Women Business Owners: Resiliency in the Time of COVID-19

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It’s been over four months since COVID-19 changed business in America. The “normal” that we had all grown accustomed to came to a stop. COVID-19 has arrived, and the decision to shut down as much of the country as possible to slow the deadly spread of this new virus created a business environment that none of us have ever had to navigate before.

Essential large businesses remained open and struggled to keep up with demand, but the small businesses of our nation were asked to close up, go home, shelter in place, and slow the spread. Two weeks turned into six and then into months. Small businesses are being drastically impacted, and the majority of woman-owned businesses are in this group. As of June 4, 2020, according to a recent poll conducted by Facebook Corporate, as many as one-third of the small businesses that had to shut their doors report that they have shut their doors forever.

The latest American Express State of Women Owned Businesses report tells us that, although there are over 11 million woman-owned businesses in the United States, the vast majority of them are under $1m in annual revenue. In fact, 98% of them are under $1m a year. That is a lot of businesses that will go under in the wake of this pandemic.

These are times of uncertainty, but what we do know is that the heart of the woman entrepreneur is strong, expansive, and resilient. While many will not get through, many more will — and they will get there by helping each other. They will stay together for the good of their communities, their families, their country.

What follows are three stories of resilient, smart, heart-centered women business owners from the community of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Their businesses are all different in industry, size, and location, but their resolve to not only survive but to serve is part of what the hope and power of the entrepreneurial spirit is all about. Here are their own words as they tell their own stories of COVID-19:

Janie Stubblefield, CEO of Mobile Counseling (mental health, family counseling), Dallas, Texas

(Stubblefield is a Licensed Professional Counselor/Supervisor in Texas, and is also a National Certified Counselor through the National Board of Certified Counselors. Stubblefield now owns Mobile Counseling, a private counseling practice in Dallas, where she serves individuals, couples, and families. She has extensive experience with adolescent issues and family relationships. Stubblefield is also an adjunct professor at Richland College, where she has served international students for over 10 years. Mobile Counseling seeks to serve clients wherever they are most comfortable — either at their office, at their home, or online.)

As the owner of a professional mental-health counseling practice, when I hire a counselor to join our practice, I always tell them the “Starfish” story:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish. which had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked, he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing.

Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir.”

The old man chuckled aloud. “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and, turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

You see, in the world of business, Mobile Counseling is very small, but to our clients, we make a difference in their lives — sometimes life and death — without question.

Thankfully, Mobile Counseling had already established a tele-health platform that allowed us to pivot our services to continue to serve our clients. Unfortunately, some of our clients have been impacted through lay-offs, and therefore have lost their insurance coverage, resulting in them stopping counseling at a time when it is most needed.

I was excited to hear about the Payroll Protection Plan for Small Businesses, thinking this would cover payroll and therefore allow counselors to continue to provide services to all clients, regardless of their ability to pay. I completed my application within a day with my local banker (including all requested documents), because I felt like this was an opportunity to make a smart business decision to ensure that Mobile Counseling would continue to provide mental-health services to the community, long after the shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

Adding to the challenge was hearing the media rumors, which reported that very small businesses like Mobile Counseling may never see these benefits, because it's not financially beneficial for banks to spend time for such a small loan amount. I hoped the rumors were wrong, and I sent my worries to our NAWBO advocacy team in Washington, D.C. Our stories were put to voice and we were heard.

We asked that our nation’s leaders be mindful of the smaller businesses that are “making a difference” in our communities, and be willing to pick up our “starfish” businesses and gently toss us back into the water of life, too.

Our funding was approved, and we are still here today, doing what we do best: combing the beaches of the virtual world and helping as many as we can.

Helen Kim, President of Blue Lemon Productions (video production), Phoenix, Arizona

(The stories Helen Kim tells as founder and creative director of Blue Lemon Productions are certainly game-changers for the businesses she helps to stand out. An award-winning, dynamic storyteller and digital-content creator, you’ll see your personal or business story come to life with Kim behind the lens.)

With the hit of COVID-19, businesses around the world have scrambled to pivot during the pandemic. Some entrepreneurs have been able to weather the storm by quickly adapting to the new, ever-changing paradigm. One of these entrepreneurs is Helen Kim. Helen Kim is the owner and creative director of Blue Lemon Productions, a video-production company that focuses on telling emotionally-driven stories. Her expert video storytelling has secured a loyal client following and busy schedule. However, due to the travel restrictions of the pandemic, all shoots have been postponed or canceled. Helen had to pivot — and pivot fast.

“Businesses still need to get their stories out,” said Kim. “Even more so now because of the increased support for local, small businesses.”

To become fluid amidst uncertainty, Kim created solutions. She diversified storytelling methods by suggesting animation-based videos and streamlined processes, and empowered her own clients through virtual-storytelling coaching. While her adaptability has helped her own business flourish, Kim’s main goal is to help others achieve their potential.

