IT COULD happen to any business – everything is going well, customers are satisfied, profits are coming in – and then out of nowhere, the perfect storm hits and your business is struck with a disaster.
Over the last two years the same thing happened to many businesses as a result of enforced closures and covid19 restrictions, higher production costs and all the other worldwide shocks which rocked small-medium businesses, leaving many wondering what was coming next.
For businesswomen – who already have challenges such as being mothers and wives as well as those of building a business – dealing with work-related disaster is that much harder.
At a brunch held especially for women in SMEs, business divas and "mompreneurs," the host, Kelisha Mills, Angela Lee Loy, Anya Ayoung Chee and Elizabeth “Lady" Montano shared their experiences in balancing business and home, conquering fears when pushing a business forward, and most of all, how to help businesses weather the storms that come their way.
When disaster strikes
Lee Loy, founder and CEO of Aegis Business Solutions Ltd, recalled that her business was among the hardest hit when covid19 began ravaging the country and businesses, as she suffered tremendous reductions in revenue. She said for her, dealing with disaster in business meant being transparent and honest with both staff and customers and rethinking how your business operates to find new ways and new streams of revenue. But most important was having faith that a solution would come.
“We do temporary recruiting, and when covid19 hit, everyone started to pull back. Our revenue went down by 85 per cent,” she said. “Now that is really something to face, especially when you have people – permanent staff – working for you.”
How did she cope? “A big part of it was telling myself to remain calm.
"I believe in the man up there. I spend time with my sister in Toronto meditating before I start my day. So I think you have to have that spiritual grounding and trust in the Lord that something would happen.”
Lee Loy – a 2021 Chamber of Industry and Commerce hall of fame inductee – said she eventually began pivoting and planning, while being fully transparent to her staff about the need for pay cuts, the position of the business and the overall plan for its future.
“Funny enough, people were willing to take pay cuts, because they believe in what you have been doing, and because at the end of the day, they still had a job.
"Then we started looking into training, we started looking at things such as: can we help people to write their resumes? We just started to think about what we weren’t doing, and we started to build on that. Eventually, you got some other revenue flowing in – maybe not as fast as you would like – but slowly and surely you started moving up by creating other revenues.”
“Lady” Montano is the mother of soca star Machel Montano, co-lead in the Machel Montano Foundation for Greatness, head of Montanos’ Chocolate Co Ltd, author and director of several other companies in the Montano empire. She said in her family’s decades-long experience of business, several disasters had struck the family and their family’s business, but remaining positive, learning to fail and recover with dignity and being focused on recovery were the keys to bouncing back for their family.
Montano went back 21 years to when a VIP stand holding scores of patrons collapsed at the Real Unity concert in Chaguaramas in 2000, saying that disaster almost cost her and her family everything.
“We had to spend ten years paying people back,” she said. “But because we had that experience, and we always talk about being positive and not giving up, we rebuilt.”
She said starting over from failures and tragedies means you have to work harder, but in every instance it was the Montano family’s belief that even if you fail, do it with respect, dignity and pride.
“So when my son didn’t win (a contest), I would tell him that it’s nothing – sometimes the best do not always win. We were fortunate and we are fortunate to have a very strong support system. So any time we encounter disasters – and we have encountered several – as long as there is something to do about it, we will get it done.”
Ayoung Chee, fashion designer, social entrepreneur and design strategist, said a positive attitude helped her deal with her disasters.
“The most challenging times in my life were the most meaningful, because of the good that came after,” she said. “Every happens for you, not to you. Everything is an opportunity. Everything you face is a chance to do something, and if it doesn’t work, then you can say: 'How can I improve on that?'”
She added that business is a naturally risky environment and businesspeople make the decision to live in relatively risky environments.
Host Kelisha Mills, whose business supplies office furniture and stationery, also had experiences with disaster and failure, including having to close down in 2013.
“I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for my own personal challenge,” she said. “Going through that, I felt like I didn’t know what to do.
"But when I remembered what I could do and I began to believe in myself, I started a community of ‘mompreneurs,’ where you have a business and you want to have that support.
“Moms and entrepreneurs have challenges that are sometimes quite unique, and there are some things that only we can understand about what we are going through, and that is what this is all about.”
Maintaining a work/life balance
As “mompreneurs” the women all agreed that one of the biggest challenges was maintaining a work/life balance – being able to balance the needs of your business and those of your family.
Montano said a good support system is key to building a business and that support system would also help maintain the balance between work and life.
She said she and her husband Monty have worked together over the years to ensure that their children had the best while developing themselves. She told the mompreneurs she and her husband, after having two children, took turns studying, and both took time off to take care of the children while the other sought their education.
“I didn’t see it as a sacrifice, I saw it as a plan. Monty stayed at home and took care of the children while I went and I started my education. And the next year he came and was studying, and by that time I had my degree and I was working. I held down three jobs while studying. It is sort of like an organisation.”
“Things take priority,” Lee Loy said. “Once you determine what your priority is, you will find a solution.”
She added that delegation is also a form of teaching people what you want from them.
Ayoung Chee – season nine winner of Project Runway – added that being able to accept the multiple roles in life also helps with developing a work/life balance. She told the mompreneurs about her experiences when she had just become a mother, and how she struggled at first with the new roles in her life.
“After I surrendered to my roles as a mother and an entrepreneur I was so much happier,” she said. “I had to accept to myself that I was a mom, and it was okay. I had to find a new version of myself.
"I think that it is something that I have to do every day, to let things go.”
Mompreneurs treated to brunch
The mompreneurs were treated to an all-day brunch event on Sunday, along with the panel discussion.
The event – The Ultimate Mompreneur Brunch – was the first of its kind for ambitious entrepreneurs and mothers who, according to the invitation, valued business strategies, life management and help to make life more peaceful, organised and stress-free.
The event’s website said pre-pandemic, Mills started an event called Mom’s Night Out, which connected businesswomen for networking and community.
“It’s no secret that we as moms have felt the brunt of the challenges that lockdowns brought,” said Mills on the event’s website. “With restrictions now being lifted we have decided to the event up a notch, and include more fulfilling aspects.”
“The Ultimate Mompreneur Brunch was conceptualised to fulfil not only the need for social connection with like-minded mom entrepreneurs but to also provide and experience for the amazing women who often feel like they don’t deserve quality time for themselves,” the event’s website said.
The event included a buffet-style lunch, an open bar, and gifts which included the Ultimate Mompreneur Planner, a swag bag filled with products and other gifts from businesses and samples from established brands.
It also provided the opportunity to network and connect with like-minded businesswomen.
One mompreneur, Tobago-based Shivon Mejias, a massage therapist and CEO of Soothing Touch Massage Therapy Services, took the opportunity to introduce her business by giving people free, on-the-spot massages.
She told Business Day she is now trying to expand to Trinidad.
“I already have clients here, but I would like to come to establish myself,” she said.
She said she would normally do on-the-spot massages for events, to relieve stress and get the blood flowing, but that's not her main service.
“I deal with physical pain, injuries, stress, trauma and even emotional pain,” she said. “Sometimes people come to me just for a safe place to relax, they may cry and release whatever tensions they have, or talk about things.”
She said her style of massage is unique because she applies oil to the massage table directly and uses the customer’s body weight to reset their bones and joints.
"Everybody needs a reset," Mejias said – in a fitting summary of the aim of the event.