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Two SAIT graduates and business owners share their experiences of how they have weathered the COVID-19 storm.
SAIT alumna Mya Khan (BA ’07) opened her first business, Modern Barber, in Fort McMurray during the 2014 economic downturn. The next year, she opened Project Clothing.
“We were open for eight months, then the fire happened. It taught us to constantly be innovative and be prepared,” she says.
Khan faced another obstacle recently when a flood hit Fort McMurray in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. She lost both of her storefronts, and is currently in the process of relocating. Because Project Clothing has always had an online shop and delivery service, the stores’ lines of business have remained open.
“We see our clients as friends, and we’re in communication every day,” Khan says. “Customer service can help a business survive. You have to think outside of the box.”
SAIT alumnus Grant Nolin (CTSR ’87) first got into freelance video production in the late 1990s. After some time in the corporate world, Nolin started his own company, Five Foot Five Video & Creative, coincidentally also during the 2014 downturn.
“Prior to COVID-19, I was doing really well. After the first week of the pandemic, my customers had to get their COVID messaging out, so it was very busy. Then things started to drop off,” he says. “Now, work has picked up again.”
Nolin and his wife were both raised by post-Great Depression and WWII parents who had seen the worst, and instilled a frugal mentality in their children. Nolin says his family was fortunate during the pandemic as a result of their financial discipline.
“Owning a business is kind of like driving down a highway and approaching a hill. You can’t see over the hill, but you know there’s road beyond,” he says. “Keep going down that road and doing things every day that move you forward. And don’t overextend yourself.”
Khan agrees with that advice, adding business owners should focus their energy on what they can control and have a solid business plan in place, as well as proper insurance. Her final suggestion? Trust your gut.
“People can tell you how to do things, but at the end of the day, do what you think will help you succeed. Being a woman, being a person of colour, you have to work a little bit harder, but you can use that as motivation to help ensure your success.”