Bank of America Expands Funding for the Institute

We are so pleased to share this press release with everyone! Bank of America has expanded their funding of the Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell. This additional funding will enable us to add 30,000 seats – bringing the total enrollment of small business owners to 50,000. We will also be translating the program into Spanish and hiring Spanish-speaking facilitators to provide more access to Latinx entrepreneurs.

As part of the program expansion, Bank of America will partner with several nonprofits, including the National Urban League, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders and Prospera, to create specific enrollment opportunities for their members. The Institute expects to begin enrolling these students in January 2021.

Work *with* Home – How Entrepreneurs are Coping

Report from the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell UniversityDr. Deborah Streeter (Faculty Director) and Kirsten Barker (Program Director)

Background

Recently we reached out to the Institute participants and asked about how everyone is coping with what psychotherapist Esther Perel calls “working with home” in a recent podcast.   (See full text of our email at the end of the article.)  We asked three questions:

sunlight streaming through trees of forest
  • How are you managing your work with home? 
  • How have you experienced a rearrangement of priorities due to the pandemic?
  • For you, during the pandemic, what has been the “light shining through the cracks” in terms of relationships and your business?” 

We received more than 100 responses and the comments were wide-ranging and heartfelt.  For example, Sherley* responded, “This pandemic is strange,” reflecting the dismay many feel at this time in our country’s history.   Cydney echoed the feelings of many when she responded, “Life is not the same for any of us.”  Even though she expressed a certain powerlessness (“I have invited work into my home not by choice but by circumstance”), she also acknowledged the privilege of being able to work from home.  Many answers were nuanced, describing both the good and the bad outcomes these entrepreneurs are experiencing.  Veonne characterized the ambiguity this way: “[It’s] a mixture of greatness…and frustration,” bringing both gifts and burdens.  There were expressions of joy and also of deep sadness.  A common theme was the frustration and guilt arising from the conflicting roles women face as they try to balance home and work responsibilities.   Elle admits that although she is coping, “Neither my kids nor my job are getting 100% from me.”

In this report, we do our best to capture the variety and intensity of various answers, focusing on three themes: 1) the benefits and costs of working with home, 2) the specific coping strategies people are employing and 3) the sources of “light shining through the cracks,” —  what/who is providing hope and support during the pandemic. 

Working with Home – Positive or negative?

1.       The Downside

Perhaps the most devastating effect of the pandemic has been the loss of family and friends due to the COVID-19 virus.  Another difficult outcome for some has been the disruption in business and loss of income.  In fact, for many, work has been challenging or non-existent.  Limitation in travel, interruptions in service-based businesses and declining revenues have hit small businesses very hard.  Even for companies like Erica’s (Accent Group Solutions) who were designated “essential businesses” and received government relief (PPP), there were hard choices.  For example, Erica faced difficult decisions regarding “right sizing our team, dramatically cutting expenses, and re-evaluating our remaining revenue.”

Another frequently mentioned problem was the extension of the workday.   Many entrepreneurs reported struggling with priorities, noting that it was easier to prioritize when working outside the home.  As Rehana put it, because of the circumstances of the pandemic “work requires a lot more hours.” Sherley found herself working 10-12 hours in the early stages of the pandemic, trying to “meet the expectations of a demanding and unappreciative boss.”  By June she reached a breaking point and pushed back her hours.  Many, especially single parents, mentioned exhaustion of managing work life and home responsibilities, such as taking care of infants, homeschooling kids or grandkids and/or caring for senior parents.  Danielle said she is “basically up all day with the baby and all night working on my business.  Some days, it’s beyond exhausting.”  This conflict in role can create difficult choices.   Elle, as a caregiver of both a chronically ill child and an elderly mother, noted that sometimes “personal work tasks get pushed to the back burner” and that it is “painful to turn down jobs.”   And Dallisa notes that being single presents its own challenges. She notes that “nobody but me is holding me accountable to the amount of work I do and I tend to overwork…it has been lonesome at times.”

Fatigue was mentioned by many respondents, who reported headaches and eyestrain as a result of hours spent online and in Zoom meetings.  Some reported “locked-in” syndrome, especially early on during more restrictive stay-at-home policies.   Krishula always thought of her home as her “detox space and peace of mind after work”  but during those early days there was a constant blurring between her business and home settings. 

Working with home creates a lot of conflicts between the different roles that women play.   With spouses and children all vying for internet bandwidth and quiet workspaces, some found it very difficult to be productive.  The added burden of guiding children through online schooling also created difficulty in setting priorities and getting work done.  Self-care, many reported often falls to the bottom of the list or doesn’t happen at all.

2.      The Upside

Many reflections on the pandemic included gratitude for unintended consequences that have arisen from difficulties caused by the pandemic.  For some, who characterized themselves as introverts or were already working at home, the change has been fairly straightforward.  For example, for Laurat, said, “Home is safe, quiet, peaceful and a place to nurture and implement new ideas. For that reason I’ve launched new projects, ideas and partnerships.” For Christina, “the pandemic has offered me the ability to make all meetings remote meetings. I get nervous in person, but I’m very used to talking into a computer mic due to all the online games I played in college.”

By far the most often mentioned benefit was that people feel closer to family and friends.  Mira said that instead of always giving priority to her clients’ needs, the pandemic forced her and others to hit the “pause” button.  In doing so, she realized “that family, friendships and health should always take priority.”  In a similar way, Beth said the situation has allowed her to “build better bonds with friends and family.” With more calls, emails and facetime sessions with family, respondents felt they had a strong support network.  As Sheila put it, “We comfort one another, we love one another, we laugh and cry together.”

The dramatic impact of COVID seems to have had a way of clarifying personal decisions about relationships.  In some cases, this has accelerated the end of a waning or unhealthy relationship.  Natosha’s “personal relationship hit a rock and cracked wide open, I was in something that no longer served me…I won’t tolerate what I don’t need.” For others, like Danielle, “6 months working from home together was bound to have an effect on my marriage! Luckily, it was a good one. If anything, the pandemic has reminded me why we got married in the first place.”  For Kara and her relationships, she was able to make distinctions:  “Ones that I thought were lacking have grown stronger and those that I needed to let go of I have.” Carmella said she has attained a deeper understanding of self because she could “sit, think & reflect… and this has rolled over into my business as well… I’ve been able to deeply define my ‘why’ and found my motivation again.” 

Other outcomes included the push toward more efficient organization and decision-making. In many cases, working at home was reported to have eliminated what used to be a long commute, and provided time to de-clutter and prioritize.  Frequently, respondents mentioned that the heightened state of urgency caused by COVID-19 had resulted in the streamlining of decision-making.  For example, Natasha shared that she felt a resurgence  of creativity, because the pandemic “has allowed for an embrace of change and transition…in really quick span of time” and that as a result she “can no longer put things off or wait for the perfect time.”  This feeling of being forced to prioritize was echoed by many other comments, such as Thien-Kim’s remark that she is “more ruthless about what is a priority and what can be done later.”  Kimberly said that because of the threat of the virus, she has prioritized her health more and she is “[e]ating and exercising on a regular schedule for the first time in a decade.” Often comments reflected a feeling of slowing down and a re-examination of the stressful pace of business and personal life.  With great emphasis, Kim said she has realized “WHY DO I NEED TO RUSH ANYTHING?”  Connie reported that “[e]­­very priority shifted. I went from is this a need or a want? On the scale of 1-10 how important is this or that?”  Charita commented that she feels “empowered to decline requests without feeling guilty so that I don’t have to juggle so much.”   By admitting the situation is “a one-wheeled wagon,” Kate allows herself “to ride the wave of the day without guilt.” 

