The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a surge in entrepreneurship, with so-called COVID entrepreneurs launching small businesses they hope will thrive in a post-pandemic environment.
According to U.S. Census figures, the number of new business applications increased by 38 percent in 2020 over 2019. One of those businesses is Brooklynn & Blake LLC, established by Michelle Lee Youngblood in Douglasville, Ga.
Youngblood has always spent her spare time designing stylish children’s wear. She turned that passion into a business, using $10,000 she received in severance pay from her job, and named her company after her two children.
Now, Youngblood is gearing up for a new phase of her business as pandemic restrictions are relaxed. She started tweaking her business strategy when those restrictions began to ease earlier this year.
“We are looking to provide additional ways to communicate through technology, such as SMS marketing, as well as faster shipping times,” she says, adding that her goal is to make Brooklynn & Blake “the stylish destination for prominent sons and daughters.”
Lifestyle blogger and founder Rosi Ross says post-pandemic work environments are meant to be hybrids, remotes, and free.
“Before COVID, people and organizations had this standard where eight hours of work in an office was mandatory. Employees viewed the office more like a lifestyle as they invested more of their time there and saw most of their coworkers like family,” says Ross, who is based in Shanghai, China, and acts as a consultant for beauty and fashion brands wishing to manufacture their products in China.
“COVID has taught us to reflect more on what’s important, where we feel happy, and what things really move our lives, in this sense, people are more aware of what’s relevant.”
If you launched your business during the pandemic be prepared to adjust the way you work, Ross advises.
“Organizations and entrepreneurs must keep in mind that the workforce is willing to sacrifice the office for other add-ons, time with family, and a more philanthropic way of life. Also, learning to work in a hybrid format and from a distance is key for people to be more productive. It’s imperative to learn how these new ways of working operate and how we can use them to make people more happy, efficient, and productive.”
In addition to entrepreneurship, the pandemic sparked an increase in e-commerce.
“During COVID we have seen a high increase of people on digital. Whether it is e-commerce, social media, or news, most people are diving into the Internet to escape the day-to-day situations that arise from being at home. Not only will this digital trend increase after COVID, but we also will have a totally different digital environment once we go to the new normal,” explains Ross.
“Entrepreneurs have to keep in mind that digital is going to be one of the bigger drivers of traffic, revenue, and communities for any business. Being early adopters of technologies and keeping on top of tech trends are a must in order to be a great leader now and in the future,” she notes.
AshleySutton, founder of greeting card company Hustle & Hope, discovered that as an entrepreneur she has been willing to handle various roles.
“When I launched, I had an idea and no access to capital. To overcome this challenge, I bootstrapped pretty much everything and invested in learning how to run all aspects of the business. I surfed the Internet and reached out to freelancers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford a photographer, so I literally just went to the Dollar Tree, bought craft materials and props, and shot my own product photos,” she recalls.
“Not only did I roll up my sleeves and learn how to shoot my own product photography, but I also learned some website development skills, created my own social assets, designed my first wholesale catalog, and so much more.”
Shaunak Amin co-founded SnackMagic during the pandemic.
“SnackMagic was born in 2020 as a direct result of the global pandemic. What began as a temporary way to save our office-lunch delivery business became a beautiful, lasting pivot,” explains Amin. “As nobody was in their offices but instead quarantined at home, we knew the joy of giving (and getting) a stash of snacks would help people feel more connected. And we made sure our gift-giving service is easy to use so people can quickly send one or one thousand snack boxes in just a few clicks.”
Since its launch, SnackMagic has shipped millions of SnackMagic snacks worldwide. Flexibility and adapting to the business climate were key to his company’s success, Amin says.
“Being successful in business requires knowing when to pivot. When you feel that there’s too much competition in your niche or you realize you’re not attracting enough customers to be profitable, changing the direction of your business can put you on the path to success,” he says.
Equally important, pay attention to your customers and engage them, he advises.
“We also engage our B2C customers as they share their reviews on their websites and social media channels. Whether it’s photos of themselves with their purchases or their highly detailed reviews, we let them know how happy we are that our product brings them joy by commenting and resharing their posts. Genuine engagement on social media helps us reach an even broader audience,” Amin suggests.
He adds, “Customers and clients will always provide the most meaningful marketing material because it is their organic and honest review of your product.”
Martina Domino is a COVID entrepreneur from Baton Rouge, La., who founded Martina Domino Writes LLC. A graduate of Southern University and A&M College, a historically Black institution, Domino was an elementary school teacher prior to the pandemic.
“When my kids were sent home in March of 2020, I knew then that there was a great chance that I would not be sending them back for the 2020-21 school year. I knew I wouldn’t be going back to teach that year either,” Domino recalls. “I began thinking of small businesses that I could start and work from home. I thought of selling things online, starting up a resume business, or even credit repair.”
Meanwhile, her five-year-old son kept asking questions about the coronavirus. “I started explaining to him about germs, hand washing, the proper way to sneeze, and other related topics. As I explained those things to him, it hit me. I’d written several books before – non-published – and I thought, ‘that’s what I’ll do. I’ll write a book about the coronavirus; simple enough for kids to understand,” says Domino.
She eventually self-published “What in the World is the Coronavirus?” – a kid-friendly book explaining the coronavirus and how it has affected normal activities.
“It was a No. 1 New Release on Amazon. I was super excited. I sold e-books and paperback books. I was pleased with the individual sales and bulk sales to businesses, but I also knew I had to build more on top of the book to be successful,” explains Domino.
So she quickly branched out, offering facemasks, backpacks and jigsaw puzzles, all bearing characters from her book. “This has generated more money for me. I absolutely love what I’m doing now,” she says.
She has started to prepare for the post-COVID business world.
“I know that sooner or later we will be able to get COVID numbers down and at some point no one will be talking about it anymore. The W World Kids brand will allow me to continue thriving once things return to normal,” she notes. “I plan to write more books on topics that interest kids in a way they can understand. For now, I’ll be selling books and my other products online. Plus, starting this month I’ll be making author visits to schools.”
Ivy Summer pivoted from being a veteran certified wedding planner to a full time Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) consultant during the pandemic. It had already been her side gig for a couple of years, consulting for a nonprofit in San Francisco.
“I developed a whole program of bi-weekly events that correlate with each month’s heritage and awareness initiatives, and I partnered with a wellness coach to offer comprehensive packages to organizations that value all-around wellness,” says Summer.
She, too, is readying for the “new normal.”
“When things ‘return to normal,’ I hope to thrive in the change I expect to happen in the demand for DEIB. At a certain point, whether it’s determined by budget cuts or something else, DEIB will not be in demand the same way it is right now. I intend to change the angle of my appeal to organizations that may more easily gravitate towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) and wellbeing than DEIB two to three years from now,” she explains. “However, I fully intend to continue to offer my DEIB programs and to talk about them from the perspective of what organizations believe are most important to them.”