More than two years into a pandemic, it may be more common than not for small-business owners to feel disillusioned, disheartened, and burned out. While some continue to forge ahead on the path they chose before the pandemic, others are opting for something new – and finding energy and excitement in the process.
That’s been the case for Nancy Fox, who, for more than two decades, has been coaching people to advance their careers through her business, The Business Fox, which is based in Los Angeles. When COVID-19 surged, she became disillusioned with her own industry. “The pandemic pushed many unqualified coaches into the market. It became flooded, diluted with poorer-quality, inexperienced people calling themselves coaches,” she says. Rather than continue on the same path, she listened to her own coaching advice: Take a step back, allow things to percolate, and see what happens.
“I did a lot of reading, I did a lot of soul searching, I did a lot of meditating,” she says. “I did a lot of journaling, I did a lot of nothing, I did a lot of exercising.”
Ultimately, she realized her purpose of helping people accelerate their businesses didn’t need to change, but she wanted to differentiate herself from the industry and reach a broader audience. "I took a big step back to assess what would be next for me. I identified a major high-promise emerging niche and am building a community, networking, and learning center for this exploding niche," she says.
She’s now working with a partner – something new for her – to build a new business that she’s over-the-moon-excited about, called Fractional Connections, which will shift away from traditional coaching and instead create what she calls "tailor-made communities."
“I can barely sleep at night. It's so cool,” she says, giddily. “It's so cool.”
For other business owners who are feeling disillusioned and considering quitting altogether, she offers this advice: Don’t force the new idea, because you want it to be purpose-driven. And don’t let the negativity from your current situation stop you from moving forward. “Negative thinking is much stronger than optimism,” says Fox.
I spoke with two other business owners who have found it within themselves to focus on the positive and try something new, even in the face of disillusionment. Like Fox, they haven’t looked back.
From Digital Services to Home Decor
After running their Chicago-based digital marketing agency, South Yard, for nearly 20 years, married couple Kevin and Emily Bishop were feeling burned out and a little bit stuck. Then, 2020 happened—and their inboxes went quiet.
Business is always changing, always evolving. [...] You have to be ready to just move and go with it, and it’s a fun ride.
—Emily Bishop, co-founder, Japandi Supply House
“When COVID hit, it made us pause and take another look, because our services were the first to go [for clients],” says Emily Bishop.
To busy herself, she found joy and serenity in design projects around their house. “I was trying to create a more peaceful bedroom retreat so we had a calm space to sleep and wake up during those high-stress days of COVID,” she says. In particular, she fell in love with a concept called Japandi, which is a hybrid of Japanese minimalism and cozy Scandinavian design. It inspired her to declutter their home and fill it home with neutral colors, natural materials, and lots of plants.
In the midst of it all, she’d talk to friends and family about Japandi and none had heard of it – but they all smiled at the idea. The couple wondered if they were onto a new business concept. Kevin did some research and learned that Japandi was growing more popular internationally, but didn’t yet have a presence in the U.S. “No one had scooped up this beautiful idea, so we thought there was a really great opportunity,” says Bishop.
So they got to work procuring trademarks, domain names, and inventory, and in the summer of 2021, the Bishops launched their e-commerce and lifestyle website Japandi Supply House, selling comfortable and stylish furniture, blankets, cookware, decorative accents, scents, and more.
Bishop says it’s been a satisfying journey, transitioning from a service-centric business to one focused on tangible products and a philosophy that embraces calm and values mental health.
For others considering starting something new, she says it’s critical to be ready and willing to adapt. “Business is always changing, always evolving,” she says. “You have to be ready to just move and go with it, and it’s a fun ride.”
From Public Relations to Pet Products
Lisa Porter was tired of seeing her Las Vegas-based public relations and marketing business, Porter PR & Marketing, fall victim to the economy. It happened first during the 2008 recession. “I lost all my clients in one month, and they were all in the construction industry,” she says. Then, with COVID-19, it happened again.
The prospect of starting over was exhausting. "It's hard to get a client, because I don't just put out a one-page proposal, I put out a 20-page proposal, because I really want my clients to know what we're going to be doing," she says. "With the pandemic, I pretty much had it. I said I can't keep working towards something that's just going to let me down over and over again."
Instead, she threw herself fully into a new small-business concept: producing a line of all-natural pet products that she’d dreamed about for years, called PawPurity.
“People have no clue what they're putting on their animals,” she says. She recalls how her own dogs would hide when she took chemical-laden flea and tick products out of the packaging. To create a natural alternative, she worked with a person who specializes in all-natural product formulation to create the first product, an olive-oil based flea and tick shampoo. Impressed with the results (she tried it on herself, first), she continued building the line of products, using essential oils, minerals and plants to formulate additional flea and tick products, tear stain removers, shampoos, conditioners, and paw conditioners.
At the same time, Porter developed a website, worked with a graphic designer to create a logo, hired a search engine optimization expert, bought eco-friendly packaging products in bulk and learned about concepts such as trademarks, SKUs, barcodes, and other topics related to product development. Then, she put her PR skills to work and started letting people know about the business, reaching out to the media, advertising on social media and signing up for tradeshows and pet shows. Her customers, she says, have been thrilled so far. “Everybody loves the shampoos, everybody loves the paw conditioners,” says Porter. “I mean, I’ve got people who buy the healing paw conditioner and use it on their hands.”
While she’s still working with a couple of long-time PR clients, PawPurity is what gets Porter going these days. “It's obsessive,” she laughs. “And it's so fun. I mean, it can be frustrating, because there's just not enough time in the day. You want to do all these things!”
When she reflects on how disillusioned she felt just two years ago, she's glad she took the leap when she did, and encourages other small-business owners to also follow their passion. “The best advice I have is the same advice that somebody gave me when I started Porter PR: Just start your engines!” she says.
As any business owner knows, starting a new enterprise, or redirecting the one you have, isn’t easy. But beyond the risks, change also brings the excitement of setting new goals, learning new concepts, and reaching new audiences. You should define your business, and not the other way around. “It’s not a closed book,” says Fox. “We’re all on a journey.”
Photo: American Express