The pandemic seems to have brought awareness to many about what is important in their lives.  For example, Erin relays that she has “made some bold choices because of it. I decided to pivot my business, go back to school, and reach out to someone I dated a long time ago and had never forgotten (and we’re happily together again… she hadn’t forgotten either) because the pandemic just gave me such clarity: this is our one and only life… we don’t know how long we get.”  Her advice:  “send the letter, decide boldly, and live and work like you don’t get a second chance.” Likewise, Sheila reports “Because of the world stopping dead in its tracks, I have experienced a rearrangement in my priorities. I have decided to take a step back from my role [with a client] over the course of the next few months, and focus on expanding my business. I believe that if things had stayed the same and there had been no pandemic, I would not have considered this option.” For others, the situation has helped them make difficult decisions.  Bernetta has seen this as a time to re-set, and to ask the question whether her business is really needed and where she really wants to do it.  Michelle found her business hard hit and decided to refocus “on home, studying for a personal lifelong goal of passing the CPA exam, and pivoted my nonprofit to focusing on families in the community.” For Shubhra, her sustainable clothing business ground to a halt, forcing her to pivot towards building a consulting business. 

Many expressed a renewed appreciation of the kindness of others.  Rehana notes that everyone has been able to connect with people on a deeper level since they have more opportunities to reflect on the importance of relationships:  “I think we’re much more aware of how fragile things can be since the pandemic has caused deaths and long-term illnesses in those who have recovered.”  She notes that “people were usually ‘nice’ before, but people seem more ‘kind’ these days and genuine. Given the heightened emotions, we’re all giving each other more leeway, and I hope we also do that for ourselves.” Paris echoed this: “Friends are more present. The people around me are more focused on nourishing their relationships with one another & making those a priority over things that used to be so important like money. While money has great value, it is not as valuable as the bonds we make in this life. “

Surprisingly, there have also been some very positive business outcomes for some participants during this COVID-19 chaos.  Aniya reported that she has been “able to better connect with clients over the internet and work on projects that I wasn’t able to before the pandemic took place.”    Many respondents noted that current environment has driven them to expand the virtual side of their businesses, with good results.   For example, Thien-Kim (Bawdy Bookworms) has found her business booming.  Moniquea (LBE Business Solutions) and others have found the transition to increased online buying has meant her “opportunities have expanded and my business has grown!”   Cassandra (The Stocks & Stilettos Society) was surprised by “an explosive growth spurt” resulting in an expansion in her staff.  Tonya (Accented Glory) also found her business starting to thrive specifically because of changes in the current climate: “My sales have doubled and I attribute that to my marketing strategy, increase in online shopping, and movement to support black owned businesses. Some folks are choosing to protest social injustices with their dollars and supporting black brands.”

Strategies for surviving work with home

Whether on the positive or negative side of the ledger when it comes to dealing with COVID-19, respondents offered an abundance of good advice for surviving this time. 

1.       Self-care

Respondents responded with many strategies for dealing with the stress of the current situation.  To combat the isolation, Dara employs a strict schedule, punctuated with “random dance breaks.” Other types of strategies were mentioned, including Carmella’s “breaks for naps, stretching and eating,”  and Kim’s creation of a “meditation space…an area that is sacred to me,” to make sure she maintains balance.  In a similar vein, Kassy starts each day by taking three deep breaths and then proceeds to “journal my 3 things that I’m going to do with my business, 3 things I’ll do for my well-being or self, 3 things that I’m grateful for.” This helps her activate a “mindset shift…I  get to prioritize what matters.”  Christina, who has had to deal with not only the pandemic but also Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Beta, is using extra time to pursue hobbies as a distraction and stress relief strategy.  

2.      Organization

Organizing space and creating schedules were two frequently mentioned coping strategies.  Many used the opportunity to upgrade their working/home spaces, like Connie who reported, “I really begin to rearrange everything including the furniture in my home. Seeing everything around me shift, I knew there needed to be a shift in me also.”  Danielle has taken small steps to organize all parts of her home, including family, kitchen and work spaces, admitting that “[b]efore the pandemic I thought I was organized, but…I’ve realized how many things we kept the same even though they weren’t really working…our home is a lot more optimized for our everyday lives, and a lot prettier for us to look at!” Several people mentioned setting boundaries for how spaces are used, including Kassy’s rule that she and her husband will “work at our work stations and not inside our bedroom” in order to “declutter and set an intention to where you’re working.” 

Some, like Kate, have found it important to rough out a schedule every morning, starting with a 4:30 am wake up time and including a chance “rest or collapse (your choice) at 9:20 for about 30 minutes.”  Others also reported using a daily to-do list approach, with phone alerts at transition times.  For example, Lesley emphasizes the importance of setting an alarm so you know when to “turn off”” because otherwise “before I know it , it’s 4 and I haven’t had lunch or it’s 9 and I’m still working.”  For Erin it is important to set “self-care ‘non-negotiables’ like yoga, enough water, sleeping well, breaks during the day (this is hardest for me!), shutting off at a reasonable time (because working late into the night *seems* like a good idea, but wrecks mental health…).”  Some of these strategies are difficult to employ if you are in a small space. Courtney notes that since she is in a small condo, “it’s difficult to completely separate the ‘home’ part of my home, and the ‘work’ area. I’ve failed miserably the past week, but my plan was to never turn on the tv during working hours.”

Many mentioned that they set priorities more carefully, continually questioning “what matters?”   Natosha is explicit: “I don’t do anything that makes me unhappy. I’ve started a garden, sewing, purging my home and making sure I spend quality time with my children and family.”  Some, like Tricia, “set specific office hours” to establish a consistent response time.  Others, like Shakira, have rules such as “no emails after 6:00 pm.”   Other time management ideas include: avoiding a commitment to too many tasks outside work, outsourcing tasks that are not in your core competence, and limiting meetings with friends to those you care about.  Shamarla stated, “My priorities are simple now: I just want family and I to stay alive.” Many echoed this, stating that family and loved ones are the number one priority now.    Jera is being  “scrupulous about what I bring back into my life in terms of commitments and standing activities. Even with my business, if the project is too complicated, this is not the right time to take on that addition.”  Paris sums this up:  “Things that used to be important no longer are, the bigger picture is clearer.”

There were also many comments that suggested help in terms of managing family pressures.  For example, some are scheduling buffer times between tasks to check in with kids who need emotional or logistical support, creating checklists for home care tasks, taking shifts with partners, and grocery shopping during the week to avoid the crowds.  Sheena puts it well: “There is no blueprint on how to deal with a pandemic raising a family with small children or even running your business from home….we are all human and that is our super power.”

