Pandemic Pivots: How Entrepreneurs are Adapting to “Obliteration”


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pandemic pivots

Businesses evolve over time, but I don’t think anyone could have prepared for the pace of change this year.

To gauge how some of you have been handling everything the pandemic has thrown at you, I reached out to Side Hustle Nation and asked what pivots and changes you’ve been making in your business over the last few months.

What I got back were some interesting and innovative ways some business owners and side hustlers have found to actually grow their businesses during the pandemic.

Here’s a look at some of the hardest hit industries, and some of the ways business owners have been pivoting and adapting.

Speaking Gigs and Conferences

One of the hardest hit industries was the conference and events business.

With many of these events switching online, some quick action paid off for Grant Baldwin, host of the Speaker Lab Podcast and author of the new book The Successful Speaker.

Grant also runs a training company that teaches speakers how to find paid speaking gigs.

What Happened?

As you can imagine, due to the current pandemic, speaking gigs were disappearing left and right.

For several weeks, this left a lot of speakers wondering what to do. Grant wanted to find a way to pivot that not only helped the speakers but would keep his business running strong too.

Creating a New Product

He saw an opportunity around virtual speaking. Virtual speaking isn’t a new concept, but Grant said it’s always been a secondary consideration.

With the pandemic pushing virtual gigs to the forefront, however, he said speakers are really paying attention to the potential benefits of speaking virtually.

They can do more events than they’d be able to do in person, reach more people, and there are a lot of other upsides.

So, Grant said they started focusing on teaching their clients how to find virtual gigs and quickly noticed it was in huge demand.

Ultimately, Grant said he needed to create a training program and a course around this.

In just 30 days or so they created a brand new course from scratch. This included 19 videos, 8 bonus lessons, and interviews with different speakers who are doing virtual gigs and tours of their virtual setups.

The Results

May ended up being the company’s highest revenue month!

“It’s been a very successful pivot, and this is something that we can continue to serve and support speakers,” Grant told me.

Fun fact: Grant was actually a guest on the Side Hustle Show 6 years ago on episode 57. If you want to know how he built his own speaking business you should check out that episode.

Events and Travel

It’s one thing to transition a conference or keynote presentation to a zoom call, but other traditionally in-person events like weddings and the travel and tourism business present a bigger challenge

For these entrepreneurs, a quick fix or pivot wasn’t going to overcome the “obliteration” of the business. Yet, they still maintain a positive proactive spirit and have used the time to prep for the future and work on related side projects.

Wedding Planning and Decor

Kara Lamerato, from the Wedding Planning Podcast, describes the effect the pandemic has had on the wedding industry as a “disaster.”

Kara helps engaged couples plan their wedding celebrations from start to finish. She also has a custom wedding decor business that features wedding favors, gifts, and pretty supplies for bridal showers and other special events.

(For more about Kara’s e-commerce business, check out our full interview.)

“Completely Obliterated”

She was anxiously looking forward to the spring season where she typically sees around $15,000 per month in sales, only to experience a 90% drop in April vs last year and a 60% drop in May.

Kara told me, “The emotions of having business as I knew it completely obliterated in a matter of a week was absolutely heartbreaking.”

She’s learned over the years to prepare for down seasons, supplier issues, and shifts in wedding trends, but as with most people, the pandemic came out of nowhere and really blindsided her.

Time for a “Plan B”

Not wanting to talk about the global pandemic week after week, Kara created an opt-in to a wedding Plan B workshop. This is an email series where she’s put together bonus COVID-related Q and A video workshops, and more.

In-Person Tours

With lockdown being enforced across the country, hiking and outdoor activities have also been put on hold.

Alexandra Kenin runs a business called UrbanHikerSF. She runs small group private and corporate hiking tours that explore the stairways, hills, and trails of San Francisco.

(To learn more about Alexandra’s tour business, check out our full interview.)

Tens of Thousands in Lost Revenue

She was excited about the 2020 business season. “I just revamped my website and was gearing up for a great year. Summer is our big season and by March, I’d already booked 250 person events and a 100 person event in June and July,” Alexandra told me.

That all fell apart when the pandemic hit and lockdown was enforced.

While other tour businesses can easily go online and offer virtual tours, Alexandra decided not to pivot and go in that direction.

She explained that the best thing about hiking is working your muscles, feeling the clean air through your lungs, and seeing the beautiful views in person.

All of which you can’t replicate with a virtual experience.

Working on Other Side Projects

She’s decided to be patient and put her hiking business on hold. Although she’s certainly missing the tens of thousands in revenue she would have made this year, thankfully she wasn’t reliant on that income!

That said, Alexandra isn’t sitting idle. She has already published a book called Urban Trails San Francisco, a hiking guide for the city. And, on May 1st, her second book called Urban Trails East Bay launched.

This book features 40 hikes in the East Bay including Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Fremont, and all the places in between.

Alexandra has already had people emailing her saying the book has really helped them in these times where they’re not allowed to see friends, go to restaurants, and do other normal activities.

She’s also mapping out the 700 plus stairways in the city of San Francisco based on a book called Stairway Walks in San Francisco.

When she’s done mapping them out on a Google Map and documenting the hikes with photos, she’s going to share that with the world, too.

Online Businesses

I heard from several online business owners who were able to make slight adjustments to what they’d already built.

Some were able to weather the storm, and some have even been seeing impressive growth during this time.

Online Training

Marie Herman owns MRHEnterprises.com, a site where she teaches people how to improve their skills with online certification programs.

She started her business as a side hustle and grew it to match her full-time income within a few years. By late 2017, Marie was able to quit her full-time job and focus on her business full-time.

In 2019, her second full year focusing on the business, she passed 6-figures in revenue — despite having a “tiny” mailing list and doing no paid advertising.

Worst-Case Scenario Planning

Marie told me she sits down every year and thinks about what the threats and opportunities are to her business and how she could adapt should the worst-case scenario arise.

This forward planning meant she was “pretty well prepared” for a pandemic. Marie did adapt the content she was offering, she pivoted and launched a mastermind to help office professionals launch their own virtual assistant businesses.

Creating a New Product

Marie told me she “threw together” a Microsoft Team’s webinar to help students unexpectedly throw into having to use the software.

What started as a 1-hour overview webinar became an 8-hour boot camp due to the overwhelming response and more than 130 students bought the boot camp bringing in thousands of dollars in extra income.

She has already created a second program that focuses on the different types of apps that are available for Teams. This will build on the knowledge the students gained from the first program, and she will be launching it as soon as the first program ends.

Marie’s advice: “You shouldn’t only be thinking about how to pivot during a global catastrophe, threats to your business exist all year round every year.”

The Results

All that forward planning paid off for Marie, her income is up 83% over last year.

Online Courses

Nate Dodson from MicrogreensFarmer.com teaches people how to grow and sell microgreens through an online course and some other products.

Microgreens are becoming more and more popular across the world and business was going great at the beginning of the year.

A Sudden Drop Off a Cliff

When the pandemic hit, lots of Nate’s students were hit as they were selling their microgreens to restaurants and farmer’s markets.

That line of business pretty much ended all of a sudden. As a result, Nate said, “tons of my students were struggling to keep their businesses afloat”.

Shifting Focus

Thinking about how he could best help his students during this time, Nate discovered some of his students were focusing on home delivery programs and actually seeing increased success.

Nate interviewed some of those students. He then put together a 30-40 minute presentation for all of his students explaining how anyone growing microgreens could pivot from selling to restaurants to a home delivery service.

The Results

He opened up enrollment to his other courses, during a time period that was traditionally a non-enrollment period, and saw a big boost in sales in his courses and other products.

Nate said a lot of his students are also seeing a boost in sales due to pivoting their business model and called it a “win-win.”

You can learn more about how Nate set up and launched his online course by listening to his appearance on episode 314 of the Side Hustle Show.

Blogging and Affiliate Marketing

Debbie Gartner blogs about painting and home decor. She also has two SEO books and a course, and has been building up an email list to market to as a way to diversify her income.

It was due to having several income streams that she was able to adapt to the pandemic and actually increase her income.

