What All Business Leaders Need to Hear Right Now

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a 64-Year-Old Grandmother During COVID-19

Many businesses are struggling. But few have the challenges facing Mia White, owner of Mia White Massage & Wellness, a wellness practice providing massage therapy and natural health guidance to women in the Charlottesville area since 2002.

Prior to COVID-19, her businesses relied on in-person interactions and physical contact. So, as the outbreak worsened and social distancing became the norm, her primary means of doing business was out of the question. On top of this, she and most of her clients were part of an at-risk age group. Even further, her practice operated out of her home.

Her business model wasn’t just put on pause. It was, quite possibly, never coming back.

At 64 years old, one might think it challenging to muster the energy to reinvent an enterprise, learn and adopt new technology, connect with customers concerning their needs, and continue to iterate offerings to accommodate an ever-changing demand landscape. But that is exactly what she has done – and in just a few short weeks. In doing so, Mia has lived a playbook of the entrepreneurial effectuation process professed by some of the most esteemed business schools. So, what lessons can we all learn from her about business resiliency and adaptation? There are many.

First, collaboration is critical. A key resource Mia already had in-hand was her connections. She was certified as a yoga instructor in 2015 and had been teaching a class at a local yoga studio prior to COVID-19. When the studio had to close and offered to host online classes via Zoom for any teachers who wanted to try it, Mia took a deep breath and jumped in.

What would’ve been a daunting task for many, was a steep learning curve for someone born 50 years before the first iPhone. But, in a snap, Mia created a home studio, learned new tricks with her laptop and iPad, bought some Bluetooth earbuds, downloaded and integrated software, and mastered studio lighting. In less than a week, an online class with a growing audience of paying customers was up and running.

Leverage networks, master new technology, connect with audience, create value for customers. 

Check. Check. Check. Check. 

Fast forward just a few weeks. The sponsoring yoga studio ultimately went into hibernation, pulling all of its offerings including the online classes. “I took a day to decide––do I just throw in the towel and retire?” Mia said. “Or do I figure out how to keep this going on a solo basis now that I’ve invested in learning how to do it?”

“I was born to teach. I love teaching,” she said. So, if the studio wasn’t around, she would just have to do it herself.

 On her own, Mia was able to establish live online yoga classes, but was limited by her clients’ availability during the time she wanted to teach live classes. Upon hearing this feedback, she mastered the art of recording and made classes available for 24 hours so clients could take them at their convenience. Customers voiced their appreciation for the flexibility, and many of them quickly gravitated toward the recorded classes – but at the detriment of her live classes that dropped to nearly zero attendance. Rather than take steps backwards, Mia leaned into the positive customer feedback.

She expanded the 24-hour limit on access to the recorded classes and made them available for a whole week instead. Success! Now, she is able to attract students who want the routine and connection of a live scheduled class, as well as those who prefer the flexibility of taking a class when it suits, without having to teach additional classes. This improves her cost- and time-efficiency, freeing up essential time to continue learning how to transition into this new era.

Iterate on success, adapt to customer feedback, develop cost efficiencies, create new offerings. 

Check. Check. Check. Check.

As her new business offerings began to take shape, Mia quickly realized that her existing digital infrastructure was no longer adequate for the new direction she was heading. Her website lacked the ability to be updated easily to share changes in her offerings. It needed a new online scheduling calendar for group classes and an online payment system (she had managed to get by all this time accepting only cash and checks). And, it was time for a more sophisticated email marketing system.

To ensure her infrastructure can meet her evolving needs, she has been diligently working to create a new, more dynamic website that she can quickly and easily modify; transition to a better online calendar; and, add the ability to take online payments through Venmo, PayPal, and Stripe. She’s also researching the best email marketing systems for more streamlined client communications and better support during this time when people need it more than ever.

Leverage surprises, create new markets, utilize cost-effective marketing tools, develop new goals. 

Check. Check. Check. Check. 

 If all of this weren’t enough, Mia continues to evolve her business by the day. While she may sound like Superwoman, Mia is just like the rest of us and has frequently been overwhelmed by all of the changes brought on in the last several weeks. But, instead of being paralyzed, she has decided to control the things she can control, taking things day by day, and sometimes, even hour by hour.

“Every day is different now for all of us. So, with each day, I simply try to move as many chess pieces forward as I can,” she said. And recently she told us, “Just today, I committed to launching an online course within the next three months. Yesterday, this would’ve never been a consideration. The forces at work around us are compelling change, and I am just trying to be as adaptable as possible.”

So what have you been doing the last six weeks? The effectual cycle taught to startups and entrepreneurs espouses the very process Mia has lived since the COVID-19 crisis began. Start with what you have, leverage relationships, iterate ideas, create new commitments and products, and then do it all over again.

As business leaders, we can all adopt some wisdom and inspiration from Mia’s example. If you can’t keep up, I know one 64-year-old grandmother who can teach you a thing or two.