3.      Attitude Adjustments

Women who responded to these questions often observed internal changes they are feeling.  Often this was described as a sort of call for empathy.  Pandemic mantras were offered up, such as Danielle’s (“be kind”)  and Toni‘s (“Balance, Grace, and Humanity”). With a similar theme, Cydney says we all should  “extend amounts of grace to one another no matter where you fall on hierarchical ladder in your company. Life is not the same for any of us and…[this is a] gentle reminder that I have an option of how I do my job from home.”  In a related vein, Ashley said she was focusing on giving herself the “grace to grow through the uncertainty. I’ve learned to loosen the reigns and be okay with a new rhythm.”  Deepening her understanding of herself because of the opportunity sit, think and reflect,”  Carmella has been able to “deeply define my ‘why’ and found my motivation again… I don’t feel like I’m in a rat race anymore… the extra time has helped me to take time to see and fully understand the bigger picture at hand.”   Perhaps Toni sums it up best by saying. “This pandemic…is a gift in the form of a reset button wrapped in very ugly holiday paper… there is beauty in this moment but you have got to shut out the noise to see it.” 

Some are finding that the pandemic has helped them evolve and grow in confidence.  Keisha has greatly enjoyed her “time away from outside influences and energies” and Natasha says “I can no longer be worried or concerned with what I perceive others will think or say about me stepping out on my own to own my own business. I can no longer create limitations to my ability.” Likewise, Bethany confides that on a deeper level, “fear has been holding back my creativity.” Courtney says “I always wanted to be a creative person…it took a life-changing pandemic to expose that part of my life” resulting in writing and self-publishing a book.

Light Shining Through the Cracks

In commenting on the current state of the world in a podcast, Psychotherapist Esther Perel comments:  “In the relational sense…a pandemic, a disaster, often will highlight the cracks and it will also highlight the light that shines through the cracks.”

Respondents identified many sources of light shining through the difficulties they are dealing with during this crisis.  (One even said that the Institute courses were helpful!)  The number one source they identified:  Family.  As Niharika put it, she feels support from “[an] understanding partner, smiles from my child, stability of work and home.”  For Kim, as result of living in such close quarters,  “[w]e all talk more and make time to really let each other know how we appreciate each other.”  She has lost several family and friends during COVID times and because of it, “this it has made all of us really place value on the important things. Not stuff but PEACE.” Sheena pointed out, “we all share a commonality of being home. We are all making the best of what we are currently in and it helps in terms of encouraging each other.” Husbands, partners, fathers, mothers, children, and other relatives – all were mentioned in various comments as important sources of hope. 

Entrepreneurs are also deriving strength from their clients.  For example, Natalya says, “the light that has been shining all these months is the emotional support of my existing patients who want my business to survive and flourish.” This support has made her “really appreciate the bonds”  that she established with them over time.  Tonika echoed this, calling the pandemic “an experience like none other and one that I hope will never occur again.”  She expresses thankfulness for ongoing client work, noting,  “I have chosen to give my time to listen, laugh and learn. This has proven to aid in maintaining the normalcy that I need to thrive…I have given myself grace and been more than forgiving when I need to take a break.“ Mych’layla  pointed out “[p]eople want hope…they need hope,”  and added that the virtual setting for her meetings has allowed her clients to reach out to her despite the need for social distance:  “The pandemic has strengthened my business relationships as well as those in my home.“

There were also expressions of hope for the future.  Kimberly expressed this optimism: “[the pandemic] has been an unplanned sabbatical which is filling me back up so I can be more present in the future.”  Talking about both the cracks and the light, Tonika addressed the  “gaping hole” that has been revealed: “So many things have been revealed about our country- its politics, infrastructure, healthcare, racism, etc. ” As a result, she pointed out, there is the new level of awareness and an opportunity to change what had blindly been accepted as the norm. “The light has always been present but there has been apprehension to allow it to shine. In this time, I have seen the light and it shines brightly for me. I feel its warmth and I am renewed. I have honored this time despite the disruption it has caused to my former way of living…I have paused and acknowledged how I am feeling and what I can control.”  Echoing many others, she goes on: “For me this has created an opportunity to connect and reconnect with family and friends in ways that I had not thought about. Things are not ideal but the power that is found in speaking the truth about pain, worry, and hope has fortified me. That power has been fuel to move my business forward and I am growing professionally.” She ends by saying “Today I am thankful that I see the light and the light is exactly what I need.”   

*We have opted to use only first names in this report.  Where we have permission, we occasionally mention company names. 

This is the question that we asked participants which led to these thoughtful responses: Today is the first day of fall, typically a time of new beginnings, most clearly symbolized by the start of a new school year.  But in 2020, instead of feeling like a fresh start, fall has been characterized by chaos in school openings, tragic weather events and a tense political environment.  As a result, today we are reaching out to hear about  how this has been impacting each of you.  A recent episode of the Ted Radio Hour podcast featured Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel.  The discussion is focused on ideas about how to create lasting bonds in romance, family, and at work. Towards the end of the episode, the hosts asks Esther how she sees the pandemic impacting the world of relationships at work.  Here are a few excerpts that caught our attention:  “I don’t think we are working from home, I think we are working with home…[we] are inhabiting all our roles at the same time…it’s all happening in the same chair in the kitchen.” “What a pandemic does, for work and for personal, it rearranges your priorities…[like other disasters, it] is an accelerator because it bring loss to the forefront. At that moment, you say “What am I waiting for? I’m going to do what is important… I don’t want to accept things that the brevity of life doesn’t allow me to accept anymore.” Esther predicts a burst of creativity as a result of the pandemic because “there is a rearrangements of priorities and a reaching for the essence.”  In her experience, people are having “much deeper conversations…there is a level of depth that is resurfacing that is very beautiful.”   And finally, she comments: “In the relational sense…a pandemic, a disaster, often will highlight the cracks and it will also highlight the light that shines through the cracks.” Now it’s your turn.  Please share your thoughts on any/all of these three questions: 1) How are you managing your work with home? 2) How have you experienced a rearrangement of priorities due to the pandemic? 3) For you, during the pandemic, what has been the “light shining through the cracks” in terms of relationships and your business?” 

Link to Webinar – Podcast Marketing – Building an Audience and Responding to Crisis

screenshot of Stephanie Cartin from webinar presentation

Click this link to access “Podcast Marketing – Building an Audience and Responding to Crisis”. In this webinar, Stephanie Cartin, Co-Founder of Socialfly and Entreprenista Media LLC, provides a deep dive into the most cutting-edge and effective podcast marketing strategies that exist today.  She also discusses considerations when marketing your podcast during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what “going virtual” means for you and your audience.

During the webinar, Cartin shared several examples of equipment, software and services that can assist in creating a professional podcast. These links include:

  • Equipment suggestions for professional sounding podcasts:
    • Mic Cable – Mogami Gold Studio Microphone Cable – 6 foot (link)
    • Audio Interface – Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface (link)
    • Boom arm – Rode PSA1 Desk-mounted Broadcast Microphone Boom Arm (link)
    • Broadcast Mic -Rode PodMic Cardioid Dynamic Broadcast Microphone (link)
    • Blue Yeti Mics – (link)
    • Mic filters – (link)
  • Need expert help on starting a podcast?
  • Need to create custom graphics and templates? 
    • Consider graphic design platform, Canva

OpEd: A Call for Empathy in Leadership

many hands making a heart

Female leaders have been in the news in recent months.  Recently, Forbes featured an article on the women leading those nations (e.g., New Zealand, Taiwan, Norway, Finland) who have done relatively better fighting the COVID-19 situation during the early months of the pandemic.  They cited a systematic study done by U.K. academics Kambhampati and Garikipati (2020).  The suggestion was an empathetic approach to the tradeoffs between the economy and loss of life was more a feature of female leaders as compared to their male counterparts.   One of the authors of the study told Forbes, “From Bangladesh to Norway to Iceland, a study reveals that some characteristics that are typical to women in leadership positions were instrumental in the success of these countries: “it required big thinking, empathy, and good communication skills.”

Among the many reactions to the widely circulated news of the successes of women-led countries, we noted the response of Chamorro-Premuzic and Wittenberg-Cox in their article in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review.  They argue that instead of focusing on male vs. female leadership styles, it would be more productive to redefine the general concept of a strong leader to include those “take care” aspects of female leadership.  “In short, tales of strong female leaders succeeding through this crisis could lead to a change in the overarching narrative of what a strong leader looks like.”  As a result, they suggest, “Society at large may become less surprised and more accepting of leaders (s)elected on their expertise, intelligence, curiosity, humility, empathy, and integrity.”

A recent example of strong leadership we have witnessed personally is a letter that Cornell University President Martha Pollack recently sent to the Cornell faculty and staff, as undergraduate and graduate teaching commences amidst great uncertainty and risk due to COVID-19. President Pollack  opened by saying, “As we begin an academic year like no other, I want to thank everyone at Cornell who has worked so hard to make this reopening possible. “  She notes the “grace, creativity, and patience” of Cornell employees and acknowledges that people had “mapped new paths around every obstacle,” thanking everyone for their efforts. 

President Pollack goes on to discuss the “new normal” and how it is “very far from normal,” pointing out that individuals and families are coping with a variety of challenges.   She promises to work closely the leadership team “to explore possible ways of lessening the stress and the burden on our many employees with caregiving responsibilities.”

The next part is what stood out to us.  President Pollack challenged everyone in leadership to “lead with empathy, and find every way you can to be flexible, to be understanding and to be generous.”   To employees, she encouraged asking for “help when you need it.” For everyone, she said that there is a need “to change the ways we define success” and that it is essential to “be kind to others…and yourself.”

We think that President Pollack has demonstrated what Chamorro-Premuzic and Wittenberg-Cox calls the  “expertise, intelligence, curiosity, humility, empathy, and integrity” that should be the basis of selecting great leaders.  And we agree that if all leaders were chosen with these characteristics in mind, the world would be better off. 

Finally, we are heartened by the nature of the entrepreneurial leadership we have witnessed among participants of the Institute.  Your letters and responses to us have shown a deep level of concern for your own employees and your community.  You are actively supporting other small business owners.  Whether or not this empathy and  integrity is a result of your socialization as a female or some other force, it is a demonstration of great leadership and we think it is worthy of emulation by others. 

Link to webinar: “Raising Capital During a Crisis”

Picture of Olivia Owens from webinar zoom session

Click this link to access the August 18, 2020 webinar entitled “Raising Capital During A Crisis: Launch and Grow Your Business With Crowdfunding”

Olivia Owens, Head of Partnerships at IFundWomen, discusses how to leverage crowdfunding for your business. You’ll come away from this workshop with a honed pitch, a network map, a winning rewards strategy, and a marketing plan for your crowdfunding campaign.

Report: Use of Technology to Create, Operate and Grow your Small Business – Participants in the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell

young woman with laptop

A few weeks ago, we reached out to acknowledge the difficulties of dealing with the chaos created by both the COVID-19 pandemic and recent uprisings over police violence.  In addition, we asked you about how technologies are playing a role in your business life.  We noted that it can be hard to stay optimistic, but facing challenges with a positive mindset is part of being an entrepreneur.   In addition, we were interested to learn about your uses of technology – so-called “tech hacks” – to create, operate and grow your businesses. 

“It’s been a heavy time indeed”

Many people prefaced their recommendations on “tech hacks” with a general commentary about the current environment.   Latasha Jackson (Virtual Reality Real Estate Advisor) commented,  “It’s beautiful, encouraging and powerful to see our country coming together during these unprecedented times.” Others, like Chanae Richards (Oloro Interiors) echoed Latasha’s optimism and said she expects the ultimate result will be change, but also said, ”It’s been a heavy time indeed.  This is a watershed moment.  And some days, making heads of tails of these times can be crushing.”

Although some noted that their businesses had come to a standstill, others have found opportunities amidst the chaos.  For example, Barbara Oldums (Industrial Solutions Company) said, “We received more orders [for their industrial wipes] in two days that totaled more than what we sold in all of 2019.”  Jera Oliver (Mahogany Manifesto) noted that technology actually made it possible to start her holistic wellness business during the pandemic. Victoria Chuard (Petit Pippi) commented that, “This period has…been a big opportunity for e-commerce businesses and tools like chat bot and social media paid marketing.”  

Faced with a decline in business, some entrepreneurs have used the COVID-19 period as a time for pivoting their businesses.  For example, Vanessa Bartley is pivoting to become a web developer and is using online resources to teach herself design skills, digital marketing and project management.  Her goal is to build a “no-code” platform to lower the barrier for entry into tech.   Carolina Vasquez (PacificTrade.global) pointed out the need for flexibility, saying that in the face of uncertainty and lack of control, entrepreneurs have to recognize, “whatever worked in previous time[s], may not work from now on.  We have to explore new opportunities and be receptive to change.”  

There were many ways that women commented on how to help others during the pandemic.  Some, like Stacy Cassio (Pink Mentor Network)  has contributed by writing articles on topics like mentoring in a work-from-home (WFH) culture.  Others, like Yawntreshia Colemen (Coleman & Company)  is interested in ways to support other owners so she began to use StreamYard “to interview small business owners so they can share how we all can support them during COVID-19 and the civil unrest/protests.” Chante Harris (Capalino+Company) is using  Patreon, a platform that “has created a unique and creative way for individuals, organizations, and companies” to support organizations like the membership she is building for women of color in sustainability.  In a similar vein, Renita Martin (Browzilla) co-created a website called Creatives are Essential that allows creatives to who need support to find individuals who might either donate or provide social media amplification.  Susie Galyardt (XIOSS) reported that she uses various technologies to enable a virtual desktop interface so her clients can have their remote employees to work safely and still have the “feel” they are working directly from their corporate office.  Others innovated ways to attract new clients.  For example, Tonya Cross (Accented Glory) was part of a pop-up retail program for Black women entrepreneurs hosted by Thynk Global.  “[T]he mission was to help small businesses boost online sales and presence during COVID-19.  It was also a great opportunity to virtually meet and engage with other women in business.”  Stacie Sussman, (SSR Digital Group), recently featured on the podcast Mind Like a Mentor , said “COVID-19 is a perfect IRL [in real life] example of where things can just go poof! We urge every company to take a hard look and ensure their operations are in place.”  She has been hosting free webinars and free consults to build awareness for her business and also opens up her calendar to meet with at least 3 new connections each week. Stacie also created a “formal business development outreach campaign to cold prospects to get in front of new leads.”

Toni Hernandez (Toni Hernandez Brown North America) asked her clients (leaders and founders) the question: “In today’s climate, every moment is calling on us to show up as a better leader. What are you doing different so you can show up better for your team?” She shared a particularly meaningful answer from one client.  “These last 3 weeks have been increasingly more difficult than others. Partly because never has my life intersected on ALL fronts: I am a leadership trainer + entrepreneur. I am the wife of a white male law enforcement officer. I am “brown” by America’s standards. I am proud of all it. I have the gift of being a visionary-seeing the world through an infinite lens in a time when I feel bombarded by finite attitudes expressed in various ways, ie. conversations, news outlets, social media, etc. The bigger picture is what inspires me. In my opinion, what we are experiencing is a colossal awakening. Our reality is less about winning and more about advancement for both, businesses and humanity.”

Website and Social Media Technologies

In addition to reacting to the current national and global environment, Institute participants answered questions about what free and paid technologies are helping their businesses.  There were many mentions of what has become the standard in social media posting platforms, such as FaceBook,Twitter, and Instagram.   A large number of responses focused on the use of technologies to build websites and manage social media.  For example, Buffer, Canva, Flypaper, Lead Pages, Kajabi, Mighty Networks, Squarespace,  Weebly, Wix were mentioned as tools for creating social media posts and/or building websites.  For scheduling content on social media, participants used applications such as Hootsuite, WhentoPost, Later, and Planoly

There were also many mentions of ways to communicate with clients through Instagram and Facebook (FB) Messenger.  JaVett Love (Javettlove.Inteletravel) uses her travel page and group on FB to “stay connected and interact with my travel members also with the option to go live and have hangout sessions.”  She also suggests using professional FB groups to “help you network and expand your industry knowledge and brand while forming better customer relationships and experiences on a more personal level.”  Communication with customers via email was also a common task, making use of email marketing platforms such as Zapier, Constant Contact, Mailchimp, Flodesk, and Klaviyo

In order to put their best foot forward online, respondents also suggested some technologies for touching up what they post, either in terms of written content  (e.g., Grammerly, Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Illustrator, WordSwag) or to improve their digital personal appearance (e.g., Facetune).  Connie Kwan (Product Maestro), who teaches business storytelling, takes visual enhancement to a new level. Because she does so much virtual training, she uses Figma to create a background with her company’s logo for use during video conferences and also uses Snap Camera and its Lens Studio to add makeup to her face digitally. 

Many participants mentioned ways they are adding video and/or audio to their websites and social media posts.  For example, Renita Martin (Browzilla) uses the IGTV video platform to  “create buzz for new product launches.”  Others use products like eCamm or StreamYard to do video streaming of events.  Latasha Jackson (Commercial, Residential and Virtual Real Estate Advisor) has been innovating in the real estate space, using the Immoviewer app for 3D tours in homes and various technologies (FaceTime, Marco Polo and What’s App) for live video tours.  She also uses BombBomb to add video to email invitations for her webinars.

Organizing your life and business

Some of the technologies mentioned by the entrepreneurs who responded were helpful in organizing and running one’s business and personal lives.  Here are some examples:  

Meetings

  • Zoom, Google Meet, Go to meeting, Microsoft teams, Facetime – team meetings
  • Go to webinar, Webinar jam, Whereby, Jitsi meet, BlueJean – video conferencing and webinars.
  • Virtual Coffee Break – create coffee groups.

Calendars and Project Management

  • Calendly, Deal Room, Voxer (team communication), Asana, Notion.so, Slack -team communication.
  • FunRetro, Miro, Mural – visual collaboration, planning.
  • Timelogger app, Pomodoro Technique, Monday, 17hats – time management.
  • Accuity – appointment scheduling.

Marketing & eCommerce

  • Google Business Pages – advertising.  For example, Shakia Guest,(KissBTS) uses it “to make our small business more visible since we are a fully online accessories/apparel site.”
  • Shopify – For example,  Arion Long (Femly ), said she has used it to support her clients “in a manner that was intimate, while providing much needed information to help increase self-care.”
  • WooCommerce, Etsy, Amazon – ecommerce.
  • Active Campaign – CRM (customer relationship management).

Finance

  • Wave  – accounting.
  • Dubsado – range of office management.
  • Waveapp – invoicing.
  • Stripe, Paypal  –  online payments.
  • Docusign – signing of contracts.

Personal/Self Care/Education

  • Headspace – to manage stress.
  • eCornell Keynotes Live Webcasts for encouragement.  For example, Ana Garnica stated she was devastated by the pandemic but these “keep me having faith.”

Product and Event management

  • Glideapps – turns spreadsheets into apps.
  • Evite, Eventbrite – invitations and scheduling.

Specific to Healthcare Industry

  • Simple Practice, doxy.me  – HIPPA compliant electronic health records software that allows for secure videoconferencing capabilities.

Specific to Fashion Industry

  • Forma– photorealistic try-ons.  For example, Tempestt Storm (Fits4Yoga) uses it so client can try things on virtually during a time when a store visit is not feasible or safe. 

Specific to Agricultural Industry

  • Garden Catch – marketing local fruits and vegetables.  This website was co-created by Andrea Margida, founder of Morning Mist Farm.  It is a free app for small growers to connect directly with customers who want to buy local produce.

Specific to Online Learning

  • Teachable, Thinkificonline course development.  Nicolette Piaubert, used the latter to create a tutoring center (Gab-Nic Excelsior Nursing Tutor)and liked the feature of “testdriving” the tool before making a full commitment. 

Specific to Hospitality Industry

  • DinDin – restaurant app.  Valrie Grant (GeoTechVision) mentioned this as a contactless restaurant solution that “allows booking a table, pre-ordering meals, digital ordering, checking in at a restaurant, in app alert when ready to be seated, digital payment, etc.”  so the diner can “step into a safe restaurant” without fears of touching a physical menu. 

