Black Women in Business and COVID-19

Black Women Entrepreneurs Weathering the COVID-19 Storm

I’m not about that sailor life by any means, but a few years back, I learned a little about the origins of the phrase “getting your sea legs.” A term that I believe Black women entrepreneurs need to hear and embrace at a time like this.

The phrase refers to an experience that sailors often have during the first few days of a passage. Boats don’t just pitch and roll; they also make other movements including yaw, sway, surge, and heave. Every journey on a boat will be different, depending on the sea, weather conditions, and type of vessel. A sailor’s brain needs time to adapt and learn the rhythm of their particular sea journey, but eventually they will regain their balance — and gain what they call “sea legs.”

Getting your sea legs means that your brain adjusts to the rolling and pitching of the boat or ship, learns to compensate for it, and ultimately experiences the motion as ‘normal.’ Then your symptoms of seasickness disappear without need for any further treatments or medication, and you are said to ‘have your sea legs.’ Now, while I have a whole different perspective on how our people of the diaspora can and have conquered sea passage, I think this phrase and the analogy that I will share does make a thoughtful guiding point.

Right now we’re in a turbulent time where “uncertainty” is the over-used but appropriate word in daily usage. I wanted to encourage you to think about the fact that you may need time and grace to get your sea legs as an entrepreneur during the passage through the COVID-19 pandemic. It may require some thoughtful ways of extending grace to yourself (and others) while we all get our sea legs and figure out our new normal. 

Here are some ways that you can take care of yourself and your business while you gain your sea legs.

Recognize that your mind, body, and spirit need time.

Prior to the pandemic, I was at the gym 5 times a week at Orange Theory Fitness. I challenged a friend of mine to 5 days at OTF all month and we were on a roll. I had completed a 21 day fast, 40 days of scripture study, and meditation several times a week. I was “ow” like Cardi B. When we first found out about closing our doors, creating social distance, and complying with stay-at-home mandates, I was in an unstoppable “whatever-it-takes” mood. Me and my team quickly moved our bootcamps to virtual, prepared our virtual operations plan, and reached out to support our community of entrepreneurs.  My diet and health took a dip, though. The truth is, I’m glad I gave myself time to get my mind and spirit right. My body finally told me I needed to pull it together, and it took me two weeks to do that. 

This COVID-19 pandemic, its impact, the widespread energy of fear and panic – all of this is a lot to bear. Even if you feel like you’re ok, allow yourself to stop, observe, and feel. Do things that allow you to stop and feel what’s really going on with yourself so that you can take care of you. Meditate, exercise, and/or detox. Take relaxing baths or soak your feet. Enjoy the sun at home, if that’s an option. Seek out the help of a licensed mental health professional in a virtual setting. Sit quietly when you can and just breathe, even for just a short time. Bottom line: tell the superwoman in you to have several seats for a little bit if you need to.

Allow things to be different.

If it is what you need to adjust, allow your schedule to be different. Allow your diet to be different. It will take some time to adjust to our quarantined lifestyles. If you or any of your loved ones face health issues or positive testing of COVID-19, this will be  traumatic and emotional, and you may need time to come back afterwards. But even if your type-A, boss-chic routines are a little off, you will get back to it. I’m not telling you to sit in despair, become inactive, or let your business fall along the wayside. Instead, I’m telling you to allow space and time for a new normal to take shape complete with all of its messiness.

Operate from a place of faith, not fear.

You will have a lot of decisions to make in the weeks to come to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on your business. How will you pay staff, vendors, and other debtors? How will you pivot in the way you provide services? How will you homeschool your children and take care of their minds, bodies, and spirits during this time? I can promise you this: decisions made from panic and fear have the worst outcomes. That’s why the first two steps on this list are so important. Deepening your spiritual practice is important. You have to get grounded so that you can handle this pandemic like a boss.

Embrace uncertainty and decide to win no matter what.

We don’t know what’s ahead. Only time will tell how the COVID-19 pandemic will shape our economy or the state of Black women-owned businesses, an already disadvantaged group of entrepreneurs. However, you can plan, study and strategize. You can be ready to pivot and negotiate. Talk with cash flow strategists, bankers, and credit and financial experts who can help you review your business and personal financials. Explore new marketing campaigns and new products or services that meet the unique needs of customers during this time. Build contingency plans. Get the business ready, in the best ways that you can, for various economic scenarios. 

Create a nurturing work and home environment.

If needed, you now have the opportunity to spring-clean, reorganize, and make home a place of restoration for the next few months. Find ways to let light in, create pleasing aromas (cooking and cleaning), and create family rituals and activities that stimulate laughter and nurturing. I deeply believe everything happens for a reason. Consider this a mandate to sit down and focus on those you love – including YOU. 

Nurture customer relationships.

As I’ve said, I don’t think this is the time to sit in despair. There are still many important ways in which you can work, plan, and stay ready. Depending on the industry and product, customers may freeze spending, but they are open to receiving content. Facebook ads are down in cost. Consider buying ads as an option to bring in traffic and leads that you can sell to down the line. Prepare a note to give your customers a heads-up on possible abnormalities, policy changes, and your company’s  COVID-19 response plan. Update or create your company’s virtual work plan and policies. Hold assessment and strategy meetings with your team and partners. Adjust your product/service menu to deliver virtually. Create a strategic plan for smooth virtual operations. Call or Zoom and check in on your customers, just because. Share a daily or weekly scripture, affirmation, or letter with customers and stakeholders. Provide information –  resources, tools and tips – for how your customers can get through this time.

Give back. Find ways to support those who are less fortunate during this time.

There are many causes to donate to during this time, and many people who could use no- or low-cost access to your services or products.  Give when and what you can, within your abilities. Now’s the time to buy from other Black, women-owned businesses for your services and recycle an already struggling Black dollar. Now’s the time to donate to Black-operated nonprofits. Side note: Now’s a great time to merge with another black women-owned business to strengthen your chances of survival. 

Pray daily for the world and the universe.

Start a prayer warrior circle or Bible study with your closest friends. Set up a prayer war room in a closet or room in your home. Join other available Bible studies and virtual church services, or just turn on some Sarah Jakes Roberts on YouTube. 

Time will come to pass. We are capable of getting through this and weathering this storm. Don’t drive yourself crazy while we wait to see what the ultimate impacts are. Find your balance, find your sea legs, and refuse to lose. 

Makisha

Makisha Boothe is business coach and founder of Sistahbiz Global Network. She specializes in rapid improvement and innovation, and helps women with business startup and design.

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