The coronavirus pandemic has unquestionably affected small businesses in a myriad of ways. From working remotely to dwindling revenues, regular processes are becoming a thing of the past as COVID-19 has forced business owners to significantly scale back their operations.
While the federal government recently rolled out a $2 trillion economic stimulus plan intended to aid US business and the American public, small businesses and entrepreneurs are currently struggling to make ends meet. While designed to slow the spread of the virus, social distancing has stripped small businesses of their in-person customers and all but shattered their cash flow. For many independent business owners, from photographers to hairstylists, the effects of the global pandemic can be challenging, if not devastating.
While undoing the effects of the coronavirus will be a much larger job, not all hope is lost. There are several ways that we can help still support our local businesses. We asked a variety of small business owners how people can aid their companies while we power through these tough times.
Jane, Founder of Nolaskinsentials
"Nolaskinsentials is a millennial, plant-based, cruelty-free skincare brand. We offer a variety of skincare products that cater to all types of concerns as well as skin types. To help provide our customers with accurate/personal recommendations, we also offer free skincare consultations as well!
"We're an e-commerce brand, so it's nothing out of the ordinary for us to continue shipping packages to our Nolababes. In terms of getting orders out in a timely fashion — that has been delayed due to the pandemic. However, we're still trying our very best to make sure everyone receives their items as safely and as quickly as possible.
"Our main concern right now is the safety of not only our customers, but everyone that this pandemic is currently affecting. With that being said, we feel the best option is to stay home and shop online for the things you need, skincare included. The safety risks are significantly lower than having to go out and publicly shop. With so many shortages of products from bigger brands, this is practically the best time to shop small businesses — we're fully stocked and ready to push out orders!
"In terms of remaining positive, I've been able to spend more time with my family for one. I also make it a point every morning to meditate and listen to my body and find out what it is I need to continue pushing through. My customers motivate me as well, they give me the extra 'umph' I need to get through the day. Because, well — acne doesn't stop just because we're in shambles. They truly keep me going, without a doubt."
Gabrielle McBay, Chef, Entrepreneur and Content Creator
"I provide private chef and boutique catering services. My business has definitely experienced unexpected change. As a chef, I work with people and events and now that everyone has been ordered to stay at home, all of my events for most of the year have been cancelled. I'm not sure when the next time is that I'll be able to work...and that's something that I don't think anyone can plan or be ready for. People can patronize small businesses during this time by supporting or sharing their products and services. Many businesses are trying to find new ways to reach customers online.
"Along with being a chef, I'm also a content creator. When COVID-19 started, I wrote a cookbook in 10 days with my followers on Instagram. I wanted to give people an easy cooking guide that will help them feel more comfortable in the kitchen, especially during this time. Patrons can support me by purchasing my new digital cookbook,You Have Food at Home.
"To be honest, it's been challenging to be calm and positive every day. I'd be lying if I said I haven't had my moments or been scared of what the future looks like. One thing I've been doing is giving myself grace to feel. It's OK to be sad or frustrated. But it's not OK to be consumed by fear and sit in worry. My faith motivates me to keep going. I trust God, above all things."
Dr. Alison Mitchell, MD, Founder and CEO, Renewed Hair Co.
"We provide clinically proven restorative hair care products that are 100% organic, non-toxic and yield results in the first 30 days. Our pioneer product, the Renewing Hair Elixir, combats a plethora of hair issues including hair loss, scalp irritation, balding, stunted growth and overall hair health.
"Thankfully, our products are made in the US, so we have been able to stay stocked. We have intensified many processes with our manufacturer and fulfillment company to ensure the utmost sterility and safety for our customers. We have, however, incurred delays in shipping times and processing of orders due to minimum personnel working at our centers. This pandemic has prompted us to be intentional with communication to customers and offering relief with reduced pricing during this time.
"There are many ways to support small businesses like ours during this time -- outside of making a purchase. Sharing a story about our products, liking and commenting on our social media pages and telling others about our hair care products are great ways to support. Also, when considering personal care while at home, giving thought to using Renewed Hair Co is hugely supportive.
"This company was founded on faith, and that same faith is what we are standing on to get through this difficult time. We began with a mission to help others solve devastating hair issues and through this pandemic our desire will remain the same. Though times are tough, our loyal customers still deserve to keep their hair healthy and flourishing. We know that this will pass, and we are determined to weather the storm until it does."
Kia Marie, Owner and Lead Event Planner for Kia Marie Events
"Kia Marie Events services includes event planning, event design, event management and one-on-one mentorship in event planning. It's the home for exclusive events for people who love to be elegantly entertained.
"We all are going through some form of change. I'm encouraging my clients to postpone their events instead of canceling. So far, we've postponed two events and two weddings into the fall season and the summer of 2021. The positive change is that I've been able to look at my business as a whole. I'm in the process of a rebrand and this has given me some time to enhance the Kia Marie Events experience for our clients.
"During this time, it's important for small businesses to let their past, present and future customers know that they are still in business. We can support small businesses by purchasing gift cards, online shopping, supporting local meal delivery services and sharing business offerings through social media platforms. If you have income coming in, invest in your business by signing up for memberships, coaching and industry educational courses. As for Kia Marie Events, we ask that clients support by postponing their events instead of canceling them. We are here to help our clients navigate and manage this process.
"When it comes to staying positive, I read daily affirmations, check on my circle daily and invest in my business. I also take breaks when needed. At first, I was bogged down with making sure my business was OK. But God has already confirmed that He has that part covered. So, for me keeping my head high, spending time with my family and keeping in touch with like-minded people keeps me calm and balanced."
