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Pandemic Pivot: How These Entrepreneurs Owned Their Shift Against The Odds
Featured Image Courtesy of Rhonesha Byng

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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When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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