Pandemic Pivot: How These Entrepreneurs Owned Their Shift Against The Odds

How three women thrived, from brand expansion to bankable transitions.


We all know that the pandemic has made life quite tough. We feel it. We understand it. We are living through it. But with every cloud, there's a silver lining, and it's great to be inspired by powerful women who have been able to surpass just surviving and find ways to thrive, especially professionally.

Take a cue from these three entrepreneurs who were able to throw fear and panic to the wind and get to the bag by being creative, remaining resilient, and using their talents to stay afloat:

Multiple Streams of Income and Going 100% Digital Saved the Day for Rhonesha Byng

Courtesy of Rhonesha Byng

When Rhonesha Byng founded Her Agenda, an online community for millennials, in 2008, it was a recessionary time around the world that posed challenges for professionals and businesses alike. She has been able to tap into the creativity, resilience, and tenacity built during that time to find success during today's pandemic. "When Her Agenda first launched we were unable to raise investment capital from venture capitalists so we doubled down on building our revenue streams."

Her platform offers content on job seeking, career advancement, mentorship and entrepreneurship and has expanded to provide exclusive resources via Her Agenda INSIDERS where professionals pay for membership and get access to mentorship services, exclusive events, job listings from the hidden market, and peer-to-peer connections. Her Agenda also worked with companies to reach and serve millennials.

"Our biggest revenue driver was our work with brands for sponsored content. This all came to a complete stop in March which impacted us greatly as a business, but we could still make it through (and pay our writers and team) because although our INSIDER community isn't our biggest revenue source, it is consistent."

During COVID, she decided to take Her Agenda 100% digital. "We were used to doing a mix of in-person and virtual programming, but now we are all virtual. We had to get creative with how we work with our partners and sponsors so we could still provide value and engagement," Byng says. "Recently, we kicked off a new partnership with Bank of America called Property and Power to educate millennial women about affordable and sustainable homeownership. Within this series, we're offering a mix of articles and live virtual events across Twitter, Instagram and culminating toward a live panel that will replicate the feeling of being in person and allow our audience to get answers to the questions they have about the homeownership process."

Thinking about how to expand her revenue streams while serving her customers and community, which includes thousands of millennial professionals and entrepreneurs, was her saving grace. "What helped us to hone in on this idea was using the Business Model Canvas to define our value proposition and map out the business," Byng adds. "This is when the idea for INSIDERS came about and we launched our online community hosted in a private app. The lesson in this is of course [to] have multiple revenue streams, but beyond that, look to your audience, build it into a community, and don't be afraid to come to them for support or create a pathway that allows them to support you while you provide a service in return!"

Byng also recommends doing your research and finding other ways you can monetize what you offer. "There are so many resources that have been created during the pandemic to support Black women-owned businesses," she says. "It can be a lot to keep up with, which is why I personally curate a monthly grant round up email to provide our audience with the information of the grant programs, fellowships, and funding opportunities they should have on their radar."

Relying on Her Tribe and Purpose Led to Eunique Jones Gibson Expanding Her Brand

Photo by Ashleigh Bing

As founder of Because of Them We Can, Eunique Jones Gibson wanted to continue to expand her purpose of linking culture and community. She initially came up with the idea of a game centered on black culture in 2019, and she began keeping ideas about it on the Notes app on her phone. She knew she wanted to do something that would further highlight black excellence and be a fun way for people to connect and be entertained. Being a master at figuring out acronyms, she had an aha moment, and in came #CultureTags. After talking about the game with close friend and author Luvvie Ajayi, she was urged to get started with making the idea a reality. "She showed up for me and really pushed for me to double down on my dopeness," Gibson recalls.

Gibson decided to look further to her extended tribe and launched a Kickstarter, getting more than $35,000 in support and receiving thousands of pre-orders. She also began doing live events with her community where the game could be played and experienced in real time. A representative from Target noticed what she was doing and the success of the Kickstarter campaign, and Gibson was able to connect further with their team to get the game into stores this year. She gave the "pitch of her life," went through the supplier production planning and vetting process, and the rest is history. The game hit shelves shortly after Thanksgiving and just in time for Christmas. "It's like Taboo for the culture," Gibson says. "You can play it in person or virtually." The game tests players' knowledge of popular phrases and concepts specific to black culture, from entertainment to music to fashion and more.

For other entrepreneurs who are looking to pivot and continue expanding their brands, Gibson says, "Be open to inspiration [and] don't box yourself into one perspective." She also adds that having a good team of people around you and leaning on your tribe and your purpose within that tribe is more than important. "For me, it's always been culture and community, and it makes it easier to move to something else when there's that common thread of purpose."

Switching Industries and Using Soft Skills Brought Shana Cole Bankable Wins 

Courtesy of Shana Cole

Shana Cole started her makeup line All Dolled Up Cosmetics in 2014, and since then, the brand has evolved into The Shana Cole Collection and expanded from Kingston, Jamaica to the U.S. As a makeup artist and stylist, she's worked with the who's who of the Caribbean, from radio and TV host Khadine "Miss Kitty" Hylton to dancehall sensations Vanessa Bling and CeCile, to top professionals at corporate powerhouse Sangicor. Her brand also caught the attention of dozens of social media and beauty influencers, which led to even more growth in sales.

For someone who's whole business was about person-to-person contact, COVID-19 put more than a dent in her revenue and further expansion. Cole had to make some hard decisions. "We were locked inside so no one was really wearing makeup," Cole says. "I had one store in the Bronx, and I still have a store in Jamaica. They both were closed for months because of COVID and that led me to paying all the bills out of pocket. I ended up closing the one in the Bronx after realizing that I won't be opening back up fully any time soon. Even when [the world] opened up a little, I still didn't really want to run back to doing makeup because the contact between clients and I would be so close and doing their makeup while they wear a mask, I couldn't even imagine it."

Being the enterprising woman she is, she decided to get into an area where there was clearly a need, especially with COVID-19 driving everyone to focus more on feeling good and surviving. She decided to become an independent contractor with Total Life Changes (TLC), a direct sales company that offers supplements, wealth-building, essential oil and hygiene products.

"I started my health and wellness business back in October but didn't have the time to give it full attention until the lockdown. At that time, I started caking on that because that's where my focus went and that's how I was able to pay all my bills. I ranked all the way up [in sales] through the entire course of COVID, and I was just hitting ranks back to back. I would say it has been a blessing and a curse, but I'm still thankful because I did really big numbers and learned so much."

Cole says that she began being more vocal about the wellness products and got serious about gaining more knowledge of the business. "I stayed consistent so people could see that I take my business seriously. I am now at a brand-new rank within my company—the 2nd highest—and I have ladies who I work with who also learned to be consistent and were able to do really well in the business. I have earned multiple six figures during COVID which pits me to the most money I've ever made from a business in such a short space of time." She adds that she even found new love, made connections with other high-earning businesswomen, and has been coached by the best of the best in the wellness industry. "It sounds weird but I've had the most success I've ever had during the pandemic."

Building relationships and closing sales was nothing new to Cole, and she was able to use those soft skills to win big in a totally different industry. She says discipline and holding on to hope helped her transition into a new business adventure. "You can't prevent what happens in the world, so you just have to pray about it, help who you can, and continue doing what you do because life still happens. Stay consistent no matter what. If you truly believe in your business or career, you are going to do what it takes to take it to the next level."

Featured image courtesy of Rhonesha Byng

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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