This unrelenting pursuit of passion goes back to her upbringing. Kim came from an underprivileged background. She grew up in South Korea, and moved to the U.S. at age 12, not knowing any English. Her father, a renowned creative in the fashion industry, lacked business skills and caused multiple of his endeavors to go bankrupt. As an adult, Kim held a stable career, married a loving husband, and had five beautiful children. But there was always an inner struggle between the visionary leader she felt she could become and the cultural norm and generational conditioning with which she had grown up.

“I was taught women should stay home and support the husband,” she said. “I was conditioned to have a fear of failure. But I wanted to challenge the status quo. I wanted to help businesses — including my own — succeed. I believe stories are the best way to achieve success and make an impact, and video is the ultimate format to do that.”

To Kim, storytelling is more than a skill on her resume — it’s a way to connect with others and
build a legacy. Her dedication to her clients’ successes, as well as staying true to her calling, is
something she hopes to pass on to her children.

“I have five children, four of whom are girls. I want to show them you must embrace failure and success. There are endless possibilities for those who persist, despite unexpected challenges.”

Covid-19 stopped many businesses in their tracks. It might seem that a video-production company would be among them. However, Kim chose to think differently and to persevere. Her attitude and tenacity keeps her business thriving and allows her and her team to tell the many important stories of business owners all across the country.

Pam Potyka, Owner and President of AbilityHome Health (pediatric physical/speech therapies), San Antonio, Texas

(Pam Potyka is the owner and CEO of Ability Homecare, listed as a San Antonio Top Workplace for the past seven years, as well as the owner of All 4 Therapy, a pediatric clinic outside of Houston. She is also the President of NAWBO’s San Antonio chapter. She solves problems and gets things done.)

In mid-March the announcement was made. We had to lockdown.

I met with my CFO and we looked at the numbers. And we looked at them again. The bottom line was clear. Without drastic changes, immediately, we wouldn’t survive.

I didn’t say anything to anyone, yet. I scheduled an all-hands for first thing Monday. Until then, I thought, let’s all just try and enjoy the weekend. I didn’t want to see the clouds of tension over my staff, but you could feel angst in the air.

I went home to what was rapidly becoming the new world. Upcoming events being canceled on the hour. Barren parking lots. Restaurants were shutting down until further notice. I was already carrying a little bottle of hand sanitizer.

The masks weren’t prevalent yet, but the canned Muzak at the grocery store was already replaced with a docile corporate recording, that we as a community will get over this hardship. We were all in it together.
You didn’t really get that feeling walking up and down the store aisles. Everyone acutely aware of every little sniffle. People looked scared. All lost in their own new reality.

The world was headed into lockdown. Dates were floated on when we might reemerge, but nothing felt certain. I sat with the dread. What would all this do to me? My life. My family. My livelihood. What was it doing to my business? And could we even survive this new normal?

It was a hard weekend. But decisions were made.

I didn’t have to tell my staff what the meeting agenda was about. Some were scared. Some had a “pull the Band-Aid off’ attitude. Let’s just hear it.

I tried to be fair.

Recent hires would be let go. Hours cut back for everyone. And a percentage pay-cut from the top on down.

Nobody really complained. Some were relieved. Happy to even have a job as unemployment rates tumbled down the well. But everyone understood. It was the only way we as a company could survive this. Short-term. Long-term. If we didn’t make significant cuts and changes right now, we wouldn’t last the month. That hit home, and I didn’t get any push back.

Letting anybody go hurt. Especially into this unknown. I promised to find a way to bring them back. And we went to work on that immediately.

There’s no redder tape than government bureaucracy. Mixing that with the bank, and wading through the rules and changes and what’s needed to apply. Jumping on the Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan life-raft was a monumental undertaking.

Keeping the lines of communication open to make sure every form was filled out correctly. All the necessary information given to the right people. We made our way through a maze filled with false starts and dead ends, but it was worth it. Anything to make the program work for our small business.     

We made our business model fit this new reality. In-home visits — which were out of the question for safety concerns — were altered by using technology we had at hand. Virtual visits gave us the vital connection we needed between our nurses and staff and those in their care.

There’s still so much more unknown than known these days. Having to change course is necessary. It’s keeping us afloat through these choppy waters.

We even managed to create new staff positions, using our business connections to obtain and distribute much-needed COVID-19 testing kits to a myriad of hospitals and care centers throughout our community.

And as time has gone on, we’ve managed to bring some people back. Not at what they initially were used to in hours or salary, but I know that will change in time. We are in this together and we’ll come back stronger than ever.


Lynda Bishop is the President of Summit Alliance Solutions, providing training, mentoring, program development, and implementation for entrepreneurial and corporate women across the United States. She is the National Program Director of the National Association of Women Business Owners’ (NAWBO) nonprofit Institute for Entrepreneurial Development. She is also a masters-level therapist, certified professional coach, speaker, author, and youth-entrepreneurship program director. Bishop creates solutions through building and fostering strong and supportive communities of amazing women.

Tags: NAWBO, Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity, Mentor

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Lynda Bishop, National Director, NAWBO Institute for Entrepreneurial Development

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