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

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

BOSS UP

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

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