Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart; running a small business can be hugely challenging at the very best of times. (That’s what makes it so exciting, right?)\r\n\r\nEnter a global pandemic.\r\n\r\nWhen COVID-19 forced global lockdowns in March 2020, many small businesses scrambled to adapt their business models to a changing market.\r\n\r\nThese three Canadian entrepreneurs managed to pivot their face-to-face businesses to stay afloat––and even thrive––during the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s how they did it. \r\n\r\n1. Astrid Park (Ottawa, ON)\r\n\r\nOttawa-based bridal makeup artist and cosmetic line entrepreneur Jacquie Kuntze knew her business was in trouble when the pandemic struck in March 2020. Wedding bookings evaporated faster than you can say “social distancing.”\r\n\r\n“Once I realized the two-week lockdown was being extended, reality hit and I knew I had to pivot and pivot fast,” says Jacquie. \r\n\r\nIn 2019, Jacquie had purchased a vintage school bus, converting it into a mobile beauty bar. She named the bus “Billie the Blue Bird” and drove it to weddings and other events where she and her team would do multiple makeovers.\r\n\r\nHer clients loved Billie, but a world where everyone was wearing medical masks did not need lipstick. What the pandemic-weary did need was a safe way to escape their day-to-day lives and enjoy the great outdoors.\r\n\r\n“I started the conversion process on Billie the Blue Bird all over again, this time turning him into a camper,” says Jacquie. \r\n\r\nShe parked the camper motel just outside a friend’s brewery in a beautiful natural setting, which allowed guests to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors and stay overnight in stylish accommodations.\r\n\r\nJacquie and her business partner, Lana Dingwall, also acquired a 1978 Winnebago Brave, a 1960s Shasta Replica, and Bohemian Bell Tents for the site, which they dubbed Astrid Park. \r\n\r\n“It was not an easy pivot,” she says. “As you can imagine, the challenges with restoring vintage campers are endless, but without a doubt, it's a pivot that changed the course of my journey as an entrepreneur.”\r\n\r\nAstrid Park is now a fully off-grid, sustainable alternative to the traditional motel experience. The owners pride themselves on community, sustainability, diversity and inclusion (Jacquie and Lana are both members of the LGBTQ2A+ community). \r\n\r\n“It takes incredible grit, tenacity & perseverance to take up space as business owners,” she says. “Every single tear has been worth it.”\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n2. Friend of a Friend Matchmaking (Toronto, ON)\r\n\r\n“The emails and calls started while I was on a last-minute overnight bus back to Toronto,” says Claire AH, owner of Friend of a Friend Matchmaking.\r\n\r\nOn March 11, 2020, Claire AH was on her way home from a matchmakers’ conference in New York City when her phone started pinging with requests from reporters for her take on pandemic dating.\r\n\r\nDespite the many positives that come from widespread media attention, Claire knew she’d have to adapt to this strange new reality. “It was probably a bad time to run a business where the ultimate goal is to get strangers physically close to each other,” she says.\r\n\r\nShe immediately shifted from in-person to video meetings. “Continuing with in-person meetings would have set off alarm bells for pretty much anyone, so it just made sense to move to video,” she says. \r\n\r\nClaire also started advertising pay-what-you-can coaching calls to listen to lonely singles and help them through their complicated feelings of isolation.\r\n\r\n“That started me down the road of focusing more on other types of dating support,” she says. “A lot of people said (the coaching calls were) much-needed and genuinely helpful. I’m working with a whole new client base and I have found it very gratifying.”\r\n\r\nClaire says it’s normal for entrepreneurs to feel overwhelmed, especially when facing a major challenge like a pandemic. “It’s okay to take a few steps back to breathe and assess the situation. It can be tempting to feel like you have to hustle all the more when things get bad, but that can sometimes make things worse if you never take time to take stock of what’s going on so you can plan your next move.”\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n3. Empire Provisions (Calgary, AB)\r\n\r\nKaren Kho and her partner Dave Sturies were running a “small but mighty” food empire––an upscale pantry-style eatery called Empire Provisions and Lil’ Empire Burger––when the pandemic struck.\r\n\r\n“The first weeks were overwhelming,” says the Calgary-based restaurateur. “We feared for our safety. We didn't know if we were going to be permitted to stay open…and as a business that was still fairly young, we thought we might go bankrupt.”\r\n\r\nKaren and Dave immediately streamlined their businesses, working as lean as possible to keep the lights on. They were forced to close their first Lil’ Empire location, because it was located as in a now-shuttered brewery. At Empire Provisions, they saw a decline in sales and had to make do with a skeleton staff.\r\n\r\n“Our pivot was extreme,” Karen recalls. “We immediately went online with a store, which is something I had waffled about for a long time. I thought it needed to be perfect, but when the pandemic hit, I realized that it just needed to be launched and could be revised along the way.”\r\n\r\nKaren and Dave shifted their focus to prepared meals and groceries. “We've always been a creative business, so we channeled our energy into creating items people didn't have the time to replicate at home.” The pivot was a huge success. “Our butchers and our chef worked tirelessly to keep up with the demand.”\r\n\r\nGift boxes and corporate online events became another revenue stream.\r\n\r\nAnd the knockout punch? Karen and Dave launched a new sister company: Knockout Heat Co. “Knockout is a hot sauce brand that was created during the pandemic, when we began to see the potential of branding all of the specialty pantry items we were making in-house,” she says. \r\n\r\nThe team saw a growth in sales they could not possibly have achieved under their previous business model.\r\n\r\nIt’s rare to find silver linings in the pandemic, but for the team at Empire Provisions, creative thinking and adapting quickly to challenging circumstances laid the groundwork for a delicious success story.\r\n\r\n“Any successful enterprise is continuously evolving and changing with the times,” says Karen. “I see my business as a living organism; it is growing and I need to feed it to keep it healthy.” \r\n\r\nFor more entrepreneurial tips, stories, and expert advice, sign up for our newsletter.