How the pandemic inspired a cost-effective way to launch a business

Entrepreneurs are able to start businesses with lower costs and target a digitally tuned-in audience

Doug Hassebroek eats breakfast while on a video conference call working from home during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S., April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs
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One of my dear friends, an interior designer, has been planning to launch a unique design company for the past eight years. She travelled to different countries, established connections with furniture suppliers and scouted locations to set up her shop and studio.

In 2019, we were in the final discussions for her marketing plans and had even initiated conversations with retailers to lease a space for her pop-up store to create a buzz about her brand. That's when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Like many entrepreneurs, she sadly had to halt her plans and wait for things to improve. But amid the pandemic, many of her potential customers re-thought their living spaces. She was approached by a friend of hers to help transform an unutilised basement into a playroom and study, while another asked her guidance to turn an extra bedroom into an office space.

She realised that instead of waiting for the situation to get better, she could improvise and still launch her business. She developed a mobile-friendly website to highlight her services and to sell furniture online. Her Instagram page became her shop front, where her potential client viewed her work, contacted her and scheduled design consultancy appointments. Her clients could view each of her piece in a three-dimensional space, just like in a physical store.

As horrible as this pandemic has been, it helped my friend save on business start-up costs and even helped her carve out a niche. She now focuses on creating creative work and spaces for children at home and the demand for her services is soaring.

Start-up costs eat most of entrepreneurs’ budgets. Working remotely and the shift to e-commerce meant that many entrepreneurs saved up on office and retail space rents and utilised those for product development and digital enhancement.

Depending on the business, hiring talent became very economical. Last year, I expanded my company and that meant having to work with more talented people. With the mass shift to digital and more people embracing remote work, I had access to a wider pool of talent from across the world.

If we look closely, we can see that the pandemic presents an opportunity for potential entrepreneurs to start businesses across in-demand sectors. Food sustainability, digital content development, e-commerce and logistics provide massive opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Starting a business, no matter how big or small, is always paired with risks. But the move to embrace e-commerce especially during the pandemic means that we can start digital ventures with lower costs, significantly decreasing our financial risk.

For instance, a graphic designer can start a content development business without investing much. All that they need is a licence, a website and a social media page to reach their contacts and share their work. Many fashion designers, who sell their merchandise solely through social media, have successfully been doing so for years. In fact, it has become the norm for consumers like me to shop for traditional garments such as abayas and kaftans through social media. The pandemic has further emphasised the importance of a digital presence for businesses.

As challenging as the past period had been for us, it presents a cost-efficient opportunity for entrepreneurs to take advantage of and be creative.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi