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Pandemic Provides Entrepreneurial FuelLock Icon

5 min read

Cat Hutchings is no stranger to the ups and downs of owning a small business.

She has owned and operated SpotLight Jewelry for the past 12 years, running the handcrafted jewelry business out of her home in Bentonville. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, Hutchings saw her business contract as the economy was disrupted.

But it wasn’t long before Hutchings, like many other women entrepreneurs, saw the pandemic as an opportunity to expand or create new businesses. “It changed everything,” she said.

Meredith Lowry, an attorney with Wright Lindsey Jennings in Rogers, is the driving force behind the law firm’s Woman-Run initiative to provide support and resources for prospective businesswomen. Before the pandemic, Woman-Run held seminars and networking events across the state, and those in-person meetings were obviously curtailed during the pandemic out of safety concerns.

Lowry said Woman-Run saw its membership and participation numbers increase as many women, quarantined at home due to job loss or reduction in hours, decided the time was right to look into entrepreneurship.

“The number of women starting businesses either as side hustles or home-based businesses increased,” Lowry said. “A lot of the businesses that we already knew have increased because a good number of them had ecommerce platforms. We’ve seen a lot of increase in ecommerce and also the rise in women who owned those businesses.”

Hutchings said SpotLight initially saw a drop in sales but rebounded to post revenues that were in some cases up to 200% higher compared with the previous year. Her Moonlight Supplies business, which sells to other jewelry makers, was up 300% in revenue at one point in the year during the pandemic.

If that wasn’t enough, Hutchings also decided to open a third business. She began consultant work on how to sell online — primarily on Etsy, where Hutchings operates — with beginning business owners.

“Because of that growth, I had been toying with the idea,” Hutchings said. “Even though the businesses were doing well, I felt I wanted to be doing something more. I started doing a coaching business where I help other Etsy sellers learn how to sell more effectively on the platform to scale and make more money. That has also been an interesting by-product. The pandemic really kind of pushed the gas, propelled that idea forward.”

Peak Pandemic

Jolana Bostwick has a strong faith in God but even she was nervous about launching a new endeavor during the throes of the pandemic.

Bostwick spent the majority of her work career dealing with child abuse and domestic violence before starting Peak Potential in June 2019. With Peak Potential, Bostwick served as a life coach and organizer to provide support for women who had gone through trauma.

Bostwick’s format was to hold retreats with individuals or groups where she focused on helping women regroup or find a work-life balance. The pandemic put those retreats on hold.

“I had just started to ramp up and do more retreats for women, and then March 2020 hit,” Bostwick said. “I had to stop because of the pandemic. I didn’t want to put people in a bad situation who were coming to rest. I couldn’t do [meetings] in the way I was doing them.

“I was really sad like a lot of people are when they are just starting something. I started thinking of the magazine.”

Bostwick said she had written during her nonprofit days and decided to trust her gift to start FAVOR!, a 16-page monthly magazine that acts as a written extension of her Peak Potential business.

“God was saying, ‘Share,’” Bostwick said. “To put my writing out there was so hard. If it spoke to one person it was worth it. It is very grassroots. It is an extension of what we already do. I see it as a writing ministry for women.”

Bostwick said the pandemic was an “awakening” for her and many others. Martha Londagin, an executive business consultant with the Startup Junkie Foundation in Fayetteville, said that has been a common trend during the pandemic.

Londagin said she couldn’t say precisely how much of an effect the pandemic had on startup growth, but Startup Junkie has seen an increase in interest from both men and women.

“Since March [2021], we’ve seen a massive uptick in people contacting us about starting a new business,” Londagin said. “They asked, ‘If not now, when?’ It is because the world changed. It has inspired people, made them reevaluate their life.”

Pivoting 101

At the start of the pandemic, Hutchings had four part-time employees and worked out of her 5,000-SF home in Centerton.

In October 2020, business was good enough that Hutchings and her husband paid $245,000 for a 2,000-SF house in Bentonville to serve as home base for her businesses and seven part-time employees. She is looking for an even larger warehouse space already to house her businesses.

“When COVID first happened, I remember it was really scary,” Hutchings said. “It was something that in 12 years of running an online business — there are always ebbs and flows — but that was the first time I literally thought, ‘I don’t know if we are going to make it.’ Who needs jewelry during a pandemic?

“After all the stores shut down, that’s when online businesses for the most part saw a pretty big boom. That was definitely true for my [supply] shop. Everyone was home crafting and thinking about starting businesses of their own or whatnot.”

Hutchings said a business cliche, that turns out to be quite true, is the importance of being able to pivot with market changes. Londagin used the same word to describe the actions Startup Junkie’s clients took.

“The actual size of my business has almost doubled since the pandemic,” Hutchings said. “It is definitely a learning process to experience that kind of growth so quickly. As a CEO and owner of a company, there are no rules or handbook. No one is telling me what to do; I’m figuring it out as we go along.

“We always keep in the back of our minds, as business owners, the importance of being flexible and pivoting. You hear all of those words and phrases, but the actual reality when you are face to face looking at numbers and realizing we have to change and adapt — you either have to grow or sink.”

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