KINGSTON, JAMAICA – In times of crisis, large-scale Jamaican businesses often lend their expertise to small and medium-size business, often the hardest hit by disasters, to ensure the continuity and success of all Jamaican entities.
This week CNW spoke to Lauri-Ann Ainsworth, CEO of the Caribbean’s leading business accelerator, the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean, to discuss the challenges and opportunities small and medium-sized businesses in the region are facing during this global pandemic.
Based in Kingston, Jamaica, Branson Centre was founded by global business tycoon, Richard Branson, to help the region’s entrepreneurs grow their businesses by providing cutting edge skills training, mentorship and financial investment opportunities. To date, the nonprofit has trained over 2000 entrepreneurs across the Caribbean, and worked closely with over 200 specially selected, high potential entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses for greater impact on the Caribbean economy through areas such as job creation.
In Jamaica, the global pandemic has thus far affected businesses that have to interact directly with their clients, as many have had to close their doors during this period. According to Ainsworth, businesses that operate within the tourism sector were among the first hit. “These businesses will be impacted for a while, as this pandemic continues to grow globally. That is the frightening part… We don’t know when this pandemic is going to end and those businesses don’t know when tourists will return. So right now they’re being affected in a severe way,” she shares.
However, Ainsworth has also seen some businesses experience an uptick in sales since the turn of events. Still those entrepreneurs, she says, are faced with their own set of new and unique challenges.
One such entrepreneur is Danielle Thompson, who is a member of the Branson Centre’s current cohort of entrepreneurs. Thompson joined the accelerator program to access resources to scale up her already successful business to the next level.
Thompson owns Nature My Therapy – a vegan food distribution company, that is known across Jamaica for its all-natural, cold-pressed juices. Since the pandemic began to unfold, the company has seen a spike in demand for its immune-boosting juices, as people clammer for ways to ward off COVID-19. But, while sales are up for Thompson, she still faces enormous production challenges with team members forced to stay home – an obstacle to the business’ ability to meet its newfound demand.
Like Thompson, for the entrepreneurs who have been lucky enough to still have customers knocking on their doors, many are grappling with what comes first – protecting their employees’ health, or securing their employees’ livelihoods. Considering COVID-19’s easy transmission, employees’ health, and its impact on the community at large, is taking priority for many business owners.
“Many are making the very hard decision to layoff employees or reduce salaries. Those are some of the hard decisions our entrepreneurs are facing, and I think will continue to face as long as this pandemic continues,” Ainsworth says.
To serve the immediate needs of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, Ainsworth has led her team through a major pivot in focus. Typically, the Branson Centre’s 6-month program supports entrepreneurs with training, mentorship and access to finance, with a major focus on making entrepreneurs investment-ready. Ainsworth explains that, due to the pandemic, the Centre has pivoted to support entrepreneurs in the areas of recovery planning and marketing instead.
“We’ve also shifted our entire program to be 100% online, which for us hasn’t been a huge problem, because we’ve always had a hybrid approach where we’ve had both online and offline interaction with our entrepreneurs,” Ainsworth shares. She also says that the team has tapped into its large network of professionals in the Caribbean and around the world, gathering those eager to help guide, resource and revive the region’s ecosystem once the crisis has passed.
Lauri-Ann Ainsworth, CEO of the Caribbean’s leading business accelerator, the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, shares some tips for entrepreneurs who are facing pandemic-induced challenges.
- Pivot Your Message First:
Research the pain points that your customers are currently facing during this time, and find the messaging that speaks directly to how you can alleviate their challenges. Ensure your messaging is direct and to the point, addressing how your business is able to address their needs.
- Look for New Markets.
If the customer base that you usually serve has declined, research how to reach new markets that you hadn’t tapped into before that could at this time want your product or your service. Maybe your business is able to address the needs of a new market.
- Enhance or Augment Your Existing Offer.
Tweak or add something to your existing offer to make it more relevant and appealing to your customer base. For example, creating synergies with other businesses may be a good way to solve some of the pain points experienced by your current customers.
- Creating a New Product or Service.
Consider a new product or service that is in line with your business’ focus. Digital products or services, for example, will allow you to expand your reach while giving you the ability to move seamlessly back into your original business once social distancing has ended. But be careful not to pivot too much and lose credibility for your original business offering.
- Communicate with Your Customers as Much as Possible.
Make sure your business remains on your customers’ radar during this time. Don’t go silent. Even if your business has been closed temporarily, it’s important to let your customers know what is happening, and to offer support where you can. This is the time where businesses are going to be able to create brand affinity, because people are looking for those who are able to support, help and meet a need.