Navy Federal Business Solutions member Amaia P. Stecker is the managing partner of event planning agency Pilar & Co, located in Alexandria, Va. “I’m a solopreneur microbusiness, so I plan for the worst case scenarios regularly—but I never could have imagined this,” she shared in response to how her business has been impacted by COVID-19.
With more than 30 million small businesses in the United States, including over 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses, the pandemic has certainly posed a new set of challenges.
Recently, Amaia took time to share more of her story with us. She discussed how COVID-19 continues to impact Pilar & Co, the ways in which she’s shifted her company’s strategy, along with lessons learned for other business owners and solopreneurs in similar positions.
How has COVID-19 affected Pilar & Co’s operations?
A: I’ve been able to help a few clients transition [their events] to virtual, but lost about 40% of my income (pre-tax). Ultimately, I was forced into a decision about keeping my business open and finding a radical way to innovate (what we consultants do best!) or shut down.
It’s daunting and lonely being a solopreneur. All the risk-taking starts and stops with yourself. I was about to bring on staff and quickly realized that I needed to make decisions about the day-to-day operations expenditures and put any long-term growth on hold for now.
These sorts of crisis moments allow for clarity and creativity. I’ve always thought of myself as a top-notch problem solver ahead of any other job title, and so I decided to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan at the encouragement of my Navy Federal business lending officer. He helped me broaden my focus to see that PPP was intended for businesses like mine, regardless of our super small scale. It was truly a lifesaver!
What are some ways you’ve had to shift your focus to navigate this challenging environment?
A: Now that we’re several months into the “new normal,” I’ve been able to really address some of the aspects of my business that I thought were missing before COVID-19 forced societal change. Necessity is the mother of invention! I have found additional opportunities that play off my strengths in new ways. As I encourage my clients to innovate, take risks and try new things, so am I.
I’m building out my organizational development and strategic leadership services through a design thinking approach. I hope to help others achieve their goals, even the scary ones. The credit union philosophy of “People Helping People” is very important to me, and I believe that I can empower others, especially women, to achieve their goals.
From your experience as a solopreneur, can you share any lessons learned?
A: It’s been a groundbreaking period of time for me. I've learned a lot about myself, how I want to run my business, the services I want to offer and who is my ideal client. Here are a few of those:
- Innovate, take risks, and be creative. Now is really the time to be innovative and try things. Businesses must adapt to the needs of their employees through remote work and flexible schedules and priorities of customers by doing the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. Clients need new products and services, new best practices, new methods of communication and marketing. The ability to learn from what doesn't work is far more valuable than stumbling into something that works well enough.
- Discover empathy for others and yourself. Part of this ability to innovate is going to be understanding the needs and circumstances of others at the individual and organizational level. If you can empathize (not just sympathize, but really put yourself in their position with empathy), you have a unique ability to create opportunities and solutions that can be mutually beneficial.
- Practice non-attachment. I’m a yoga practitioner and found a solid place in letting go of my ideas of “what was.” This certainly wasn’t easy. I had dreams of growing my firm, having employees, an office building—you name it. I went through the stages of grief for that particular dream. As I went through the process, I found new passions that I'd been trying to pursue in my original business model but didn't really fit there. By letting go of any expectations to an outcome, I’ve been able to take some risks (I’m starting a podcast this fall!) and try new ways of doing things, offer new services, and relate to others more authentically.
We recognize many of our Business Solutions members are navigating the uncertainty just as Amaia is doing. Learn more about Navy Federal's response to COVID-19.
Jane Myers is a strategist on the Corporate Communications Team at Navy Federal in Northern Virginia. She supports a variety of business areas in the credit union through product communications, media relations and sponsored content.