A Perfect Storm

Debbie said before the pandemic hit in January she had made $20,000 profit and $24,000 profit in February. Then things started to go downhill:

  • Her ad revenue was cut in half – a $4,000 hit to her monthly revenue
  • Her third highest paying affiliate put their program on pause – a $2,000 loss
  • In April, Amazon slashed their affiliate commission rates – a $6,000 loss

So all together Debbie knew she was going to be down at least $12,000 in May.

Taking Quick Action

She immediately started brainstorming how she could recoup these losses and came up with a plan.

There were two parts to her plan:

  • Shift her efforts towards products and email marketing. She created a new ebook, some printables, and she sharpened her email funnels.
  • Improve the SEO of her site. Debbie told me she took her top 20 earning affiliate marketing posts and did some work to push them higher up in the rankings to try drive more traffic to those posts. (What she lost in commission percentage, perhaps she could make up in volume with more traffic.)

The Results

The results were almost immediate. In April, Debbie ended up having a record month making more than $28,000 in profit.

In May, she also made $24,000 profit. Debbie says she’s looking forward to the next months as she can see her work continuing to pay off.

You can find out more about how Debbie grew her business to $20k a month by listening to her first appearance on episode 362 of the Side Hustle Show.

Freelance Writing

Mike McRitchie specializes in writing resumes and LinkedIn profiles for mid-career job changers in the tech and telecom industries.

He also writes marketing and blog content, email newsletters, social media posts, LinkedIn company page content, and more.

At the start of the year, Mike was coming off a 50% increase in sales. This was largely due to increasing resume lead volume from LinkedIn Pro Finder, a service that didn’t exist the year before.

Related: LinkedIn Lead Generation: How to Attract Your Ideal Clients

A Hit to Hiring Hits Resume Writers

Then COVID-19 hit, and companies started putting hiring on hold.

Mike was able to get a good month in March as people scrambled to get their resumes up to date. But then the resumes slowed down sharply as people started to focus on the personal challenges at hand.

A Shift to Content Writing

At the start of the year, Mike had set himself the goal to increase copywriting and content writing projects for Telecom.

He picked this back up in May and started working with Telecom leaders on their websites and other marketing materials.

Mike has since turned this business into clients paying better rates than his pre-pandemic work. He’s not sure where it’s going to lead, but Mike said he can see businesses starting to pivot their focus to marketing.

“Now it’s my job to just put myself and my business in front of this movement and ride the wave,” Mike told me.

Mobile Notary Loan Signing

One of the most popular side hustles over the last few years in the Side Hustle Nation community has been to become a mobile notary loan signing agent.

In this gig, you walk homebuyers through their mortgage documents, and it normally takes place across the kitchen table.

But what happens when you’re supposed to be social distancing and business must go on?

John Holder is the founder of KentuckyNotary.net, and has been keeping his notary side hustle humming thanks to RON — remote online notarization. 

Of course, one good side hustle deserves another, and John was quick to take action this spring in setting up RONUniversity.com. It’s an online training program that helps other notaries get set up to do business remotely.

RON is already recognized by 24 states, and John is optimistic it will be legal in all 50 states soon.

Even Santa Has to Adapt….

Scott Spencer is a full-time practicing attorney in Massachusetts. During the holidays though, he’s also a real bearded Santa Claus for hire.

Santa season starts around October. With the uncertainty about social distancing rules that far out, Scott is already putting “Plan B” into place.

Planning for Virtual Visits

He’s buying all the equipment he’ll need to do virtual visits instead of in-person visits. This means a new webcam, microphone, monochrome background, and video streaming and editing software.

He’s hoping that he can make in-person visits, but he’s going to have everything he needs to operate from home if need be.

In the last few seasons, he’s invoiced between $8,000-$10,000 for the season. Scott is expecting that to be lower this year, but there’s no way of telling what demand will be like right now.

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3 thoughts on “Pandemic Pivots: How Entrepreneurs are Adapting to “Obliteration””

  1. Thanks for the episode, Nick. I was really hoping the UrbanHikerSF story would reveal a brilliant idea I hadn’t thought of yet, but alas. I don’t necessarily agree that tour companies can easily pivot to virtual tours. I know many have tried but there aren’t a lot of success stories that I have found that virtual tours are successful from a sales standpoint.

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