Connecting with Other Small Businesses

We also asked Institute participants about how technology is impacting the way they connect with other small businesses.  For Erica Card, (Ericakes) YouTube and Instagram have been helpful to create networks and meet other business owners.  Many mention Facebook and Fiver as places to find/use/support others.  Kenya Bradshaw, (The Gift Wraps), featuring authentic African fashion and craftsmanship, is part of Facebook groups that share resources.  Of the Facebook groups she has joined, Kenya’s favorite serves as a useful tool for  members to useful information. Kenya also noted that Instagram provides affordable access to training, webinars and video chats with experts or other business leaders.  In a similar vein, Shakia Guest (KissBTS) uses Alignable which helps local small businesses connect with each other and Carol Anderson (Anderson Finance Consulting) taps into alumni connections with Alumni Alliances.  Other technologies for connecting included: Small Local Business Groups on FB, Nextdoor, Melanin Enterprise (connects businesses of color with people of color) and NAPO’s (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) interactive networking tool, POINT.  

LinkedIn Recruiter and Google maps were mentioned by Paulette Hernandez, (VTS3), who said, “I look for X business industry around me, and if it says ‘claim this business,’ I contact the owner and offer my services.” Hillary Scott (Heck Yes Y’all) finds Instagram a great place to find other business owners.  “[T]he ones I have connected with have been so supportive, even if they don’t have a direct connection to what I do.” 

Wish Lists for Technology

Our final question was: “If you could talk to a group of talented tech folks, what would you tell them to design to help small businesses like yours?” The wish lists for technology were broad and varied.  Before presenting some of the the categories and recommendations, consider these overarching suggestions.   Tempestt Storm (Fits4Yoga)  and several others ask the expert to make technologies more accessible and relevant to small businesses rather than designing for corporate entities.  Stacie Sussman (SSR Digital Group) advised those targeting the small business owners to:   “Keep it simple. I know there’s so many buzzwords to overcomplicate things. The more clear, concise, and solution-oriented your value proposition is you will prevail over the competition.”   Now, on to the specific wishes expressed by the respondents. 

Finance

Several women noted that there is a need to design more diverse digital banking solutions.   For example, Barbara Oldums (Industrial Solutions Company) wishes that loan evaluation technology could include a format that bank loan officers could use to truly measure smaller companies, saying, “Something like this would separate us from the model bank loan underwriters use for their big company’s loan approvals and give too many denials to Micro Businesses.” Victoria Chuard (Petit Pippi) wants a technology to help her to “get realtime visibility into suppliers’ inventory levels and timeliness in communications, like an API to connect to platforms like Shopify, Trade Gecko, etc.”

Networking

A desire to connect and get referrals to other entrepreneurs with similar needs inspired Hillary Scott (Heck Yes Y’all), to ask for a hub for folks to “bounce creative ideas and feedback off one another.” Others asked for an online social platform to support and highlight entrepreneurs in specific demographics (women, Black, Latinx, etc.).  Others wanted a directory that would list businesses by location, and include factors that could be used to facilitate one-to-one matches by interest and values.  Other suggestions included a tool to help find freelancers for design, and assistance with marketing, and aides to technology challenges, like “appifying” your product.

Marketing

A few respondents were looking for more effective, fast-growing forms of advertisement via online platforms.  Others asked for a more affordable and effective way to post ads to various programs platforms and help with an affiliate app to bring additional traffic.  (Note: we found this list on top mobile affiliate networks.) 

Social Media/Website Posting Support

When it comes to social media, Felicia Lewis (Belle Chic Noire) would like to see a platform that allows posting to be chronological, rather than driven by algorithms. Jaharah Muhammad (Penny Loves Fitness) has experienced the pain of sharing bandwidth (she had to add another line) and as a result wishes for a feedback-free way “to streamline internet bandwidth for internet applications that utilize video and music.”  Others are looking for easy ways to add content to their sites.  For example, Dr. Natalya Yakirevich (Cumberland Family Chiropractic) would like “an easy way to create a series of 2 min video snippets that business owners could easily put themselves on their website, on Google or other social media pages that would highlight something about their business, give tips, show how they run their business or how a treatment takes place.”

Small Business Support and Advice

Erica Card, (Ericakes) and others requested an easy way to find resources, such as an online Information Desk  or something to guide new startups, especially local checklists with all the relevant guidelines for new businesses. (When Erica started her business, she misunderstood the rules and didn’t realize she was not allowed to start a home bakery.) Several others requested planning and organization tools, such as digital planner that combines the best of project planning and everyday task planning. 

Customer Management

Respondents were also interested in the ways technology could help them with their client bases.  For example, Renita Martin (Browzilla) is trying to build “a small but mighty brow community” and wishes she had an application that would let her clients schedule, pay, review and upload photos.  LeKeisha Grant (Ambitious and Annoyed) thinks it would be nice to have an application for conversation that wasn’t attached to social media so as to “ keep the view ‘clean’.”

Tech Help and Virtual Reality

Finally, contributors offered some innovative thoughts on approaches to technology.  For example, Brieanna Singletary (Brieanna Bugatti) is looking for a way to “integrate IGTV and YouTube using an iPhone.” Others want help making an app, like Reia Chapman (Social Justice Emotional Support Collective) who wants to “streamline communication with an app for free mental health support.” Latasha Jackson (Commercial, Residential and Virtual Real Estate Advisor) wants to be able to bring virtual reality (VR) to life, so her avatar could guide buyers looking at property.  Similarly Paulette Hernandez, (VTS3), envisions an app for virtually trying things on.  Susie Galyardt (XIOSS) explains that VR is coming into its own: “This historic pandemic event and resulting isolation, catapulted Virtual Reality technology in business and healthcare from ‘this is nice to imagine’ to ‘we need this now.’ Virtual Reality is no longer just for gamers and entertainment. The current solutions available are expansive and include corporate training, soft skill training, VR for multiple teams, corporate collaboration, VR continuing education, Immersive 3D data presentations, and VR sanitary training, just to name a few, as the possibilities are limitless.”

Conclusion

We have learned from asking this and other questions from participants that our Institute entrepreneurs have resilience, ingenuity and resourcefulness.  By using technology to create, grow and cultivate their businesses, despite the crises we face in this country and globally,  they constantly show their innovative attitude and ability to thrive in uncertainty.  Even though these times can be crushing, we believe in all of you!

Link to Webinar “Small Businesses and COVID-19: Legal Matters, Challenges, and Opportunities”

Screenshot of Marlene Van Nelson during webinar

Click this link to access the July 1, 2020 webinar entitled “Small Businesses and COVID-19: Legal Matters, Challenges, and Opportunities“.

Marlene van Nelson, owner of the Pennsylvania law practice Trellis Legal, LLC, has been working with small business clients throughout the pandemic to navigate legal considerations, business relationships, and funding. As a small business owner herself, Marlene also shares how she has implemented these strategies in her own business.

Bank of America Commits To Support Economic Opportunity Initiatives

Bank of America announced on Tuesday, June 2 that it would be making a $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by a global pandemic. In addition to continuing to enable the Institute to offer the certificate in Women’s Entrepreneurship for free, this commitment will also include $100 million to support nonprofit partners and $250 million to assist with lending to small and minority-owned businesses.

Link to Webinar “Optimize Your Financial Dashboard”

screenshot of Victoria Yampolsky from webinar

Click this link to access the April 29, 2020 webinar entitled “Optimize Your Financial Dashboard: Use Data, Metrics and Key Indicators To Drive Decision-Making” where Victoria Yampolsky discusses key financial indicators that not only help you understand your current position but also help you plan for the future. Victoria also responded to questions from those listening live.

