The number of women-led businesses has seen a sharp spike in the last few years. COVID-19 has been, however, especially harsh on women entrepreneurs, many of whom already walk the tightrope between personal and professional.
IANSlife speaks to six women entrepreneurs across industries, to know how the ongoing pandemic impacted their business and how they managed to carry on, and strive to build back stronger. Excerpts:
F&B — Hospitality: Christine Samandari, Co-Founder and Director, L’Opéra
How did the pandemic impact business? Very seriously. Indeed, the travel industry with airlines and cruise companies on the top of the list, the hospitality industry and the restaurant industry are among the hardest hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic. We see and feel the impact in several areas of our business. First and foremost was the requirement for added emphasis on everything which has to do with the safety of our customers and our staff. To this end we immediately introduced very strict hygiene measures at all levels of our activity starting from production, through our logistics and in-house delivery service to the activities in all our outlets. We even pioneered the concept of individual packaging for each and every piece of pastry which is unique in our industry. In terms of actual volume of business, we went from total standstill of activity in the first days of the initial lockdown to today whereby our level of activity is in the range of 70 per cent of the comparable period of last year. This is mainly due to three factors, namely the reduced capacity for dine-in guests, the reluctance of some patrons to visit outlets and finally the reduction of available free income of customers to spend.
How efforts propelled forward business? Besides the measures detailed above, we at L’Opéra went through a detailed analysis of our business and identified several major thrust areas. These included, re-negotiation of the lease agreements for as long as the extra-ordinary circumstances prevailed; development of home delivery services; development of a very solid website to this end; use of innovative technologies such as contactless ordering and innovations such as described above in terms of packaging of products. Understandably, these measures had to be accompanied by rigorous cost cutting measures to minimise the burning rate of the company during these challenging times.
Executive coach: Manbir Kaur, author of ‘Are You The Leader, You Want To Be?’ and ‘Get Your Next Promotion’
How did the pandemic impact business? In my business, getting new projects depends on getting new meetings, which is tough these days. Quite a few corporates are under stress and have gone into cost cutting, which in quite a few cases has impacted executive development. Some of my existing clients are more inclined to discuss in a face to face meeting compared to a remote setup. In group programmes, sometimes it is tough to make sure that everybody is fully tuned in.
How efforts propelled forward business? I have stepped up the efforts on social media to work on lead generation. This has helped me to connect with many new people. The benefit is that everyone is now getting used to remote working and distances do not matter anymore. Also, since executives are not traveling, it has become easier to get their time. I have started making group sessions/speaking engagements more interactive. I have added more experiential elements to make sure professionals stay engaged.
Integrated Marketing, Digital and Public Relations: Neha Agrawal, Founder of MensenTock Communications
How did the pandemic impact business? Like many others initially we were grappling with the situation but the struggle died in 7-10 days. Thanks to the understanding of business continuity and handling of crisis situations. We, in no time were absorbed in creative thinking and solving problems through effective communications for our clients. Pandemic in 2020 had a positive impact on our firm in more than one way. We successfully acquired a digital marketing firm and suddenly demand for our media training, my advisory on personal profiling and paid mentorship sessions increased.
How efforts propelled forward business? We acquired a digital marketing firm and closed on domestic and international clients for a diverse set of services. We branched out with a new office in the USA in June 2020 and it’s been rewarding equally for us and our clients. We did not stop taking strategic decisions for growth of our firm and team members. We had new hires in fact during the first six weeks of lockdown as we had scaled up our operations globally.
Textile and furnishing: Suruchi Khanna, owner of Sana Furnishings by Suruchi Khanna
How did the pandemic impact business? With the complete lockdown in the country, we had to close our business operation. Our parent company Sava International Pvt Ltd is majorly into exports, With no travel possible for so long, we had to cancel all our exhibitions. With our domestic brand Sana Furnishings as well, we cancelled our Delhi exhibitions and shows. With people avoiding their outings, of course sales were also affected as people were not shopping at all, and there was a complete dip in the retail sector.
How efforts propelled forward business? We have been in this show for the last 30 years, one thing that stays permanent is that the show must go on. Adapting to the need of present is the most important skill every business should have. We started doing virtual shows, exhibitions, online seminars to showcase our new line. We have also started online selling from our website. Other than this, at domestic level, we also launched a new line of breathable masks.
Art and exhibitions: Priyanka Banerjee, artist
How did the pandemic impact business? Daily routine has become virtual now and people are trying to exhibit or sell their wares through various social media platforms as all the cultural centres remain closed. Businesses in the country are suffering greatly and the art industry is no exception.
How efforts propelled forward business? The internet is coming to our rescue in this time of pandemic by acting as a bridge between the buyer and seller. Myriad government initiatives like Vocal for Local, Atmanirbhar Bharat have given a new lease of life to the craftsmen and artisans of our nation. The above initiatives and people’s response have given an immense boost to the small scale industries.
Education: Dr Sunita Gandhi, Founder of GETI AND GCPL
How did the pandemic impact business? Things that don’t go so well include things like; basically; having to manage with scarce resources, because there are parents who cannot pay, realistically. We had to borrow funds to pay salaries to supported staff, drivers, and ancillary services without affecting anybody. The upside has been that we have learnt new things. We have time to think, be in the present, think deeper about education, in the sense that we now can conceptualize education in profoundly different ways than we did in the past.
How efforts propelled forward business? I don’t know how to propel it forward, honestly. Because when we look at propel it forward, it means a longer term, not short-term fix. We are still in the pandemic, and it will take time to emerge from all the economic havoc that it has created, especially in education; I think education is far worse affected than most every segment. Whatever we can do now, we are doing, and we will continue to learn inclemently, but the major move will be possible only after the situation improves.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected])