A Pandemic Recession Holds a Lesson (Nelson Davis)

Every day for many weeks, the news was full of fearful, gloomy stories about how jobs were being lost as businesses both large and small were ordered to shut down by various governments. It occurred to me that If you are a recent college graduate staring at a framed certificate on the wall that was expected to smooth your pathway into a dream job, that dream could be crumbling into a nightmare. As a business owner I learned long ago that this kind of chaos and uncertainty is scary at first but may be creating new opportunities!

Just reading a few paragraphs of history lets me know that pandemics are a very corrosive acid to job markets. If job offers become depressively scarce it may be time to place a respirator on the scary thought of starting your own business now. You’ve probably heard the word “entrepreneur” before and played with the idea of becoming one. This is a fearful time that on the surface could seem like a very bad time to launch a business. Think about this. Money may not be plentiful in your account at this time but other smart people, some smarter and more knowledgeable than you are now available and hungry for opportunities. They gravitate to people who have an idea, a direction and can lay it out. Are you one of those people? If you can articulate your business idea with great enthusiasm and clarity, you may be surprised at how many people will consider giving you helpful tips, money, or even enlisting in your army.

More than a few entrepreneurs who started businesses during the ugly part of previous economic downturns now treasure the lessons they learned. Recently I read the story of Nailah Ellis-Brown, the founder of Ellis Island Tea who landed the deal of a lifetime from a chance meeting at a conference in Israel. She just had ambition and an idea, not yet a business. I’ll avoid calling it a sweet story even though her primary product is Jamaican sweet tea! Ms Brown lives in Detroit and started on her business pathway as a college drop out at age 20 by selling 32-ounce bottles of her tea from a cooler in the trunk of her car! That was in 2008 and she was selling each bottle for $8. Initially, she planned to pursue a business degree from Howard University but realized she could spend the same time and money opening her own business instead. Ellis-Brown had an old family recipe for tea from Jamaica and thought maybe she could work her way into the bottled beverage market. She didn’t know how much she didn’t know but she knew that interesting things often happened when she shows up and persists. With a bottle of tea in hand she once went to a Whole Foods Market store and kept asking for her tea to be added to shelves. Of course, Nailah was told no when the buyer saw a bottle of brown liquid without a printed label on it. She did have persistence on her side and after many visits with the same question the buyer said, ‘You’re not going to go away, are you?’ Ellis-Brown recalled. Ellis Island Tropical Tea was soon being carried in more than 20 Whole Foods stores across five states!

What do you have to offer and how persistent can you be when your money bag is pretty empty but your level of desire is amazingly high? When I was in a similar situation decades ago, my business partner and I started a submarine sandwich take-out business with less than a thousand dollars between us. We had failed in that business a year before but we were too naïve to know that a second failure was the most likely outcome. We managed to grow the enterprise to multiple locations and though I departed the partnership, my ex-partner gave it his all and Fat Albert’s Subs & Pizza is alive today. However, I don’t remember what doom and gloom was filling the news media in those days! You can live your dream of prosperous independence despite pandemonium or pandemics.

Nelson Davis

The Entrepreneur Explorer

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