3 Entrepreneurs share how they launched their business on the heels of a pandemic
During the 2008 financial crisis, we saw job loss, home foreclosures, and many businesses forced to close. However, there was a lot of innovation that came out of that time too, as new businesses like Groupon, WhatsApp, and Slack were all started. The current crisis is different in many ways, but there are similarities. What does this mean for entrepreneurs during the current economic downturn? Are they slowing down? The Wall Street Journal recently published findings to suggest that they are not. In roughly the first nine months of 2020, there were more than 3.2 million applications for Employer Identification Numbers (EIN), up from 2.7 million during the same time in 2019.
Certainly many businesses continue to suffer from the current economic conditions, however, as we’ve seen in the past, with hardship often comes a unique opportunity for innovation.
Who are these courageous entrepreneurs starting businesses during a pandemic? Three of them are Hiscox customers who shared with us how the new environment has served as a catalyst for growth.
D&I consulting business experiences steady growth
Nirupa Netram has been an attorney and executive for 22 years in sectors such as government, corporate, non-profit, and philanthropy. But her passion for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, as well as her own experience as a woman of color, led her to start Lotus Solutions, which she opened in May, 2020.
“I decided that if I really wanted to make change, I needed to start my own business," said Nirupa.
"I have experienced personal and professional setbacks being a woman of color, so I really wanted to help companies understand why it’s important to recruit, hire, develop, train, and support people who are diverse. Our company helps businesses create diversity and inclusion to ensure a fair and just workplace through private consulting, training, and keynote speeches."
What’s unique about my company is that we develop our own trainings and customize it to the client’s needs.”
What does it mean for a company to have a comprehensive approach to D&I? According to Nirupa, many companies say they have a diverse staff, however most of the diversity is in entry-level positions. "Diversity means having a seat at the table, being on boards, and being in top management.”
Impacts of the pandemic on business
When asked how the pandemic has impacted her business, Nirupa said, “Overall, we have benefitted, despite the challenges of this time.” Nirupa has been fortunate to be able to shift online and not experience an impact on the success of her business.
“My clients are adaptable and we use remote technology, which allows us to serve clients located anywhere.”
Advice to other entrepreneurs
“I think a lot of people are just so fearful of the pandemic to even launch a business, but it’s really quite an opportunity. I see so many companies doing layoffs and furloughs, which I think is only going to spur more people to start their own businesses.”
Online school finds new customers during a pandemic
Wes Swing’s online school, Seven Hills Classical School, offers courses in classical studies, particularly Latin. What sets his school apart is a unique approach to instruction that makes the language fun and dynamic.
Wes started tutoring Latin as a means to support himself while traveling the world as a musician. “I’m a cellist, a singer, and a composer, and I’ve been sort of touring around for years. Latin tutoring was this thing I could do on the side.”
I would be in Europe and then I would meet with students after the show because they were in California and it would be 1:00 or 2:00 pm in California, and in Europe it would be 11:00 pm and I would be trying to do both and that was just getting a little unsustainable.”
Wes eventually moved to the Bay Area of San Francisco and started taking on more students. Then, when he moved to Virginia, many of his students followed him, virtually. “My students and their parents said, ‘Can we keep having lessons but can we just meet over Skype or Zoom?’ And then the interest just grew and grew to the extent that I wanted to make it a more official.”
He opened Seven Hills in January, 2020. They now have three additional teachers and classes in rhetoric, philosophy, Literature, and, of course, Latin.
Wes’s approach to teaching a language that is no longer spoken is to bring it back to life. “A lot of the Latin books have a very dry approach to Latin. So my approach is more creative. We bring in a lot of writing projects. We have a yearly zine that we make. Every Halloween, every student writes a spooky story in Latin. I print it up in a zine and I mail everyone a copy and everybody translates everybody’s stories around Halloween. Kids love it.”
Benefits of going online
For a business model like Wes’s, going online offers many benefits. He’s able to take on students from anywhere and he can use online tools to make his courses even richer.
“Online, we can do things like a Google walking tour of Pompeii. We can share a screen with our students; we can look through the whole city. We look at where our characters in our textbook live; we can walk right by their house. So there’s just a lot of interesting tools you can use online to keep it alive and dynamic.”
Related: How to start an online business
What has the pandemic done for business?
“I’ve had more people with sustained interest as time has gone on with the pandemic. It makes sense – people are trying to figure out what they’re doing for school – they’re looking for classes for their kids online.”
With schools weighing the decision of whether or not to resume classes in person, an online school is an attractive option to a lot of parents. And this fact alone has brought Wes a new type of student. Before the pandemic, most of his students were in the home school community, but now parents with children in the traditional school system are showing an interest in his online school.
“We have a few students whose parents are essentially piecing together an education for them right now and doing the best they can.”
Consulting and skills coach business sees early success going online
Natoshia Lewis has 12 years of experience in HR, management, and information technology. Friends and colleagues have always describe her as the “go-to person” for help and assistance, so one day, Natoshia decided to take that one step further by turning what she describes as a “passion for helping others” into a full-time business.
She started Task Manager LLC., which provides consulting and skills coaching to businesses and individuals to help them grow their business or develop their careers.
Natoshia received her business’s charter on March 10, 2020, at the start of the pandemic. But the official launch date was June, 27th , and she did this so that it would coincide with an important anniversary.
“I launched it on June 27th, which is the anniversary of receiving my Master’s degree within the engineering program, which is mostly headed by male counterparts. And it was myself and another female that rallied through the course completing our degrees. So I thought, what better way to celebrate the anniversary of me graduating with my Master’s degree than by launching my own business?"
Starting a business during a pandemic
“I had been so busy with networking and further developing my business that I hadn’t really had a chance to feel the angst of COVID-19 just yet.”
Right off the bat, Natoshia says she was presented with offers to speak at events and expos to discuss the types of coaching she offers. “I just completed an Expo with The Best You, which is a self-care, self-knowledge expo tour with a lot of other colleagues and different professionals that help individuals in the areas of mental health, physical health, and all other aspects of self-knowledge."
“Before you can start a business or work for a corporation, you need to do a lot of self-knowledge discovery for yourself, so I have a skills coach program that I offer individuals to help them hone their skills, strengths, and weaknesses.”
How COVID-19 saved her money
COVID-19 has been difficult for many business owners, especially those for whom going online simply won’t work with their business model. However, for those who can make the shift to online, some have seen new opportunities to expand and tap into more customers. This was the case for Natoshia and Task Manager LLC.
“I have always used traditional marketing methodologies. It wasn’t until COVID-19 hit that I started putting more emphasis on digital marketing and social media to apply to small business models. I believe that digital marketing has allowed me to obtain customers at a faster rate than I would have traditionally.”
Related: 6 Local marketing tips for small businesses
Since her industry normally relies on in-person events and expos, the shift to hosting those things online has allowed Natoshia to save money on travel and materials.
“It’s a little cost-saving because, traditionally, you would have to put up a lot of miles – travel a lot, set up a lot of displays for expos, and spend a lot of money on materials. So actually, this particular opportunity has provided me a better way and a faster way to reach out to a customer.
Now just as quick as you can reach out to a customer you can also lose a customer, so you always have to stay abreast of your competition and what others are offering.”
It’s yet to be determined what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will have on the small business community. For the time being, the numbers are hopeful, indicating that opportunities still exist.
For more inspiring stories from entrepreneurs and Hiscox customers, visit the Celebrate Courage page.