A link to Victoria Yampolsky’s company, The Startup Station, is here.

Responding with Realism and Resilience in the Era of COVID-19 (Results from Our Investigation)

Introduction

hand holding a green plant

Recently we reached out to participants in the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell to ask three questions:

  1. How has the COVID-19 situation impacted your business and personal lives?
  2. Has it created any interesting opportunities?
  3. Can you share a tip about how you are handling things and how others are helping (or how you are helping others)? 

Over 150 women responded and we were both impressed and inspired by the answers.  Below we explore some of the themes.  Included in Appendix 1 is a list of some of the resources mentioned by the respondents.  In this accompanying video we report some of the inspirational quotes we collected. 

The Tsunami

Devastating.  Shaken.  Caught off guard.  These are some common responses to the question we asked about how the COVID-19 situation has impacted entrepreneurial businesses of Institute participants.  Some, like Rania who leads ID4A Technologies, have had to quickly change gears to manufacture and distribute critical medical devices and healthcare products. Many have seen cancellations of contracts, disappearance of clientele and increased anxiety from employees and customers.  Others, like Sonji, whose company, Nouveau Chique, depends on manufacturing in Italy, have seen their supply chains disrupted.  Some who support their businesses with outside jobs are now unemployed.  Many bank and venture sources have stalled or dried up.  The result has been declines in revenue and funding, while costs continue to pile up. 

In addition to taking a hit on revenues, many respondents mentioned the personal challenge of isolation and the mental difficulty of maintaining normalcy while remaining inside most of the day.  As Celina put it, “I really do miss the hugs and love.”  Homeschooling children has had its challenges.  Leesha, who noted “this homeschooling thing is not for me,” found herself tapping her educator friends for help with her kids and their studies,  which are now delivered online.  Eraina and others worked on solutions for parents, such as creating packets and digital downloads for those trying to maintain education for children stuck at home.   In addition to adjusting to new online learning challenges, kids are also suffering with isolation from friends, difficult emotional reactions and disappointments, such as cancellation of prom and graduation.

There were other observations about the impact of “sheltering in place.” Alexis said, “I now have two extra people at home, ALL THE TIME!”, a reflection on how the forced togetherness can make working on the business difficult.  Another student said, “I live with my mother and while I adore her, she drives me a bit crazy sometimes.”  Dealing with difficult family members was often mentioned, and sadly, one woman has been fleeing from an abusive spouse and trying to find support during a time when so many people are in need.   Still others struggle with either personal or family health issues, including some who have themselves contracted the virus.  Angie has a relative in need of major heart surgery and Audrey works with cancer patients.  In both cases, medical and emotional needs continue during this crisis.

All these personal and family issues seem to fall heavily on the shoulders of women, as they feel the need to be the source of strength and help for everyone in their ecosystem, including the squeeze play of taking care of elderly family members and their own children.  Practical issues, like keeping everyone fed, clean, healthy and safe also adds to the burden.    Case in point: one mother of four wrote to say that she did not have a washer and dryer and all the laundromats in her area were closed!

When Practicing Social Distancing, Go Virtual

Institute participants are meeting the serious and urgent challenges posed by the COVID-19 with creativity and resilience.  Most are considering some virtual way of serving their customers.  As Coonoor puts it, this has been “a great kick in the pants” to finally considering offering her business consultancy in an online format.  Zakiyyah has been analyzing the best practices of other businesses as she thinks about how to take her Reiki practice virtual. Michelle is using the downtime from her wedding planning business to explore video marketing strategies.  Others are already delivering their products/services through online platforms.  For example, SheNesia is holding online boot camps focused on food and fitness, Beverly has taken her family practice online with telemedicine, Shanara booked an online speaking gig, and various individuals (Mych’layla, Octevia, Nadiyah, Sade and Taryn) are delivering coaching or therapy online.  Lindsay has created more classes on branding and Adina is teaching mindfulness virtually.

Not all of these virtual solutions immediately result in revenue (Sarah said, “I’ve never worked so hard for free!”).  Nonetheless, moving into online settings can allow entrepreneurs to entice future clients and to experiment with products that might expand or enhance the product/service line in the future.  As examples, Alyssa is offering “snippets” of help with conflict resolution for free and Patti is adding pandemic-specific content to our Implicit Bias e-learning course.

Many participants commented on the work-from-home/remote work situation that is now facing most businesses.  Lisa B. runs a cloud computing consulting company that has always operated with a remote workforce.  For entrepreneurs that are shifting to a new work-from-home model during the COVID19 situation, she suggests that it is still important to maintain virtual face to face contact.  She recommends scheduling conference calls in groups to enable co-workers to “socialize over video” as well as continuing to have “regular team meetings with team building activities.”  For Lisa G., the transition that her promotional branding company’s team made to virtual was challenging for a group of workers that were used to being engaged with each other in the office.  To alleviate some of the feelings of isolation on her team, they are “communicating throughout the day via Slack, text, email and Zoom” which helps the team feel connected despite the distance.  

Don’t Pause, Act!

Despite the fact that many businesses are currently paused, we received lots of great suggestions for how to spend that “found time.”  Patti pointed out that in order to be ready to recover, entrepreneurs should spend time and energy preparing a business strategy for re-entry.   Tiffany suggested entrepreneurs look for tactical ways to prepare as well.  In her case this involved doing a deep cleaning and sanitizing of her salon. 

Others mentioned the importance of advocating for state and federal assistance for small businesses.  For example, Joyce contacted her elected representatives and signed her company’s name to several suggestions for stimulus project ideas that could build long term social equity and help marginalized community.  JeFreda created an online petition asking the Government and states to consider viable options for all business owners, including the self-employed solopreneurs.

Re-imagining one’s product is another important survival strategy.  LaQueanya, who owns a mobile cupcake company, is now selling cupcake-making kits for kids. Leah is working on creating efficiencies in her sales/onboarding business processes.  Additional ways to improve, enhance or evolve the business were suggested, including: updating the business plan, redesigning the website, working on strategy and outreach, building up one’s social media presence and LinkedIn network, and completing SBA certification for loans.

Personal development was also heavily featured in answers we received, including things like participating in webinars and other virtual training opportunities.  Olrica is brushing up on Excel skills and listening to TED talks and podcasts that have helpful business content. Many mentioned strengthening personal skills through online resources on resilience, executive presence, organization skills, marketing, etc.  Tanisha is using SkillShare and Hope*Writers as two sources for free online traning.   

A treasure trove of suggestions were offered up by Beverly, who, in addition to being family practice doctor, does some business consulting.  Her list is presented in a “to do” format to facilitate printing them out and pursuing the relevant items. 

  • List the services you provide on Fiverr (or put up advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, or craigslist).
  • Consider selling on Etsy.
  • Re-vamp your website, your portfolio, your contracts, online content, offers/discounts.
  • Reach out to all old customers and all potential new customers and establish an email list to send biweekly or monthly emails to keep them informed real time and let them know what you are offering during this global crisis.
  • Offer to answer any questions your clients might have.
  • Fill your feed with stories that cultivate connectedness during this time of isolation. 
  • Share encouragement via social media, your website, or via LinkedIn.
  • Establish a Yelp! Page (or a review page on Google). Then, reach out to old customers and offer them a free mini-service or mini-product for a review on Yelp! (or on Google).
  • Create a pricing guides/price list, especially in service-based businesses.
  • Make your products available online EVERYWHERE (Shopify, Facebook marketplace, PayPal invoices and Square Space).  
  • Create gift cards or discount codes (preferably online or in an email to customers) that are easy for clients to access and use in the (near) future.
  • Support your local /fellow small business owners. Possibly support or feature a fellow small business and/or leave reviews on their services/products. 

Do Unto Others

Many respondents focused their comments on how the crisis has provided opportunities to help other small businesses, their community and family members.  In many cases, individuals are using their own personal and business training/skill to help others.  Joyce helped her “octogenarian Dad” to use Zoom to reconnect with his book group and so he can investigate ways his musical quintet can practice together virtually.  KeeShanda is helping people with COVID 19 related travel concerns.  Vanessa used her web programming skills to build a website for her county to enable residents to donate to a fund to support small businesses.  To support restauranteurs in the Houston area, Leah created a spreadsheet and form for establishments to provide information on their offerings during the lock-down. Lisa reached out to other entrepreneurs and has participated in podcasts.  Others are supporting local businesses by ordering takeout or buying gift certificates, or sending supplies via online sources to business colleagues.  Many are contributing to communities by volunteering in food pantries, helping the homeless, giving away gas cards, providing meals for families in needs, tutoring college students, helping with community youth, and coordinating with neighbors for grocery shopping.  Dite decided to spread some beauty by purchasing 200 tulips distributing them to families at her son’s school.  Alesia is helping victims of domestic violence, for whom she points out this is a particularly dangerous time.

Supportive business decisions are also being made.  For example, when possible, some entrepreneurs are continuing to keep employees on the payroll.  Marissa waived rent for a florist whose business operates out of her property.  Joyce is hiring small minority business owners for all of the service contracts that support her business and providing some leeway if their output is delayed. Anita is providing (pro-bono) matchmaking for small businesses to find safe (in most cases SBA) funding solutions.  Shalayah is spreading awareness about the various relief funds available for artists and small businesses.  Joanna is connecting local residents with each other to purchase natural local products (local tea, honey, and vegetables). 

In Every Cloud…Silver Linings

We were impressed with how people are making lemonade out of lemons.  For some, like Tanisha, the crisis has pushed her even more compellingly towards entrepreneurship.  Many have identified new business opportunities out of the crisis.  Camille pivoted her catering business and is now selling individual meals. In a similar vein, Onnie’s meal prep company is thriving because the situation is creating a lot of demand for grab-and-go and pre-ordered dinners.  Joyce found that circumstances have opened new opportunities with clients who need her to take on more of their work while they balance family demands.  Similarly, Marcy has been able to step in to manage functions like payroll and benefits administration when staff members fall sick.  Mia is finding a heightened interest/concern about finances, making her advice and services more appealing.  Trenisha, a STEM educator, found that when schools were closed, she was contacted to teach coding online, leading her to think about what else she might offer virtually. Alyson mentioned it allowed her to “test the waters” in seeing how successful she can be as a brand to support large numbers of employees working remote. 

There were comments made about how having more time has created benefits for businesses.   Joshsalyn mentioned they now have more time to send out orders and focus on building their customer base.  Ericka changed her pricing to attract new clients (flash sales for her online courses).   Nesreen ran a “purchase necessary” contest to generate online sales.  Mira is using this unexpected downtime “templates, writing meaningful content and just streamlining and working on the back end of my business.”

Many responses referenced the effect of “found time” and its impact emotionally. Domonique recommended giving oneself “permission to take action on the things you have wanted to do.”   Michelle, a cross-cultural wedding planner, said “despite all the added workload, my heart is in a much more rested state….the [easing of ] on-demand requests and instant satisfaction have allowed me to breathe in between my tasks…allowed me the grace to slow down and do things I’ve always wanted to do.” Similarly, JodyAnn, said the pause in the action has allowed her to think more clearly about what she really wants out of her endeavor.  Numerous women (Octevia, Crystal, Patti, Veonne, Domonique, Shelia and Alesia) have decided to work on their book projects more intensely. Others point to saving money due to eating less, placing less wear and tear on cars, reducing membership fees and using Zoom to reduce travel expenses.  Shaneisha said the slowdown forced her to make healthier choices.  Interestingly, she has been exposed to Instagram Live by participating in dance parties and workout sessions and the experience has inspired her to shift her own launch strategy to the Instagram Live platform (instead of creating a web series).

There were many personal “silver linings” as well.  Shalonda mentioned restoring and rebuilding family relationships, Celina said it allowed her to “view life and opportunities with even more gratitude…families are being mended, memories are being made.” Rachelle has used this time as an opportunity for “my husband and I to discuss the different expectations for men and women related to work and personal life” as they juggle housework and childcare while both working from home.  Colleen mentioned the opportunity for “wonderful family time” with her teens.  Time for prayer, meditation, additional sleep and game-playing were also mentioned.

How to Cope

There were so many wonderful and inspirational comments about coping, we put some of them in the accompanying video.    Common advice for coping included self-care suggestions, like walking or exercising every day, relying on faith, meditation, journaling, therapy, and avoiding the social media and news outlets to remain calm.  Khadi listens to soothing music while applying a facial.  Lisa recommended maintaining structure and routine for both adults and children.  She uses a daily schedule with her husband to divide up childcare and allow each of them time for exercise and work.  In a similar vein, Imani said to “rise early and listen to your internal compass for the plan of the day.” 

Finally, the oft-heard advice:   Wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and maintain social distancing.   Stay well!

Appendix 1 – Links and Resources

Funding, Loans and Financial Support for Small Businesses

Working Remote

  • Blog post to help those working from home for the first time (courtesy of program participant Heather Wilson). Additionally there is a 9-film documentary about TaxJar corporate team working remotely

Family Resources

  • Resources for family and youth (courtesy of program participant TaKarah DuPree)

Self-Care

  • Beyond the Busyness: Practicing Self Care in Times of Uncertainty (courtesy of program participant Mia Bradford)
  • Brain.fm: Music to improve focus, meditation and sleep (courtesy of program participant Katherine Ong)

Other Resources

  • Free book download of “You Had It All Along: 5 Keys to Unlocking the Power of Confidence in Your Core” (courtesy of program participant Sheila Kennedy) 
  • Article on decision to offer products/services during this global pandemic  (courtesy of program participant Sheila Kennedy) 
  • Digital Marketing on a Budget Facebook Group (courtesy of program participant Tonya Cross)-
  • “Ask a Black Woman” podcast (courtesy of program participant Shanara Sanders) –