Inequalities are exacerbated during a crisis and no one knows this more than the women entrepreneurs we have been working with across the Pacific.
They need support to sustain their businesses and they can’t afford to wait. These women are leaders in their communities and their businesses provide livelihoods for hundreds and thousands of more vulnerable members of their communities.
There’s a lot at stake, and an incredible pressure and responsibility felt by these business owners. And those who have supported and invested in women’s economic empowerment in the region certainly don’t want to see all of this progress go backwards.
This is why since April, we have been coaching SMEs across the Pacific – via Whatsapp, Zoom and Skype – to respond to the upheaval caused by COVID. These are businesses we had already worked with and built a strong foundation of trust through our deep empathy and practical entrepreneurial expertise.
While each business owner faces their own set of challenges in response to the uncertainty and upheaval of COVID-19, we are observing a series of consistent coaching requirements emerge. Here’s what we’re finding is most helpful in uncovering the underlying issues and achieving the best possible outcomes:
1. Mindset coaching and emotional support (i.e. not just the numbers)
Self awareness and emotional resilience play a big role in business normally. In crisis, they’re even more important. We’ve noticed that our coaching sessions have had a strong focus on mindset work – i.e. processing difficult emotions, navigating and unpacking the stories we tell ourselves, including our self-limiting beliefs.
For example a few weeks ago, we helped one founder, confront the financial predicament that she was facing and unpacked the grief and responsibility that was causing her to get stuck. This included the difficult task of analysing whether or not she needed to let staff go. In a recent survey she shared that the coaching was extremely helpful, rating it a 10 out of 10.
In another example, we have been helping a founder see what she can (and can’t) control and helping her name her own unreasonable expectations of herself. Because she is under a considerable amount of stress, she is often not able to analyse her situation and she can get locked into certain ideas. After most of the coaching calls, she is calmer and clearer about her options.
In another coaching session we helped a founder see that a core expectation of hers is to be liked by everyone, all the time. This unconscious expectation of herself and her business, meant that she had unrealistic expectations about her value proposition and customer service. And as a result, she had resisted bringing in new staff because she is worried that they would not represent her business in the way she wanted. Whilst there is a strength in her obsession with quality, it was also affecting her personal sustainability. After the coaching session she felt lighter and clearer.
2. Entrepreneurial ‘think partner’
All of the SMEs we have been working with are driving hard to solve their revenue shortfall but they don’t always have someone to ‘think it out aloud with’. They’re needing sharp, on-the-spot advice, on how to move things forward.
In a coaching session recently, one business owner said, “I need 15,000 in two weeks to pay for school fees.” We helped her focus on finding the fastest paying customer for a new service that she was launching. We helped her see that she could move quickly by selling a B2B product to an existing corporate and launch her offer to private consumers at a later date. At the end of the 2-hour coaching call, she had her target customer, a plan for testing her value proposition, a price point and confidence that she was focusing in the right place.
In another coaching session we focused on helping a business figure out how to launch a new product or service in less than two weeks, with $500.
Outside of COVID-19 we might work towards a 3-5 years horizon, however in the current upheaval, our focus is to develop new revenue streams or business models quickly, and to extend businesses runway. Each time, we are looking at how can we help the entrepreneur to drive results quickly?
3. Accountability partner
In business it’s easy to get distracted. Having someone to hold you accountable and keeping you on track is incredibly valuable – particularly in a crisis.
As simple as it sounds, this has been one area where we have been helping business owners. In our work with one business, we have helped her identify and prioritise her goals and the actions she can take to move them forward. She has lost all her revenue in 2020 and has had to pivot to three new revenue streams. Understandably, this has caused her to feel overwhelmed at times. After the coaching session, the business owner channelled her energy into one opportunity and moved far quicker as a result. She is reporting back to us regularly.
The final theme we are seeing emerge from this coaching is “hustling” . We get in the trenches alongside business owners to get the job done. Not only does this type of support provide speedy results, but it also helps to build genuine trust and commitment with business owners. This has included facilitating connections with buyers to generate short term sales, and/or TDi directly promoting their products and services.
We’ve shared these reflections part way through this work and we hope to share more in several months time, when these projects come to an end. But one thing is certain – being flexible, responsive and having high levels of trust, are vital to quality coaching that supports women business owners to stay afloat and sustain the impact they have on their communities. Scaling this type of support to more women entrepreneurs across the Pacific will be an important part of ensuring we don’t lose ground on women’s economic empowerment in the region.
TDi partners with all levels of government and communities to implement market-based approaches to poverty reduction, job creation and inclusion.
We have worked with over 500 grassroots entrepreneurs across Australia and the Pacific to create sustainable business models for inclusive economic growth. Find out more