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Laura Didyk on how women entrepreneurs can thrive in the face of adversity.

The VP and National Lead, Women Entrepreneurs at BDC shares her advice.

Laura Didyk BDC VP
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It’s mid-November — eight months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended everyday life — and, like some of you, I’m still working from home, trying to find new ways to stay connected with women business owners across the country.

While COVID-19 has tested all of us, I believe it also brought out the best in us. What I’ve found most inspiring, is the steadfast persistence and resilience of women entrepreneurs. The future for many industries has never seemed so uncertain, yet these bold leaders remain focused on creating new opportunities for their companies, clients and employees, as they plan for the future. 

How is this possible? If history has taught us anything it’s that a bad economy sometimes creates opportunity (it was Winston Churchill who said “never let a good crisis go to waste”). In fact, some of the world’s most iconic companies were born out of tough economic times and the need to think differently. Disney and HP launched during the Great Depression and it was the Great Recession in 2008/2009 that ushered in the digital revolution and introduced us to Uber, Airbnb, and Square, companies that are now staples in most of our lives. 

Earlier this year, I began this column to share uplifting interviews with women entrepreneurs who are not only surviving this crisis, but also thriving through it. My aim? To inspire others to follow their lead. In a world of uncertainty, the one certainty I found is nothing can stop these women from chasing their dreams, not even a global pandemic. 

During this series, I spoke with business owners to unpack everything from the tools needed for businesses to survive and how to support your employees during a crisis, to finding new ways to reach consumers and fill the sales funnel. For my final post of this series, I’m sharing three pieces of advice that stuck with me and that I believe will help every business owner regardless of the industry, size or stage of your business: 

The power of positive thinking.

Women tend to be harder on themselves than anyone else. We push ourselves to do more and try harder, while keeping every ball in the air. This relentless pursuit of greatness can be overwhelming, opening the doors for self-doubt to creep in. But as these entrepreneurs showed us, doubt can be overcome with persistence and hard work, and trusting your gut no matter how difficult. As Evelyne Nyairo, the founder of the socially conscious Ellie Bianca skincare line said, the plan has to continue. “Are you going to be scared? Yes. Are you going to doubt? Yes. But do it anyways.”

When tough times hit, get creative. 

There is no tried-and-true way of running a business during a global pandemic so it’s important to find new, creative ways to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Bobbie Racette, founder of the tech company Virtual Gurus, saw that start-ups and small business owners were really struggling during this crisis, so she offered them free or discounted admin support. This helping hand seems to have paid off because many have since converted to paying clients and Bobbi’s business has grown 66%. Andrea Mulligan, co-owner of Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, saw her employees struggling to find childcare so they could get back to work. Seeing an opportunity to help, she opened a daycare in a part of their brewery that was previously used for events and has since opened it to other members of the community.   

Don’t let a crisis sabotage your company culture.

Staying true to your company’s core values is critical as you navigate your business through a crisis. For Maude Rondeau of Luminaire Authentik, it is important to her to design and manufacture all her products in Quebec. From humble roots in her garage to a 53,000-square-foot production and storage facility, and selling across North America today, she kept that commitment and still makes everything locally. For Evelyne Nyairo it’s being a strong role model for her daughter and her daughter’s friends. In her own words, “…If they don’t see us do it, if they don’t see us excelling, they will continue going around in circles. And there’s nothing that gives me more happiness than when I see another woman succeed. I just want to see as many women as possible build big businesses.”

It has certainly been a difficult year for businesses big and small, but amid all the gloomy headlines there have also been many inspiring examples of women entrepreneurs flourishing in their businesses and in the communities they serve. At BDC, we are here to provide the tools, advice, capital or support required to not just survive, but thrive. 

In 2018, BDC set an ambitious goal to provide $1.4 billion to women entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Today, I am proud to say we reached that target ahead of schedule and continue to invest in women because they are vital to Canada’s economic success and because we see so much potential in their ability to grow and take their business to the next level. So, for any of you feeling anxiety or despair during these challenging times, I want you to know we see you and are here for what’s ahead to help you succeed. And we’re not the only ones. 

Know that your leap — or tiptoe forward — could start a chain reaction. As Evelyne Nyairo said, “Be the first to jump in, and you might just be giving someone else permission to do the same.”

As Vice President and National Lead Women Entrepreneurs at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Laura Didyk leads the bank’s strategy to support women business owners across the country. You can learn more about Laura and find her interviews with entrepreneurs on her Perspectives page.