Miriam Milord, Founder and Creative Director for BCakeNY
"BCakeNY is a custom cake studio located in Brooklyn, New York. Founded in 2009, we are dedicated to creating specialty cakes for all occasions. Our mission is to transfer our clients' vision into extraordinarily unique and delicious cakes. Our store front in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn is a community staple and we have been serving our clients over a decade now.
"BCakeNY has been majorly impacted by the pandemic. We mainly create cakes for large events like weddings and birthday parties and to keep people safe it was necessary to implement social distancing and ban large gatherings. For us this meant massive cancellations and layoffs. We had to immediately adjust to the new customer need of small cakes for at-home celebrations and virtual parties. We are working with a small staff now, from 18 down to five. It has been a tough adjustment, but we appreciate that we can still provide a service and jobs for a few employees.
"We support our neighborhood businesses by ordering in from restaurants or purchasing gift cards for friends and family. Small businesses are suffering, and we are trying to support our community as best as we can. We are offering smaller-sized custom cakes that can be ordered online for delivery or pick up. We also ship and deliver cake jars. When you order on our website, you can also donate a cupcake to our healthcare workers which we deliver to our local hospitals every week. Times are difficult for everyone and if you can't purchase from your favorite small biz right now, you can always support them by simply liking and sharing their social media posts.
"My employees and clients keep me motivated, we want to continue to provide jobs and joy. Birthdays still happen every day and smiles and joy are so needed right now. We work hard for that every day, despite the uncertainty of these times."
Fatima, Makeup Artist, Content Creator and Beauty Influencer
"I offer beauty services to clients for weddings, fashion shows, photo shoots and special events. With this being prom, graduation and wedding season, my appointments have been postponed until further notice.
"Some of the most effective ways to support small businesses during this time is to like and share their social media content as well as purchasing their products. Being home more allows me time to work on my craft, brainstorm and research different things that inspire me.
"What really keeps me motivated is the people who are still reaching out to me and letting me know when this is all over, they still want me to be a part of their most memorable moments."
Mecca Gamble McConnell, Photographer
"My company, Mecca Gamble Photography, offers brand photography for women of color. Due to the stay-at-home orders, I can't shoot, and I've had to cancel, reschedule and refund a number of shoots and upcoming events.
"Customers can support my business by rescheduling or booking future dates on the calendar. Right now, I am really leaning on my faith and my family. Professionally, I have a group of colleagues who support me and keep me encouraged. During this time, I am enjoying the opportunity to learn new things."
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Featured image via Mecca Gamble McConnell/Instagram
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Having Quitter's Regret? Here's How To Ask For Your Job Back
We all heard about the Great Resignation, where millions of professionals quit their job during the pandemic in order to find balance and pursue fulfillment. Well, today, among those who took the leap, 80% regret ever quitting in the first place. Sometimes we have to actually make a move before finding out it’s the wrong one, and that’s okay.
If you’re experiencing a bit of quitter’s remorse, here are a few tips on how to ask for your job back with your pride intact:
1. Be sure you’ve weighed the pros and cons of going back to a former employer.
Maybe the new job you quit the old one for just didn’t stand up to the interview hype, or you just miss your old gig and coworkers. Write down all the benefits and possible pitfalls of going back. Will you have to settle for less money? Did you leave the company on good terms? Is this something that will advance your career? Do you just need the money to pay your bills? (In that case, you might want to just consider applying for a whole new job elsewhere.) Before asking for that job back, be sure you’re aware of all outcomes of your decision.
I once considered going back to an old job after hitting a slump early in my self-employment journey. After talking with a few friends I still had in the industry, they highly recommended that I push through and find other ways to bring in money while boosting my client roster. Looking back, it was the best decision not to return to an old job because I would not have the flexibility or job satisfaction I have today as a digital nomad, nor would I be earning the money I am today.
2. Reframe the ask.
To ensure you’re not coming off desperate, be sure to start off by emailing your former employer or HR department, briefly detailing what you loved about the position or company, and expressing that, after some reflection, you’d be interested in reconnecting to be rehired.
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3. Request a meeting to discuss your options.
This is a good idea since you can better pitch yourself to get back into the fold with an in-person or phone conversation. It’s much more personal, and you can really let your former manager or HR rep know the details of why you want to come back and why you would be an asset to the company if you did. This is especially important if your position hasn’t already been filled, if you took major contacts or connections with you when you left, or to leverage better pay or benefits this time around.
4. Be authentic and honest.
Oftentimes, people respect honesty, especially company leaders, with integrity. I once resigned from a job, thinking I was going to pursue higher education full-time. I didn’t want to have to juggle my studies with holding down a job that I really loved and wanted to give my all to. After a bit of thought, I decided that missing out on the opportunity to really thrive in that role and continue the work I’d been doing just wasn’t worth quitting to go back to school full-time, so I was honest, and I got the job back. My manager was very encouraging and actually was happy I’d asked to rejoin the team. If you left the job due to what you thought would be a good life pivot or for reasons that are positive, just keep it real with your former manager and allow them the chance to offer understanding and grace.
5. If the position has been filled, apply for another one.
Many companies keep employee files in their systems for quite some time after someone resigns, and there may be other opportunities for you to get your foot back in the door. If you find that your position has already been filled, apply for another position with your former department or another department altogether, either through your former company’s HR portal or via a recruiter. Talk to your former colleagues or industry friends and find out about what’s available. They might even be able to give you a heads-up when a position is opening that’s perfect for your comeback.
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