This article was inspired by a recent webinar on How to Start a Business in Sault Ste. Marie After COVID-19.
I was asked to open the webinar by talking about why anyone would want to start a business after a pandemic. I shared that I think with every challenge, new opportunities arise. But first, we need to reflect on lessons learned from this incredibly challenging time.
Before I go further, I want to commend and applaud all of our local entrepreneurs and business owners for working so hard to get through this pandemic in one piece. As I stated on the webinar, it is probably safe to say that the impacts of COVID-19 have been a worst-case scenario that few businesses could have planned for.
Some of the things we have learned in the last four months with COVID-19, are:
- Businesses and services must be available online. If your business cannot sell its products or services online right now, you are at a huge disadvantage.
- We have been forced to think about how we can carry on business using online services like video conferencing, e-commerce, and team communication tools.
- We have learned that at any time our business could be forced to shut down temporarily or cut costs dramatically. This is not something that most entrepreneurs plan for.
- When suddenly forced to deliver education to hundreds of thousands of students across the province, the Ontario government learned that not everyone has access to high-speed internet or any internet. I think this will accelerate large scale moves like improving bandwidth for communities.
- Some post-secondary schools were not equipped to deliver online training either. This had to be quickly rectified.
The truth is we learned how unprepared we were as a society, to operate when faced with a severe challenge to the status quo. But with challenge comes growth. We learn how to adapt and to overcome. We learn how to do things differently. We learn how to become more resilient.
Will things ever go back to normal? It is too early to tell. Certainly, some things may change forever. But we will get to a “new normal”. And in that new normal will be opportunities.
My advice to entrepreneurs exploring the idea of starting a business right now included the following:
- Take the lessons learned during this pandemic to heart. Whether you are just considering starting a business or working to keep their current business alive, we can all learn lessons that we can use in the future.
- Don’t be afraid to pivot your business idea or business model. Throughout this pandemic, we have seen manufacturers revamp their production line to produce life-saving ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment. We have seen distillers and craft beer brewers producing hand sanitizer. We have seen other businesses change their product, service, or delivery model to survive and even thrive. As an entrepreneur, you must be ready to adapt to new realities.
- Ensure that starting a business is right for you. Do you have the resources, skills, talent, or interest to start a particular business right now?
When I deliver Starting a Side Hustle seminars, I talk about three ways to come up with a business idea for your part-time business:
- The first is to look at your hobbies, passions, or what you love to do – they are often a good source of business ideas. Examples could include photography, woodworking, baking, or blogging.
- Focus on what you are good at – skills or expertise. To discover what skills you have, ask yourself what you could teach someone. Examples could include web design, computer training, business consulting, content writing etc.
- Look at opportunities in the market – do you see a need for products or services in your community? And when I say community, I mean locally or an online community of interest. How can you help people? Examples might include fitness training, snow removal, lawn care, or house cleaning services.
Your business doesn’t have to be unique or even amazing, just as long as it supplies something people need, and the market is not saturated.
By looking at all three sources of business ideas, I think that you can easily come up with a handful of ideas that could make for a profitable business. If you already have a business idea, which category does it fall into?
Once you have your idea, you’re ready to move onto the market research phase where you will ensure that the business idea represents a real opportunity and you have the resources to successfully launch the business. The research involved in launching a side hustle isn’t as extensive as when starting a full-time business with a larger investment.
Regardless of the type of business you want to start, it is important to talk to potential customers, and also to get help from and access community resources such as the Millworks Centre for Entrepreneurship, Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and others that offer free business counseling. For a list of community small business resources, visit our resources webpage.
I want to take this opportunity to encourage and welcome all of the new entrepreneurs and startups that will come out of this incredibly challenging time. I also want to encourage everyone to continue supporting our local businesses, now and in the future. Our community really does depend on them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nevin Buconjic is a serial entrepreneur, author, and community builder. Nevin is the author of Starting Your Own Business: An entrepreneur's Guide, Founder and Community Lead for StartUP Sault Ste. Marie, and winner of the 2017 Startup Canada Entrepreneur Promotion Award for advancing the environment and culture for entrepreneurship in Canada. Find him at www.nevinbuconjic.com.