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the small businesses that survived COVID, what did they have to do, to sacrifice, to still be here?

Writing what I wrote and shared yesterday made me feel so vulnerable, but after it was sent, I felt better inside. Still vulnerable at the idea that OMG I just made that public, but it was a good experience. Brené Brown talks about shame, and how it needs to be shared for it to lose its power over us. Until I started to experience relief yesterday, I didn’t realize how much shame I felt over not being able to work. Because essentially being a small business owner everything you do is for your business, you live to work. And creating is a huge part of that now that social media rules our lives. When you’re not able to create, when you can’t show up on the social media stage, that means not being able to work. And not working…well…if you don’t have a job then who and what are you? Let’s just say for me it’s a really shitty feeling, I didn’t realize how much value I put on working and making contributing to my family’s finances.

 

I do put a lot of value in contributing to the family finances, doing something meaningful, and doing it well. And the last time this was an issue for me was when my son was about to turn one, and I realized I was going to have to go back to work. But for me, that meant archaeology and being away for 5 days a week. That wasn’t going to work with the type of parent I wanted to be, and so a crisis was born. I had to reinvent myself, and that’s not an easy thing to do at any point in life.

 

We naturally resist change because it means the unknown, it means taking a leap of faith. Being a new mom and having to reinvent myself while I was still figuring out what being a mom was to a child that grew and changed so fast, was especially not easy. My husband is incredibly supportive, so he wasn’t an issue, but this child was. I wanted to be an example.  I wanted to be a contributor and not just a mom. Someone impressionable was watching. I felt the pressure. I created the pressure. He just wanted his mom.

 

All this, and the memory of struggling to dress myself affordably during my pregnancy lead me to start Happily Ever After Maternity. Something really brave for me since I’m shy and have anxiety (I didn’t know about the anxiety at the time, I was officially diagnosed after having two children). And now seven years later, I’m thinking about closing the business.

 

Why? Things have changed a lot since I started HEA. The maternity market for one, is now saturated with cheap (price and poor quality) maternity clothing. There are a lot more shopping options than there used to be, that’s why Thyme maternity closed their stored. That’s why motherhood maternity is now online only and closed their stores. That’s why Old Navy doesn’t pay for floor space for their maternity collection, it’s online only.

 

There hasn’t been a lot of local support despite having a retail space. Local support is incredibly important because I don’t have to pay shipping costs on the orders. In the end I make more money on these orders because I don’t have the added expense. There could be many reasons why local shoppers aren’t choosing to shop with HEA, but the bottom line for me is that if no one comes to shop in person, then they no longer need or want the service I’m providing, and if that’s the case, why am I wasting time and money on something people no longer need.

 

I should have closed during COVID when things started to change and decline. Instead I fought. And I spent a small fortune hiring two marketing companies to try and make HEA more visible to increase sales. They both failed and I ended up in an enormous amount of debt. I hate debt. It makes me feel vulnerable and at risk. My self-esteem got in the way when I hired these companies. I thought they could do what I couldn’t I hired them for their expertise, and it turns out, I didn’t need them. They couldn’t do anything for me that I hadn’t learned to do for myself. I was the expert in the field of Maternity clothing, they didn’t have a clue. So in a way I was validated because they weren’t able to do what I couldn’t do. But it was an expensive lesson.

 

So now, I’ at a crossroads. I have a bunch of debt, and a business that’s slowed down and isn’t making much money. Do I stick it out, try something new (I have no idea what that would be right now), or do I close and put my energy elsewhere? But if I close, what do I do instead? Whatever it is, it has to bring in money right away, my LOC demands it. So I feel stuck.

 

It’s strange how I can’t write these words in my personal journal, but I can here, writing to you. I surprised myself today with my revelations. The maternity world is changing and I’m not sure I have it in me to stand out amongst the noise. When you start a business, you expect progress to be a straight line. Slow and steady maybe, but you expect it to rise steadily as you get better at what you do, as you get more customers, and as word of mouth starts to spread. Organic growth should be a rock-solid foundation that keeps getting higher and higher. But that’s not reality at all. Especially in the maternity world where I only need my services for 9 months. It’s harder to attract customers, and it must happen more frequently.  Every 9 months I’m a reborn, new, business for someone. Entrepreneurship and being a small maternity store is such a roller-coaster ride.

 

It feels like voodoo at times, like the roll of the dice, despite all the hard work and past performance. I don’t know if my nerves can handle it anymore. Part of me is angry, not at you, but at the universe for not rewarding my time and hard work with consistency and growth. I feel like I’ve put the time in. I feel like I’ve put the work in. So, what’s going on? But that’s small business ownership in a time of convenient amazon shopping. That’s small business ownership when social media is overcrowded with companies trying to get your attention. I used to spend 100$ on Facebook adds and make the money back with sales. Now I’m lucky if my ad gets seen by enough people. It’s all changed. It’s harder. It’s more expensive.

 

I think we all need to ask ourselves: the small businesses that survived COVID, what did they have to do, to sacrifice, to still be here?

 

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