Dafne Marenco, an event marketing entrepreneur in Mexico, was doing extremely well since participating in our Road to Growth programme – her business, focusing on trade show productions for the heavy duty and passenger transport industry, was flourishing. Then, COVID-19 hit.
But, as we know, women entrepreneurs are not only creative, adaptable and resilient, they are also first responders and community builders. Hear how Dafne’s putting these qualities together with her Road to Growth training to steer her company – and help others – through the crisis…
As a businesswoman for the past 10 years, it has been difficult to stand out in an industry mainly ruled by men.
When I decided to launch my company, I had been working 10 years as marketing manager for a manufacturer of trucks and buses. Those were not easy years for a woman without experience in a world of men, but they were definitely important training years for the woman entrepreneur to be.
At school or home, nobody ever taught me how to become a businesswoman. I decided to start my own business out of necessity, as a result of very difficult life circumstances rather than a conscious decision and, to make it more exciting, in the midst of the last global recession in 2009. I do firmly believe crisis times are full of opportunities…!
The first 3 years were a challenge of resilience. From years 4 to 8 my business was stable and running constant work but with very tight numbers. Thankfully, high quality service, competitive prices, a large networking and almost 20 years of experience in the market took me to a better place as a consultant.
In 2018 I joined the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Road to Growth programme in Mexico and, as I have stated in a previous blog, I felt like I had taken off a blindfold after the training. I was more conscious about finances, costs, prices and business all around. By the end of 2019, I had achieved the best results ever.
At the beginning of this year, 2020, my company’s sales forecast was really ambitious. Growth in number of clients, growth in events, expansion of services and diversifying into different industries were in sight, and would surely lead to a growth in revenue. But, nobody foresees a pandemic, right?
As with many others in my country, and obviously in the world, in March my business had to fully stop. Events were cancelled, and with no set date for activities to resume, clients terminated their services, and so on. Marketing investment has been considered a luxury for many companies and, unfortunately, is often the first thing cut out from budgets when an economic crisis hits.
Frustratingly, information from government authorities around COVID-19 in Mexico are contradictory at best: reported figures of people infected and dead are false, and government measures to contain the epidemic are disastrous. Due to all this uncertainty, many people in our society decided to follow WHO recommendations and keep safe at home to get through the crisis together.
For the first time in 10 years I had no work, no events, no income. As an SME, my company could only tolerate this for 3 or 4 months, and what worried me equally was that my contractors would also be receiving no business from me and would suffer in turn.
But, as I know from experience, crises are opportunities! So, I started looking at my community’s needs, especially those of hospitals and vulnerable groups, to overcome this sanitary crisis. As my contractors can manufacture almost anything, we put our heads together and decided to start a new line of products: COVID-19 face shields.
I quickly started to look up information, got some samples, decided which worked best and put some heart and personal touch into them. Then, we started our first production of 3,200 face shields that have been sold among my transport industry clients and distributed within my community.
As this is not my core business, and the intention is to overcome the crisis and help others overcome it as well, the price at which we sell these face shields is low, competitive and yet profitable. In this way my contractors are still getting work, my coworkers and I are receiving a fair income for ourselves and our families (though not exactly as event marketers!) and we can all deal with the crisis. Even better, we can help other people get the protection they need, delivered straight to their homes and offices, with all necessary precautions taken due to the pandemic.
Now, for the second round of production, we’ve made some changes in the face shield’s design and the new version is more ventilated. I also added some other products for sale: mouth covers, sanitizers, gloves and medical apparel. These products are not being manufactured by us, but I can acquire them and sell them on at a fair price, making enough profit to keep my company and staff afloat. These sales have also been an opportunity to enter new markets, meet new clients and add new solution services to my business.
Technology has been hugely important for the pivoting of my business. To communicate with my clients – old and new – I use telephone and video conferences, product delivery is programed online, I attend business webinars that are of interest and free of charge, and am looking into evolving into e-commerce. That will be the next step.
As a member of the Foundation’s Road to Growth programme, I keep in contact with many other woman entrepreneurs. Through this network, we are helping each other to create new solutions during this difficult time. Some are selling sanitizers, others medical apparel, and so on. We are also contributing with donations to people and doctors. We are all in this together. We must be part of the solution together.
Since 2008, we’ve directly supported over 160,000 women like Dafne to grow and strengthen their businesses, and in turn support their families and communities. Now, our ambitions are growing, and you can help us achieve them: donate to our 100,000 Women Campaign today, so we can reach another 100,000 women by 2022!
Are you a woman entrepreneur in a low or middle income country who’s also concerned about getting her business through the pandemic? We’ve just launched a free, online business resilience training course — join today!