business models that the participants used to sustain their operations was noted. Lastly, despite how the pandemic may have caused some business owners to close their operations, 30% of the interviewees had record-breaking years.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

            Microsoft Excel was used to create a codebook using the information collected from the interviews, field notes, and observation. Using this study’s research questions as the primary objective, a codebook was created to reflect the objective and purpose of this study. The initial codes that were generated were used as a guide and evaluated alongside the data that emerged. Throughout the coding process, updates were made to the codebook. Codes that aligned with the research questions were color-coded and those that did not align were deleted.

            The 10 interview questions (see Appendix B) that were asked of the participants assisted in answering the two research questions proposed in this research. The results published in this study were structured around each research question. The major themes that emerged were (a) participants experienced high degrees of uncertainty regarding the duration of the crisis, (b) changes in procedures were implemented with urgency, (c) focused on the wellbeing of staff during the crisis, and (d) effective communication with staff was essential. Twenty-six codes and four themes emerged from the interviews. The themes that materialized from the interviews were used to answer the two research questions in this study. Table 1 is a depiction of the keywords and themes that resulted from the interviews.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Table 1

Keywords and Themes




Crisis Management


Strategic Management

Risk Management

Effective Communication


Participants experienced high degrees of uncertainty regarding the duration of the crisis

Changes in procedures were implemented with urgency

Focused on the wellbeing of staff during the crisis

Effective communication with staff was essential



            The themes were generated from the transcribed data, field notes, codebook, and observations. The transcribed data revealed the stories, phrases, and keywords that were used by the participants. The field notes and observations were used to describe and document the participants’ emotions during the interview process. The field notes also were useful in describing the workplace environment where the interviews took place. The time, date, and location where each interview took place were also annotated in the field notes. Additionally, the field notes were used to describe the number of employees that were working and the of number customers who entered the establishment during the interviews. Finally, the field notes and observations noted how customers were treated. Major themes emerged from the field notes and analyzing the data which are used to describe this study’s findings. Table 2 is an overview alignment between the major themes that emerged and the research questions.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Table 2

Aligning Themes to Research Questions

Research Questions

Major Themes


RQ1: What business strategies did small business owners use to sustain their business during COVID-19?



RQ2: How did small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid COVID-19?

Participants experienced high degrees of uncertainty regarding the duration of the crisis

Changes in procedures were implemented with urgency

Focused on the wellbeing of staff during the crisis

Effective communication with staff was essential


Focused on the wellbeing of staff during the crisis

Effective communication with staff was essential

Changes in procedures were implemented with urgency



Theme 1: Participants experienced high degrees of uncertainty regarding how long the crisis would last

During an interview, T1 said, “None of us really knew what we were doing. We figured things out as we went along, and I had to figure out how I was going to keep my business running.” T1 was in the hospitality industry and used her hotel’s strengths to her advantage. T1 said, “I am the only hotel in Eureka Springs that offers guests private entrances to their rooms. Everything from checking-in to checking-out is done contactless.” When I asked T1 about room service, such as taking out the trash, changing the sheets, cleaning the bathrooms, etc., she said, “I was surprised that none of our guests wanted us to go inside their rooms. They took out their own trash.” During the planning phase, T1 aggressively advertised her hotel via social media. T1 told me that after the customer checked out, she would not allow anyone in the room for 24 hours so that the room could air out. As a result, T1 said, “My hotel rooms were always full.” T7 highlighted the need for clear communication and delegation. Specifically, T7 said, “It would have been impossible for me to do everything. I gave clear directions to the employee whom I felt was the right person for me to delegate responsibility.” T8 said, “I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into when the kids suggested for me to use Facebook.” T8 said, “My pizza makers started off by competing to see who sold the most pizza and their strategy ultimately boosted sales and was a moneymaking idea.” T1 stated, “The last thing I wanted was for someone to catch COVID because I was greedy, trying to make money and not following Dr. Anthony Fauci’s guidelines.”

Theme 2: Changes in procedures had to be implemented with a sense of urgency

T9 stated, “Since my guys were out and about in uncontrolled spaces, I had to perform temperature checks every day. If one of my guys had a slight temperature, I would recheck them 15 minutes later. If the temperature was the same or higher, I sent them home for the day.” She implemented FaceTime or video walkthroughs to reduce workers from being in uncontrolled spaces during the initial phase of relocating a customer. T9 said, “The video walkthroughs saved time and money. I often ask the salesperson or listing agent to perform the walkthrough since we work closely with them.” T10 voiced, “I had to assess the pandemic’s impact on my business. My biggest concern was health and safety. As a healthcare professional, I had to educate and ensure that my patients and employees were well-informed of the latest CDC recommendations. “I took the necessary steps to reduce the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing, frequent handwashing, and sanitizations.” Before COVID-19, T3 and T5 retail stores sold souvenirs unique to Eureka Springs. To keep their business open during the pandemic, the business owners realigned their businesses to meet government guidelines as mission essential. According to T3, “I knew that I could not make money if my business were closed. I drove to Texas and purchased as much hand sanitizer, masks, and disposable gloves as possible.” T5 echoed T3’s statement and added, “I ordered commercial-grade disinfectants, disposable wipes, N-95 masks, touchless thermometers, and soap.” 

Brick-and-mortar retail stores were temporarily crippled due to COVID-19. Many companies use the Internet and social media to sell their products and services and reconnect with their patrons. Electronic commerce (eCommerce) is a valuable tool that small business owners use to purchase and sell goods via the Internet. Business owners T4 and T6 used eCommerce as a new business model. Additionally, T8 relied on e-business to increase its profitability. Ninety percent of this study’s population, specifically business owners T1 through T9, relied on eCommerce and eBusiness during the pandemic. The five retail owners, T3 through T7, used social media outlets to advertise and sell their merchandise. T4 also launched a website.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

T3 said, “At the beginning of the pandemic, I had to do something to increase my sales. I didn’t want to pay someone to develop a webpage, so I had my wife take pictures of our top-selling items. My niece created a Facebook page for us and loaded the pictures my wife took.” T4 voiced, “I paid to have a website developed and maintained. If my customers couldn’t come to the store, I took my store to them. Prada is my top-selling item, and I needed the sales.” T4 also said, “I took to Facebook to make my customers aware of my website. I don’t know if it was Facebook or my website, but in 2021, I had a 30% increase in profits.” Participant T7 used social media and said, “I let my wife deal with the technology. We sat down one day and talked about getting people inside our store to purchase food items instead of going to Walmart. My wife used, I think, Facebook and something else to let our customers know that we started a point system.” T7 mentioned, “A point system is when you spend so much money at our store, you accumulate points, and those points can be used on anything in the store.” T7 also said, “My wife used one of those free social media things to advertise our weekly specials. Before that, I would run ads in the town’s newspaper.”

            T8 used Facebook to keep her employees engaged, advertise her pizzas, and reconnect with the community. Specifically, T8 reduced her menu to only include large pizzas and salads. T8 said, “The fun really started when my pizza makers got creative, and I posted a picture of their pizza on Facebook.” T8 said that from her experience, people often eat with their eyes. T8 said, “My pizza makers came up with creative ideas, and I posted their creations on Facebook, and customers started calling.” T8 said, “I had to install a second phone line to keep up with the orders.”(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

T1 said, “When I started making a lot more than I expected, I offered return customers a discount on their next visit. We didn’t know how long COVID would last, and I knew they were tired of staying home all the time. Offering a 20% incentive, Monday through Thursday, attracted a lot of customers.” T1 further stated, “Even with customers using a 20% discount, I still made money because I didn’t have a full staff to help me at the hotel.” T8 said, “Reducing my menu was the best thing I could have done! I can’t believe the fun we had while generating a profit.” T8 also said, “My point-of-sale system allows me to see who spends the most money at my restaurant. If a repeat customer dined with me at least 50 times or more, I called them and offered a free coupon for two large pizzas and two salads. I figured that that was the least I could do.

            T1 implemented a cost-effective strategy by canceling cable tv and ordering Rokus for each room during the pandemic. T1 said, “I was paying Cox Cable a lot of money for empty rooms. I canceled my service and used that money to purchase Roku sticks for the TVs.” Further, T7 started a point system. The point system was based on the amount of money a customer spends. T7 stated, “At first, I didn’t like the idea. My wife suggested it because she researched what some big grocery stores like Kroger’s, Vons, and Lowes Foods did to retain their customers, so this was her idea, and it worked.”

Theme 3: Effective communication with employees was essential

Miscommunication during the pandemic may have resulted in the closure of businesses. T9 said, “Communication was a top priority. If there was a problem, I had to know about it ASAP. I allowed a small degree of discretion, but I micromanaged everything. My business isn’t big enough to allow mistakes to happen. Every mistake costs me money.” T9 also said, “I issue cell phones to each team leader every day after our face-to-face morning briefing. I also supply each team leader with a printout of their work locations. After the morning meetings, each team leader debriefs me on their responsibilities for that day. I have to ensure they understand what is and is not expected of them.”(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

Theme 4: In a crisis situation, focus on employee wellbeing first

Participant T9 said, “My employees are my greatest asset. I cannot remain operational without them. They are my eyes and ears when clients call me to orchestrate a move. I had to do whatever it took to keep them healthy.” Furthermore, to protect the well-being of staff, T6 held patio sales outside. T6 said, “My store is too small allow several people to shop at one time, maintain social distancing, and for ventilation. I took my merchandise outside which helped keep me, my employees, and customers safe and health.”

T1 modified work schedule to prevent everyone from gathering at work at the same time. T1 said, “I have a good crew and I let them tell me what shift they wanted.” Participants T1 – T10 purchased extra masks and hand sanitizer for their employees. Participants T2, T8, and T10 said, “I purchased masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and touchless hand soap dispensers.” T10 added, “People for various age groups visited me. I didn’t know if they had a preexisting disease or if their immune system was compromised. I had to go above and beyond in keeping myself, crew, and patients healths.”(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


Chapter IV depicts the results from each interview. Four themes emerged that aligned with answering the research questions. During the interview, participants answered each question openly and honestly by voicing the strategies they implemented to remain operational during uncertain times. Despite some business owners using similar words during the interview to describe their lived experience, participants acted in the best interest of their business, employees, and the safety of their customers. Factors that influenced the participants’ decisions on organizational and operational risk management varied. Despite the participants’ decisions that were made, several business models and principles were applied. Additionally, as the business owners described their lived experiences, it was noted that many leadership theories were exercised. The themes that originated from the research questions aligned with internal and external business practices. Pivoting strategies to combat COVID-19, advancing via technology, manage tangible and intangible assets, monitor and measure strategies implemented, marketing and pricing strategies, communications, adapt to the new normal, and retain customers and employees were required by business owners to confront the complex challenges posed by COVID-19. It was imperative that the participants develop strategies that focused on achieving its objective while adhering to the guidelines that were established by the CDC.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


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Table 1: Participants Demographics……………………………………………………………………….. 93

Table 2: Theme Related to Research Question 1……………………………………………………… 96

Table 3: Themes Related to Research Question 2……………………………………………………. 101

Appendix A

Recruitment Email to Participants

From:  Sammie Walker

To:       Potential Research Participants

Subject:  Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owner to Sustain Their Business Amid COVID19: A Qualitative Exploratory Single Case Study

My name is Sammie Walker. I am a doctoral candidate in the Forbes School of Business and Technology at the University of Arizona Global Campus. I am conducting research to gain a thorough understanding of the business strategies that were implemented by small business owners for sustainability during COVID-19. I chose this research topic to explore some of the organizational strategies that were implemented by small business owners to enhance their business survival during the economic downturn. The results of this study may help eliminate small business failure in the coming years.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

This email serves as a request for your voluntary assistance in my research. I am seeking an informal interview which will not exceed 60 minutes. I am searching for small business owners who meet the following criteria:

  1. Business must be in northwest Arkansas and employs less than 500 personnel.
  2. Business owners must have been in business for at least 10 consecutive years including the pandemic to present day.

By agreeing to participate in this study, you can help other small business owners potentially avoid business closure or other possible barriers that could prevent them from operating a profitable organization. All responses to the interview questions will be confidential. The responses gathered for this study will be recorded for analysis purposes only and information that identifies you or your organizations will not be published. The results from the study will be shared with those business owners who participated in the study, my academic chairperson and committee member, and other academic scholars.

As a future small business owner, I am respectfully requesting that you participate in this study. Kindly respond to this email if you are interested in being a part of this project. Thank you in advance for your time and support to my research. Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. My contact information is provided below.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)


Sammie Walker

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Arizona Global Campus

Student email: [email protected]

Personal email: [email protected]

Appendix B

Interview Guide

RQ1: What business strategies did small business owners use to sustain their business during COVID-19?

RQ2: How did small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid COVID-19?

