The Big Pivot: American Women Small Business Owners During COVID | Business and economic news
As the coronavirus spread across the world, the emergency called into question the way the world thought about public health. For entrepreneurs who had built their businesses around promoting wellness, beauty and health, the COVID-19 crisis presented an unprecedented challenge: how do you take care of people while staying at six feet apart?
After United States President Donald Trump declares COVID-19 has national emergency, states passed stay-at-home ordinances that closed gyms, fitness studios and lounges. Governors have placed restrictions on who can accompany a woman into the delivery room during childbirth.
Little businesswomen who focused on delivering wellness services in person had to pivot to a world that only existed on Zoom. But they also found new markets and new interest in the services they offered. Personal care has taken on new meaning in times of financial stress, and people trapped in their homes worried about the pandemic have been looking for ways to take care of their physical and mental health.
In the United States, small businesses – defined as organizations with fewer than 500 employees – make up 99.9% of all businesses (PDF). And over 80% of America’s small businesses are run by a single entrepreneur with no other employees. This means that when times get tough these small business owners face all the pressures on their own. As construction workers, some struggled to navigate U.S. unemployment assistance programs or found they were ineligible for government assistance.
A year after America’s COVID-19 lockdowns began, Al Jazeera asked 10 petite businesswomen to reflect on the challenges and unexpected silver liners they found. We checked out the women who had shared their stories with us earlier in the pandemic and also opened the question to new entrepreneurs. This is the second part of their stories in their own words – with all the courage, grace and uncertainty that comes with a year like this. (Read the first part here).
Dr Nekita Sullivan, 46, physiotherapist and yoga teacher in South Carolina: “Many times I have been overwhelmed by this struggle. I have cried more in the past year than in my entire life.
I opened Butterfly Eco Beauty Bar – a multi-ethnic, eco-friendly salon and spa – on Valentine’s Day in 2020 with eight employees. The pandemic shut down my business the following month after my state issued a stay at home order. I was not able to finance my business with traditional financing. The banks refused to give me a loan because they didn’t think my business would be profitable. Instead, I used the majority of my retirement funds, savings, private investor funds, credit cards, and lines of credit to fund my business. Many times I have been overwhelmed by this struggle. I have cried more in the past year than in my entire life.
So many obstacles arose along the way that prevented me from reopening. I finally received substantial funds from CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Acting in the form of a small minority business grant that allowed me to reopen in January, almost a year after my first launch. I reopened as a Yoga Therapy Bar, and am currently the only supplier.
I have to start over with a totally different business plan, different departments and as the only employee. However, I am very grateful to have the opportunity and another chance. Minority and women-owned business owners are struggling to get off the ground and the pandemic has escalated that struggle. We are resilient and willing to do the job. What we need is a good start with the right resources. We will do the rest!
Rosalia Fiske, 36, esthetician in New Jersey: “ I experienced a new kind of fear for the first time in my life – fear based on impotence, because what could someone do in those early days? ”
I voluntarily shutting down my facial and hair removal business a week before Governor Phil Murphy signed the executive order demanding the closure of New Jersey salons and spas due to COVID-19. I think the six degrees of separation in New Jersey are real, and the one case of COVID in my hometown of Hoboken was enough for me to shut down.
I felt a new kind of fear for the first time in my life – fear based on helplessness, because what could someone do in those early days? I went into survival mode financially, spending only on food and the bare essentials. I was grateful for my savings account and the refund I got from a canceled trip to Mexico.
During the period between shutting down in March and reopening our state in June, licensed practitioners like myself haven’t received any updates on what to expect in terms of new security protocols. Of all the licensed trades, we are among the most educated in sanitation practices and bloodborne pathogens.
I’m a one-woman operation, and that’s a glimmer of hope in itself. I sympathize with the larger spas and salons that have struggled to relieve workers while paying their rent. Countless messages from clients monitoring me have kept me sane and I’m very happy that everyone I know for the most part is doing well. So many people have lost their lives or been completely uprooted by it.
I contacted nurses who were featured in various New Jersey media articles and offered them “thank you” facials on the house. I have learned so much from these women. I am very honored and grateful for their hard work and happy to have relieved them of “maskne” and skin dehydration that comes from hours of wearing N95 masks. I have my second dose of the vaccine this week and am grateful to receive it as well.
Trang Onderdonk, 51, doula and postpartum childbirth educator and childbirth in New Jersey: “ To this day, I have yet to meet some of the clients that I have made amazing connections with while working with them throughout their birth journey. ”
The pandemic has radically changed the delivery and postpartum doula services I provide through my business, Hoboken Doulas, as well as my childbirth and yoga classes. At the start of the quarantine there was a lot of uncertainty, so many people had to cancel. Due to different hospital policies, many people have chosen not to have a doula with them in the delivery room.
I have had to “attend” many births thanks to Zoom, and to this day I have yet to meet some of the clients I have made amazing connections with while working with them throughout their journey. of birth. I had to decide the best way to conduct my business in order to ensure that my clients and I stay safe and healthy.
Because my business revolves around supporting women, I have witnessed the struggles of not only my own business, but many of my clients’ businesses. Women have had to sacrifice support systems like doulas in order to ease the financial burden they face during the pandemic. My only ray of hope would be my discovery of many technological resources that I can use. It’s super handy to quickly jump to Zoom whenever my clients need help with something, whereas before I was just calling them on my phone and couldn’t see them.
Michelle Goitia, 52, yoga instructor and women’s support group leader in New Jersey: “Women continue to work through all the changes in their lives, including this pandemic.
My business serves expectant mothers and new mothers, and I offer something more unique than a regular yoga class – I offer a community for moms going through their challenges and their joys. I’ve built this community for the past 12 years, and as a small business owner I’ve run into roadblocks, but I’ve never experienced anything like it.
It started with smaller class sizes as cases of COVID-19 started to make the news in the New York City area. Then, the week of the lockout, I was informed one by one of the studios where I teach that they were going to close. Within a week, I lost all my stuff.
Like everyone else, I thought it would only be a few weeks since we were out of work, so I didn’t apply for unemployment benefits right away. When I realized it was going to take longer, I applied, but I didn’t receive benefits for another three months. The state’s unemployment system just couldn’t handle everyone who used it, and they had to reinvent the wheel for those of us who worked at concerts.
I also had to move online and reinvent my business, which was based on the woman-to-woman connection of in-person classes and support groups. Spending so much time on social media and seeing what everyone else is doing often brings up impostor syndrome. My online classes are smaller than my in-person classes, which means my income always takes a hit. I made the difficult decision not to change my prices so other classes are cheaper than mine.
A definite advantage is that as a mother of older children aged 22 and 17, I was not affected by homeschooling, but rather recovered time with my children. . My daughter graduated online from college and moved home to become the resident chef of our family. My son is finishing his senior year in high school from a distance, so I have lunch with him every day.
During the summer, I started going through menopause: it was like the cruel COVID joke on me. Compensated by the hormonal funk and uncertainty of the pandemic, my business took a step back as I simply tried to survive and operate. But just like birth and motherhood and now menopause, women continue to face all the changes in their lives – including this pandemic.
This is the second part of a two-part series on little businesswomen in the United States one year after the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Click on here to read the first part.