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The Importance of Reflection & Intention – Prioritizing Your Small Business Dreams in the Midst of a Pandemic

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Written by SBC Cleint Vanessa Shields, owner of Gertrude’s Writing Room

At the end of March 2020, I had recently finished a four-day writing retreat in Toronto where I’d spend much of the first day working on a robust schedule of workshops, classes and drop-in sessions for the Spring offerings at Gertrude’s Writing Room, my small creative writing school business. The writing room is located in the heart of Windsor’s Walkerville neighbourhood in the Coach House at Willistead Park. The 530-ish square foot room is packed to its heritage brim with art, books, tea cups, comfy chairs and typewriters. Many, many typewriters. I had worked for weeks organizing collaborations with local writers and artists in order to fill April to June with exciting and unique creative writing endeavours.

Then – shut down. Gertrude’s Writing Room closed its front door alongside all non-essential businesses in April. The door is still closed. After the shock, fear and mild-panic about the pandemic subsided and I was able to breathe and reflect on the situation, I shifted programming to virtual one-to-one sessions with several writers. This transition was seamless, and apart from me having to get used to seeing myself on a laptop or cell phone screen, I was able to keep clients engaged and writing on a one-to-one basis. But, the space remains to be too small for social distancing for more than three people. That means, I can’t offer workshops or classes...for this long ‘now’ that we are all experiencing.

Many people suggested that I offer virtual workshops and classes, and while I did record a couple of videos (about creative writing) for various groups in the city, I have not offered anything more than one-to-one virtual sessions. Yes, this affects my business. Yes, this affects my income. But offering virtual workshops and classes also affects my mission. It affects the integrity of what my business’ core foundation is built upon. That is – intimate creative writing interactions where writers gather face-to-face, soul-to-soul for intensive, vulnerable, extraordinary experiences. I felt (and still feel) that scrambling to learn new communication platforms and joining the ‘new normal’ band-wagon of on-line offerings was intuitively off-point for me. For the business. And then I felt guilty. I felt lazy. I felt like I was ‘behind’ in the business world. I felt like I was ‘old-school’ and...well, not good enough. (Enter inner demons that continue to fight for power in my life.)

At the end of April, I had my first (virtual) mentoring session that was part of the Starter Company Plus program I began in November 2019. The Starter Company Plus program is for small business owners – new or established (for under five years, and looking for expansion) – looking for financial and business support. The program enabled me to shift my small business from dream-state to I-can-do-it reality. It was hard for me. I’m a writer, a poet, no less, who rates the importance of the softness of a colouful pillow above the necessity for a projections spreadsheet. My business plan came in just under 100 pages because, well, the writing part was just too much fun! It was a rigorous program that asked a lot of my patience and business knowledge, and also challenged my ignorance. It was a humbling experience that felt a little bit like being smacked around by Lake Erie waves on a windy afternoon. 

Come the end of April when I knew I wouldn’t be opening the business for quite some time, I needed to hear a gentle voice telling me I was making the best decisions for my business, even if that meant laying low and using the time to reflect. Enter my amazing mentor who owns a similar business in that it too had to close its doors, to move, no less; and offering virtual classes just did not hold up the integrity of the business mission. I was not alone. My mentor and I had six sessions where we shared our challenges, emotions and dreams – all of them ebbing and flowing with the progression of the pandemic, family life, hot weather, and our new goals for our small businesses.

The forced ‘stop’, if you will, became an important learning opportunity for me as a business owner. I quickly realized how exhausted I’d been – not just my mind, but my body. I was feeling a lot of stress; I was eating too much to satiate my worries; and I was constantly comparing my business to others around me – even though they were vastly different. I realized that I’d been making decisions that were more desperate than dream-driven; more competitive than contemplative. As the days passed, and I found myself crossing out cancelled workshops and classes in my day planner, a sense of relief began to untie the worry knots and calm the jungle of anxiety animals in my belly. I was crossing out a lot of things. I would have been busy. Really, really busy. Had that been my intention when I started the business?

Now, it’s nearly September. We’re a family in the midst of making major decisions about schooling (which will affect my business operations). Though the city has moved into stage three, Gertrude’s Writing Room keeps her same small size, and I know that I won’t be offering workshops or classes for some time. I also know that, with the support of the Small Business Centre family that I’ve come to lean on, and the kind, gentle guidance of my mentor through the Starter Company Plus program, I will commit to re-opening with my mission’s integrity at the helm, and I will take my time and consider the importance of my original dream intentions for Gertrude’s Writing Room – to be an intimate and extraordinary gathering place for writers (with soft, colourful pillows and many, many typewriters).

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Vanessa Shields is a client of the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre and received support and mentorship through the Starter Company Plus program. You, too, can receive support in launching or expanding your small business. Contact the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre for more information.