  1. How was your inventory, personnel issues, delivery, and profitability affected by COVID-19? (RQ 1)
  2. What business strategies did you implement during COVID-19? What strategies worked and which strategies did not work? (RQ 1)
  1. What resources did you utilize to remain operational? (RQ 2)
  2. Describe how you measured the outcome of the strategies you implemented? (RQ 1)
  3. What, if any, new opportunities emerged to help you sustain your business? (RQ 2)
  4. How did you manage operational costs during COVID-19? (RQ 1)
  5. What business principles and strategies have contributed to your sustainability? (RQ 2)
  6. What leadership and managerial strategies did you implemented to ensure sustainability amid COVID-19? (RQ 2)
  7. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in response to the challenges you faced by COVID-19?
  8. Is there anything else you want to tell me about your experience managing your business through COVID-19 that you think is important?

Appendix C

Informed Consent

From: Sammie Walker

To:     Small Business Owner

Subject: Informed Consent Form

You are being invited to participate in a research project conducted by Sammie Walker, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona Global Campus.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

You are invited to participate in a study about the business strategies small business owners used during COVID-19 to sustain their organization. Eligible participants for this study will consist of small business owners who are located in northwest Arkansas. Additionally, all candidates must be at least 18 years old to participate. The aim of this research seeks to investigate the entrepreneurial and small business strategies that were implemented for organizational sustainability during COVID-19. Your participation in this study is voluntary and your contributions may help other small business owners during a crisis.

By agreeing to participate in this research, you will be asked to describe how COVID-19 affected your organization. Additionally, you will be asked to explain how your leadership and managerial strategies helped you remain viable during the economic downturn. The interview will be either by telephone or via a private Zoom virtual platform. The interview will be no more than 60 minutes in duration or until all questions and answers have been satisfied. Individuals who prefer to interview via Zoom will receive a Zoom meeting ID and password. The researcher will confirm the interviewee’s identity and use Zoom authentication to lock and restrict the interview to prevent others from logging in while the meeting is in session. Each participant will be provided an alias that consist of an alpha numeric code. The purposes of aliases are to prevent the participants from being linked to the study. For example, Jane Smith’s alias may be identified as T4. After the alpha numeric code is assigned to each participant all identifiable information will be deleted. The researcher will maintain electronic data from the interviews on an encrypted thumb drive that requires Google Authenticator 2-step verification to access. The drive will be in a separate locked safe that consist of three steel deadbolts to secure the door, an 11-gauge steel exterior, and anti-pry door hinges to prevent crowbar attacks. that will be in a locked filing cabinet at the researcher’s home. The researcher will destroy all materials associated with this study after a period of three years.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

There are no foreseeable risks associated with this research. If the participants feel uncomfortable or distress at any time, they may withdraw from the study. Additionally, there will be no direct benefit to individuals, however, participants can possibly benefit as the aim of this study is to add a contextual understanding that is significant to the success and profitability of current and future small business owners being made aware of the strategies used to sustain their business operations. Furthermore, compensation will not be provided to participants before, during, or after interviews.(Leadership Strategies Used by Small Business Owners to Sustain Their Business Amid Covid-19)

If you have any questions regarding this research project, you may contact the researcher at [email protected]. If you have questions regarding your rights as research participants or any concerns regarding this research project, you may report them confidentially, if you wish, to Dr. Charles P. Holmes, the University of Arizona Global Campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) Chair at [email protected].

A copy of this consent form will be provided to you.

I understand the above information and voluntarily consent to participate in the research.

Participant Signature: ­­­­­­­________________________________________ Date: _________

IRB Approval Number: IRB 22-038-UAGC.  IRB Expiration Date: September 11, 2023

Appendix D


RQ1: What business strategies did small business owners use to sustain their business during COVID-19?

Resourcefulness                      Essential                                  New Business Practice

Creativity                                Value                                       Listen to Customers

Innovation Strategy                Rational Decisions                  Fear

Flexibility                                Intuitive Decisions                  Social Distancing

Monetary                                 Strategic Management

RQ2: How did small business owners implement pivotal business strategies that were used to sustain their business operations amid COVID-19?

Managing Risks                      Creativity                                Thought Process         

Over Analyze                          Resourcefulness                      Stress and Empathy

Emotions                                 Communication                       Uncertainty

Fear of Failure                         Loss of Revenue                     Unprecedented                      

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