Starting a business in 2020

Starting a business during lockdown

There are a million reasons NOT to start a business during the COVID-19 lockdown. Crap economy, uncertain future, the allure of Netflix. But it turns out that for one woman, the time couldn’t have been better to become an entrepreneur.

In late January 2020, I was halfway into a bottle of wine in an Orlando hotel room. I had just wrapped day two at the big annual conference of the company I worked for. I had logged more than 22,000 steps (all indoors, running from one end of the conference center to the other), and I was utterly exhausted.

But I wasn’t mindlessly scrolling or binge watching Schitt’s Creek like I normally do when I’m working into a fog. At the fancy hotel desk, with a coffee mug full of mid-grade sav blanc, I was putting the finishing touches on my business plan.

Let me backup a bit

So I loved my job. Like love, LOVE, LOOOOVED it. But a few months earlier, it was announced that we would be acquired by a larger firm. It was made clear that the marketing leadership would be jettisoned after the deal had closed.

After getting over the initial gut punch of that news with some ugly crying and existential executive panic, I took a breath. How many adults actually get months with a paycheck where they can just decide exactly what they want to be when they grow up?

And I knew. I always knew. I wanted my own consulting business where I could put my 20 years of award-winning content development and marketing chops to work for people whose work I believed in. No brainer, right? It’s what I’m great at, it’s what lights me up, and it pays really well. Easiest decision ever.

That’s exactly how I was feeling on that Orlando night in January. I was holed up in a hotel room feeling energized, confident, and also a little buzzed. My business plan was solid. And my mind was reeling with ideas for how to launch it. So I got down to it.

Then the world stopped.

What I didn’t know on that heady evening was that in six weeks, the world would come to a standstill. Work travel would cease. We wouldn’t be allowed in our buildings. Casual coffee dates with prospects would be a thing of the past. And marketing budgets for entrepreneurs and enterprises alike would dry up like beef jerky.

The beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown was upon us, and I had just launched a website and was prospecting for clients.  It took a couple of weeks for it to hit me. But when it did, I was stopped dead in my tracks.

Was I really about to start a business in the midst of a historical global pandemic, disastrous market contraction, and oh yeah, when I’m about to lose my job and should REALLY be focusing on getting something more stable?

But as soon as the question came to me, so did the answer.  Hell. To. The. Yes. I was going to start this business. I was going to help people by doing what I’m really freaking good at. And I was going to crush it. End of story.

The best option when there are no good options

One of the first things I did was find myself a good coach. I had a million decisions to make, and I was in uncharted territory. I was losing my job, starting a business, and living through an unprecedented global challenges. It was a perfect storm of red flags, telling me to head back for shore, and I couldn’t even begin to wade through the decision-making processes in front of me.

Julie Brendich walked with me through all of this and helped me make decisions I would be confident about. When it came down to it, the best option when there were no good option is to bet on yourself. My wonderful, stable corporate job was coming to an end because someone, somewhere, decided that an extra couple of bucks per share was more valuable than what I did.

Did I really want to put myself in a position again where a corporate overlord was making decisions for me about my life? No thanks. I’ll be making those decisions, thank you very much.

How to grow a business from scratch during a pandemic

For me, it turned out that there was no better time to start a business. I was serving entrepreneurs, right? And as it happened, a lot of people were starting businesses. Corporate people, just like me, with decades of expertise and no desire to return to “normal” after the pandemic ended. They’d come to love the flexibility of working from home, being with their kids, and working out whenever they felt like it during the day.

The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is flexibility.

then there were others who were losing their jobs too and who felt like I did: why not just do my own thing? For me, this pool of real-deal experts who just needed some help getting their content and brand story together were the perfect people to contact. And since we were all spending so much time together in Facebook Groups, entrepreneurship challenges, and on Instagram, we found each other.

I was attracted to them for the depth of their knowledge and passion about their area of expertise. They were attracted to me because I’m a total nerd about content marketing, and I could solve an obvious problem for them.

Did I learn a lot through this process? Oh yes. In fact, in my 43 years, I can’t remember a time when I’ve done so much growing and learning as I have in the first six months of my business. Everything was new, so I screwed everything up at least once.

Corporate me would have beat herself up over these “failures.” Entrepreneur me loved them. Every failure got me one step close to nailing this thing.

Rolling with the punches

I’ve had the opportunity to watch a lot of other small business owners fly and flounder during the COVID economy. The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is flexibility.

Those who don’t make it hold tight to their original plan, even as the sands shift beneath their feet, making success impossible. They seem to believe that there’s some nobility in sticking to the spreadsheet no matter what. In my observation, this hasn’t worked out well for the business owner, and it hasn’t served their clients well either.

I’d be lying if I said 2020 wasn’t the most important year of my life.

Those who make it are the ones who make decisions based on which way the sands are shifting. My original business model was to do massive done-for-you content marketing campaigns for small professional services businesses and only take on about 10 clients a year. But with marketing budgets drying up in established businesses and new entrepreneurs springing up everywhere, the writing was on the wall – my skills could be just as powerful for solo practitioners just getting started. And they were willing to invest in solutions where established businesses weren’t.

Those of us who pivoted – either audience or offering – based on what the world was giving us found our footing. Flexibility was the difference maker.

2020. Zero stars. Do not recommend.

Do I agree that this year has been a full-on seven-layer disaster salad from the perspective of global health and economics? Absolutely. It has been a horror show.

But I’d be lying if I said that this has been the most important year of my life. I’ve grown more in 2020 than I ever thought possible for me, both professionally and personally. I’m closer to my children. I know what I want my life to look like. I’ve amassed skills I never thought I’d have. And I’ve built relationships that I thank the universe for every day.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting a business during a global pandemic/massive recession/commercial shut-down/impending layoff, I’m certainly glad that I did. 2020 has been a turning point for me, and when we all get through it, I look forward to hearing from everyone who can say in hindsight that the adversity of this year helped transform them for the better too.

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