Lifelong lessons from COVID-19

For entrepreneur Marlon Phillips, the 2016 winner of the JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL) Barber and Beauty Battle, the novel coronavirus pandemic has been a steep learning curve.

Phillips, the owner of First Class Images, explained that he had to relearn how to become an entrepreneur.

According to Phillips, who operates primarily in the Corporate Area, the pandemic has been so challenging he feels like a student in school.

“For me, the year felt like I was a baby all over again, because I had to change how I did business,” said Phillips.

“I had to learn to generate greater customer satisfaction; and use new skills to reach clients, while reassuring them that it was safe for them to come to the salon.

“I learned that when there are fewer clients, you have to make yourself more flexible. I have also learned how to take advantage of new opportunities, as they present themselves,” added Phillips who now offers mobile beauty services.

To date, he has travelled as far as Montego Bay and Negril to serve clients.

“From very early, I learned that some persons would not want to leave home; but would allow you to come to them, as long as you followed the protocols; and I ensured that I was COVID-19 compliant and reinforced this,” said Phillips.

He added that another take away so far was that he had to invest more in his members of staff to ensure that they would provide the best service to clients.

“The year also taught me the importance of staff training and looking out for them. I had to train them how to perform in this new era. I also had to look out for them during the period when more people were staying at home. It has taught me some serious lessons,” declared Phillips.

The pandemic has also taught Tracey Lettman-Duncan many lessons about surviving as an entrepreneur.

Lettman-Duncan, who is the manager of Pineapple Court Hotel, a 14-room property in Ocho Rios, St Ann, says if the period has taught her nothing else, she has learned that the tourism sector is vulnerable to external factors.

“I now appreciate, more than ever, the value of our local clients. Were it not for them, though much fewer than normal, our hotels would have been closed from March 2020,” said Lettman-Duncan.

The hotel manager said before the pandemic, she employed seven people and averaged 60 to 70 per cent occupancy, per month. However, when COVID-19 arrived on Jamaica’s shores, it hit her business very hard.

“In order to cope, we had to do major retooling. Since occupancy was at the bare minimum, our staffing hours were cut; we have had to negotiate with many of our partners and stakeholders to reduce other costs,” added Lettman-Duncan.

For the hotelier of nine years, other important lessons learned have been valuable.

“We took the decision that our marketing had to be more strategic. COVID-19 protocols and requirements can be costly; therefore, it was important to bring attention to new protocols; and highlight that they were being adhered to, in our marketing efforts,” she stated.

“We are also looking to attracting longer stay arrangements and offering add-ons to our package, such as spa treatments, meal deliveries and visits to attractions. In addition, we have also engaged staff participation to increase occupancy levels,” said Lettman-Duncan.

For both entrepreneurs, maximising the potential of social media was also another lesson which they embraced.

“We have increased our social media presence and will continue doing so in the future,” said Lettman-Duncan.

In the meantime Gillian Hyde, general manager, JNSBL, pointed out that the pandemic has been tough on micro, small and medium entrepreneurs (MSMEs); however many have shown their resilience.

“From very early in the pandemic, many members of the MSME sector have been showing their strength and determination to succeed. Many displayed their ability to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of a new era of doing business. We have also assisted them by providing assistance where possible; and will be increasing our support in various ways,” said Hyde.

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