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How women are starting a business in a pandemic and succeeding!
Guest post By Sara Cavalieri
Remember that business plan you were working on for the last year or so?
Go ahead and rip it up. Kiss it goodbye. Or better yet, do us all a favor and drop it in the recycling bin.
You won’t be needing that anymore; the old rules of business no longer apply.
And for good reason.
Sick of hearing the word “pivot”? Well, it’s time to do the biggest rotation of them all.
It’s “unprecedented,” it’s “tough times”—but it doesn’t have to be.
Quit your day job
They say not to quit your job before finding a new one, but what about if you’re starting a business in a pandemic?
Sure, it’s a huge decision financially in a time when the unemployment rate is in double digits and health insurance in the U.S. is tied to your employer.
But have you also heard that there is no such thing as multi-tasking?
There’s only “doing more than one thing at once but not really doing anything well at all.”
If you’re still working your 9-to-5, how much effort can you really put into your new venture that you’re hoping to do full-time at some point?
Sadly, no business goes from zero to sixty with the snap of a finger. For people putting in even a full-time effort, it can take months or sometimes years.
But if you’re not dedicating your heart and soul at least 10, even 12 hours per day, the road is going to be a lot more uphill.
So you may as well take the risk because if you don’t give it your best effort, you’ll always be left wondering.
And this way, failure is not an option!
Learn from entrepreneur leaders
College and universities have had to pivot probably quicker than anyone else in all this, and with almost all of them offering some form of online study, why not take the opportunity to learn from entrepreneur leaders?
If you’re thinking of expanding internationally at some point, then even better, why not enroll in a program overseas?
Most universities abroad have anyway from 15-25 percent international students, truly giving you a global network.
There are also some highly unique entrepreneurship programs outside the U.S. that offer business accelerator opportunities, masterclasses and in some cases, even funding for their student startups.
Not tech savvy? Not to worry; you’ll get to meet others that have the tech know-how but not the business background.
Worried about the pandemic? Not to worry; you can choose to start your studies online and then arrive on campus whenever you feel ready (or in some cases, when the borders open)—or study completely online and still receive an international qualification.
This will increase your credibility and pull instantly.
Entry requirements are a lot more straightforward at overseas universities (you likely won’t even need to write an essay to get in), degrees are shorter and tuition often way less than at U.S. institutions, so it just makes a lot of sense.
Plan for recovery
Nobody knows when the pandemic is going to end or even if it will end 100 percent. Either way, the world is going to look a whole lot different by that point, so the most successful businesses will have a plan in place for that.
For example, were you planning to have a brick and mortal location to sell your clothes or perhaps an art gallery to display your works?
Maybe you’re getting ready to go into the restaurant business.
With so many businesses who were unable to pivot sadly closing up shop, you may find that now is the best time to investigate renting or purchasing physical spaces.
Mortgage rates are low, and a lot of people are looking to cut their losses and get out.
Use the opportunity to negotiate; you don’t want to get locked into a payment you can’t afford.
Plan for no recovery
On the other hand, we could be in this for a long while, so you need to be ready for that, too.
Again, were you planning to have a brick and mortal location to sell your clothes or perhaps an art gallery to display your works?
Maybe you’re getting ready to go into the restaurant business.
Now is the time to investigate flexible options—pandemic proofing.
Would your restaurant have an open-air, outdoor area? If you live in a cold or rainy place, this may not be the best idea with fall and winter approaching.
How about a ghost kitchen then?
These are professional food preparation facilities where you can prepare your meals with no dine-in options, and they’re exploding across the country.
Then it just comes down to a matter of marketing and hooking up with the right delivery company (or better yet; create your own—companies like UberEats charge as much as 30 percent for delivery and 15 percent just for facilitating pickup orders!). Run the numbers; this can add up.
Boost your technical skills
“Can you see my screen? No? OK, hold on.”
Nothing is worse than watching a presentation or trying to have a Zoom conversation with someone who clearly doesn’t know the basics of how the system works.
Practice with a family member or friend; it can make a huge difference.
And please, no virtual backgrounds.
Work on your communication skills
Zoom fatigue may be real, but as a population, we need to get over it. This is how business is going to get done for the foreseeable future.
Business travel is down, airlines are laying off staff and companies are starting to discover (finally) that they don’t need to have face to face interactions to do business.
But all this time spent alone will likely have some sort of long-term effect on our ability as a society to communicate effectively.
Try to ensure that you’re interacting with other professionals at least once or twice a week.
This will give you confidence and help promote your personal brand.
Connect with other women in business
Nobody gets to where they are from acting alone.
Even the most successful women in business can point to a mentor or connection that inspired them along the way and showed them the reigns.
So reaching out to others—both veterans and newbies alike—can help you brainstorm new ideas, alter your perspective or even refer you to others.
One thing that’s super nice in the general mindset amongst female entrepreneurs is this notion that “we rise together.”
There is a whole community of women out there that is ready to support you—you just have to take the first step and reach out.
One of the best ways to do this is by joining an engagement group on Facebook or Instagram.
You can also look for your nearest Chamber of Commerce, which is more than likely meeting virtually.
Work with the Small Business Association
Many people don’t realize that the Small Business Administration is actually there to help you succeed.
There are tons of free resources available—from mentorships to tips on how to actually register your business.
There is even funding specifically for women-owned small businesses; as well as pandemic loans.
It’s definitely worth checking out.
Befriend your local media
Ever wondered how the guy selling kayaks down the street got featured on the news?
Yeah, he likely has mastered the art of pitching—or he’s really well connected.
But there’s nothing better than a little local media coverage. It’s free publicity after all.
Is there something happening in the news in which you’re an expert? Or maybe you have a really unique or dare we say—controversial—opinion on the topic?
“Newsjacking,” as its called, is an effective way of boosting engagement and appearing in search engines if the topic you’re covering happens to be trending.
Listen to the online conversation, and follow the key people on social media and get in their inboxes.
But if all else fails, there’s always the paid press release option; a number of companies will send out your news to syndicates across the country.
Ignore the haters
Lastly, and probably most importantly, it’s also highly possible that people will try—whether intentionally or not—to sow the seeds of doubt when they hear you’re planning to start your business during Covid.
And maybe it’s not others—it’s you that’s talking yourself out of it!
“How could you possibly expect to make money at a time like this?”
Well, weren’t some of the best businesses started in tough times?
Just like there’s never a good time to have a baby, there is no perfect time to start a business.
You’ll never have enough savings to live the way you did before.
You’ll never have all your ducks in a row and know exactly how or where to start.
But you don’t have time to sit there and think about what could go wrong, so focus all of your time and energy on what could go right.
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Sara Cavalieri is the Founder of College Apps Abroad, an Educational Consultancy that specializes in helping students apply for college and grad school overseas. She has more than 10 years of experience working in international admissions and recruitment for some of the world’s top universities, including The University of Edinburgh in the UK and the University of New South Wales in Australia. And yes, she started her business during the pandemic, too! You can follow her business on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.