"You don’t lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down" -Muhammed Ali
This was a fight to remember! And a great message to live by.
This year though, the world is fighting a much bigger fight. The new contender Covid-19 threw its Pandemic punches and landed a devastating Lockdown blow to the champion ‘Business as usual’. This was surely a knockout. The referee started to count 1,2,3,4....but Business starting to get back to its feet in a sure sign of resilience and determination. Business is back in the fight, but definitely not as usual.
For many small businesses, the continued threat of the virus, social restrictions, and high overheads such as rent without revenue generation, meant many businesses have had to close their doors and lose staff. Some businesses ended up closing permanently, even those who have been in business for 20+ years.
Covid-19 did not only take the lives of many but many livelihoods as well.
Government relief programs were initiated to provide financial aid to many SMEs, freelancers and gig workers during this unprecedented time. These included: Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (CECRA),Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) and Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF).
Although it's great that our Government initiated these relief programs, for micro-businesses comprised mostly of solo entrepreneurs and independent contractors, these are not enough to save many small businesses. They either don't meet the criteria for the relief and/or have experienced immediate cashflow crisis that the emergency aid for small businesses is just not enough. Keeping afloat during the pandemic proved to be a long and exhausting fight.
Small Businesses are Resilient
Many small businesses fought hard to win the fight. While some businesses have had to close their doors permanently, many have been able to use the present situation as a challenge to grow and to leverage their size and agility as tools for success. We want to celebrate and highlight some of these fighters, many of which have had to make the changes on their own with limited budgets and reduced staffing. Here are some examples of small businesses who have adapted in order to continually deliver value to their customers.
Looking Glass Adventures
Founded by Christine Hibbarb in 2015, Looking Glass Adventures is one of the best “Escape Room” gaming experiences here in Toronto. Having a key focus on excellent customer service and deliverable value, Christine and the team are always ready to deliver an experience you won’t forget. Unfortunately, like many in-person type businesses, Looking Glass Adventures was affected by the lockdown. Social distancing and the spread of Covid-19 are very real concerns for a business that is based on on-site multi-player and team activities However, instead of being defeated, the team was able to pivot and bring the adventure to its customers virtually from the safety of their own homes. They continue to bring clear value to their target markets by bringing people together during the lockdown, making it feel like you are hanging out in the same room, while solving the mystery together. For a limited time, use code TSU15 to get 15% off your first game.
Reena Parekh Fitness
Meet Reena from Reena Parkeh Fitness. Reena is a fitness coach specializing in pre and post-natal training with a passion for helping people regain their strength after giving birth. You can find her on Instagram and her personal website where she is very open and real about her personal experiences, passion and building a community.
While Reena is not new to the online space, she provided her training services in person, and thereby, the way she ran her business was affected.
Being a small business has its advantages in that she was able to pivot quickly to take her fitness coaching experience to an online platform. She now offers online coaching to previous and new clients to keep them active and accountable even when the gyms are closed.
Create Art Studio
Create Art Studio is a dedicated space where kids and adults can attend classes to learn various art techniques, be creative and gain further appreciation for creating artwork. Guided by a team of talented and experienced artists, they are more than willing to help bring out the “Picasso” in you. Classes include but aren’t limited to: painting, pottery and sculpture and are available for kids to adults.
When the studio had to close and classes were suspended due to Covid, Create Art Studio moved their art classes online. They even moved their ceramics painting studio online and introduced an e-commerce section on their website to sell art products. But it hasn't been easy. In fact, for many small business owners like Jennifer Thompson (founder of Create Art Studio), it's been exhausting. They have had to work tirelessly to make the move online.
"It’s been a challenge as my instructors are not comfortable with technology, let alone teaching virtually, but they’ve put a lot of thought and care into their lesson planning and I think our classes are even better now. It’s been a tough transition to also pre-plan, prep and deliver all the materials required for a class and it’s getting better each time, but I am exhausted. Been working everyday for the past two months." - Jennifer Thompson
Solely owned by Nathalie Amlani, Pictonat is a photography studio in midtown Toronto. Nathalie is a “Jill of all trades” – a creative, branding specialist, and entrepreneur with a background in Strategy and Project Management.
With such a wide array of knowledge and experience, Nathalie has been able to combine these skills with her passion for photography to run a successful business. With her specialty of being able to “capture the emotion in the moment with an intimate and fresh feel”, her photography services range from; family, children and maternity shoots to providing corporate packages.
As the main purpose of photography is to capture life’s moments, it is understandable as we continue to adapt to these Covid times, that businesses such as these will be severely affected. We had the opportunity to ask Nathalie how she was managing from a small business perspective and how she was able to change her business model to survive and thrive.
Here's what she said, "I went from in person photoshoots to creating an extension of my services to guide and teach. Launched the Brand Boost Bootcamp to help businesses stand out in an online space with a website, content, and social strategy that converts".
Neat Method is a luxury home organizing company focused on finding "Neat" solutions to cluttered spaces. Having locations across the US and Canada; the “Neat Method” experience is delivered via local franchise owners such as Toronto franchise, Jen Rowe. From closet to kitchen, garage to office, the services include: consultation, home organization, moves and relocations. As a major part of the business includes a "Neat Girl" visiting your location, the team has had to pivot their focus mainly towards their Virtual Organizing service.
Leveraging upon their "Neat it Now" program, the team is able reach a wider audience which includes the DIY clientele, as well as provide personalized shopping lists and step-by-step instructions on how to make your space neat.
West End Mamas
A health and wellness clinic specializing in prenatal and postpartum services, West End Mamas offers clinical services and workshops such as Yoga, Infant CPR and childbirth education to name a few, from 2 locations - Toronto and Newmarket.
The clinics also provide a great community and support system for mothers and mothers-to-be. With the advent of Covid and temporary closure of the clinic, patients have been unable to visit the clinics to get the treatment they need.
Founder Sarah Mickeler had to act fast in order to provide that same value and support that are critical in the motherhood journey. The clinic pivoted and moved all workshops and classes online, and offered some clinical services virtually. They have since re-opened, but continue to provide workshops and classes online.
Travel Design by Leila
Leila is the founder and chief travel designer of a boutique travel concierge and full-service agency called Travel Design by Leila. Specializing in creating once in a lifetime experiences for travel lovers, the business caters to all types of travellers. From family all-inclusive adventures to honeymoons, relaxing getaways to corporate retreats, Travel Design by Leila Lavaee takes the hassle out of planning your next adventure. Leveraging on the company's app platform, the team is able to provide an itinerary customized to the client's preferences and needs.
As travel had been restricted globally, Leila explains how she has been able to pivot during this lockdown while still catering to her client base. In her own words, "Since the Covid lockdown and to keep the spirit of travel alive and continue on my mission which is to educate and inspire and then assist travel lovers I started virtual travel series. So far, we have traveled to 11 destinations, all with unique experiences such as wine tasting in the south of Spain, coffee experience in Colombia, cooking Spaghetti in Sicily, etc."
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
The business community is unique because we want to see each other thrive. During COVID, this is no different. We cried when businesses announced permanent closures. We applauded businesses who changed their business model to survive. We supported these businesses so they can thrive.
Fortunately, there are larger businesses who have stepped up to help smaller businesses during this time. Some honorable mentions include:
1. Shopify - A major e-commerce platform, Shopify extended their free trial from 14 days to 90 days during the lockdown (it is now back to 14 days), made gift cards available to all sellers, and implemented free tools to facilitate curb-side pick-up and local delivery
2. Google - previously available for premium Gsuite users, Google has made its business videoconferencing service, Google Meet, free to all users.
3. Zapier - the connector of systems, this company started offering free Starter plans through the end of the year, for groups working on the front lines of tackling COVID-19 relief efforts.
4. Digital Mainstreet’s ShopHere program – via this program, Google Canada has committed $1 million dollars to help small businesses get online during Covid-19. The aim is to provide free website support and marketing tools to help boost small businesses’ online presence to sell products and services.
"The only thing constant is change" - Heraclitus
COVID-19 brought about significant changes in our lives. These changes may not be temporary, so we must continue to adapt in order to be competitive, customer focused and successful. A lot of small businesses are embracing this and are looking to continue offering their services virtually going forward where it makes sense to do so. Whether you’re small in size or limited in budget, it should never mean small or limited in vision, as change is inevitable. This was a hard fight to fight, but small businesses who have been able to change their business model to adapt, are coming out stronger than ever.
If you are a small business that haven't been able to transition your offerings online yet, please feel free to reach out for a free 30-minute consultation with our Chief Pixie, Astrid Sucipto, to see how your business can offer online services, whether temporary or permanent.