Celebrating Small Business Month: SMB Owners Share Learnings and Advice for Other Entrepreneurs

May 27, 2021  |  Jim Magats, SVP Omni Payments

Small businesses are the backbone of our global economy. Over the past year, many small businesses struggled as they faced the challenges of managing through a global pandemic. Yet many others, especially digital small businesses that were willing to adapt and evolve, experienced growth. As we celebrate Small Business Month at PayPal, I wanted to hear from a few of the inspiring businesses we work with to learn about how they adapted their businesses during the pandemic, their advice for other entrepreneurs and how they have leveraged PayPal to help reach new customers, streamline their operations and grow their business.

I recently had the chance to catch up with three of the small business owners we’re fortunate to work with. Matthew Mullens, who is passionate about sustainability and became vegan in 2018 to lessen his environmental impact, started Empasta after realizing a vegan cheese sauce he invented in his kitchen could do well on the market. Aysegul Conboy founded Out of Office Brand during the pandemic, a clothing brand that makes light of common office phrases. Nadia Lloyd is an artist who achieved global recognition after she began making protective masks that raise awareness of the social justice causes that she’s passionate about.

While all three business have very different stories, each of them has something in common: their hard work, commitment to their customers and adaptability helped them grow their businesses during a time of economic uncertainty and instability. I’ve been sharing spotlights on MattAysegul and Nadia’s businesses and passions throughout the month. But I wanted to share our extended conversation here, as well as a recent conversation we captured on video where Matt, Aysegul and Nadia shared what inspired them to start their businesses, how they adapted and shifted strategies during the pandemic and what digital tools they have leveraged to manage and growth their businesses.  I hope you find their insights as interesting as I did. 

 

Introducing Small Business Owners Nadia Lloyd, Aysegul Conboy and Matt Mullens

Jim Magats: Over the past year, what lessons have you learned about operating a business and how will you apply these learnings moving forward?

Nadia Lloyd: We were all dealt unexpected cards in 2020, but it taught me the importance of creativity and flexibility. You have to find ways to adapt, stay relevant and re-shape your business to meet the current needs of your customers so you can keep clients and acquire new ones. Moving forward, I want to do more work that allows me to combine my creativity with my passion for social issues like racial equality. I want to get important social messages out there and encourage people to engage in conversations. I’ve been receiving hundreds of direct messages and emails from people telling me how my masks have given them a platform to speak out and stand for justice.

Matthew Mullens: It’s very important to focus on customer service and shifting, when necessary, to accommodate your customers and their evolving needs. Everyone has different hurdles to face in terms of adjusting. At the start of the pandemic, a lot of people were no longer comfortable going to farmers markets, grocery stores and other public places. Knowing that, I started moving to ecommerce, which enabled me to reach new customers and also better cater to customers that preferred delivery options as a result of the pandemic.

Aysegul Conboy, Out of Office
Aysegul Conboy opened her own crafty small business, Out of Office Brand, during the pandemic.

Aysegul Conboy: Starting a business in the middle of a pandemic has been an interesting journey that comes with its own difficulties. Aside from all the normal challenges small businesses face, getting the orders ready and shipped on time while post offices and suppliers were struggling was a real challenge. It’s great to see parts of the world slowly opening back up. But the pandemic has taught me to be comfortable even when I'm outside of my comfort zone, and it has helped me discover new ways to reflect my creativity. I’ve also began connecting with my customers to help in the creative process. For example, I’ve had many customers reach out to me with their favorite email phrases, like “unsubscribe,” or “just wanted to circle back” as inspiration for my pieces. I’m hoping to continue learning -- because as a small business owner that’s critical -- and growing and enjoying what I do.

 

JM: How has PayPal helped your business?

Nadia Loyd
Toronto-based artist Nadia Lloyd

NL: The increase in business I’ve seen during the pandemic has led to a lot of paperwork. The last thing on earth I want to do is spend hours at my desk doing bookkeeping. I’m an artist—I don’t want to be doing accounting, I want to be creating. It’s important to have tools to help you do the administrative work, like tracking how your money comes in, bookkeeping and sending invoices so that you can focus on your core strengths. I started using PayPal to help manage this and it’s been a lifesaver. Not only do my customers love paying through PayPal (about 55 percent of my clients pay this way) but frankly, I wouldn’t be able to run my business without it. PayPal alone saves me about 20 hours of administrative work a week and gives me an easy way to track how my money comes in, do my bookkeeping and send invoices. It’s not just about having the right team, but it’s about having technology to keep all of this sustainable in the long term.

Matt Mullens
Matt Mullens is the founder of Empasta, a vegan cheese company.

MM: When the pandemic began, sales from the local farmers market and bars came to a halt, so I had to get creative about how to reach customers. I knew I needed to grow my online presence and find a safe way to ship my goods. I saw the PayPal Empowerment Grant for Black-owned businesses on Twitter and applied the same day. When I received the funding, I was able to hire a social media manager to promote my product and invest in a secure, spoil-proof and recyclable way to ship it. I’ve also integrated PayPal Checkout onto my site so that customers can seamlessly and securely checkout. Using PayPal gives my customers confidence when they’re checking out because they know it’s a safe transaction, which has been helpful in attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.

AC: My customers love using PayPal. It’s user-friendly, trustworthy, globally recognized and provides my customers with a seamless checkout experience. It’s been a great tool for me and my business because when it comes to online shopping and money transfers, customers love to see options like PayPal that are so convenient that they can complete a transaction seamlessly even with their phones, and they can completely trust the process.

 

JM: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

NL: Have active social media accounts. A website alone is like having a car in the middle of the country, without highways and roads that drive people to your brick-and-mortar store. What we now know is that people buy emotionally – the more they feel connected to you and what you’re doing, the more they want to be part of your story. It’s that human, personal touch. I also encourage other entrepreneurs to give back to their communities. For every little bit you give back, the universe always pays you back tenfold.

MM: Start small. Even if it’s imperfect at first, which it will be, just start. You play yourself short if you don’t at least get the ball rolling. There may be successes that lie ahead of you that you don’t see right now. Once you get into it, things will begin falling into place. Start and stick with it and listen – don’t think you know everything. And make sure you’re using your resources around you. Don’t think that you have to do everything yourself – allow people to help if they want to.

AC: Be fearless, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone, and never be afraid of an idea that you are passionate about. I was incredibly self-conscious, unsure and shy about starting my own business in the beginning, but it’s been amazing to see how supportive my community has been since I started sharing my ideas.

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