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How to Use the COVID-19 Crisis as a Catapult Into Entrepreneurship

Marissa Tilley

Marissa Tilley

Owner and Founder at Lady Black Tie
Marissa Tilley is the owner and founder of Lady Black Tie, a Massachusetts dress company she launched in November 2018. With both a brick-and-mortar and e-commerce presence, she quickly grew Lady Black Tie from selling only eight dresses per month to selling eight dresses per hour, 24 hours a day, to customers around the world. Marissa graduated from the Harvard Graduate school of Arts and Sciences.
Marissa Tilley

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Whether you’re one of the 40 million plus Americans who’ve lost their job during the COVID-19 crisis, or the pandemic made you realize life is too short and it’s time to pursue your passion, you might be looking at a career change. Shifting course is never easy, especially during an economic recession. In some ways, the current crisis affords you the unlikely opportunity of extra time to explore options and thoughtfully consider your next move.

No matter when you make a career change, there is a somewhat unsettling period of existing between what was and what will be. Right now, you’re not alone—everyone is experiencing these feelings because the future in general is so uncertain.

If you’re considering testing the entrepreneurial waters, you have the challenge of analyzing your idea in the context of a world where no one is sure what industries will bounce back and which won’t. But you can’t let fear and uncertainty stop you. Taking the entrepreneurial leap still boils down to figuring out the intersection of your talents with a need in the marketplace.  


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A realization

In my mid-twenties, I worked 9 to 5 desk jobs I thought I’d like at established, big name companies. The only problem was I viewed my job as the thing I had to do in order to fund the things I really wanted to do; like travel, hobbies or my lifestyle. Eventually, this way of thinking caught up to me. When I was sitting in my little cubicle, I would often daydream about where else I could be. I realized that with all of the time I spent at work, I really didn’t want to be doing something I wasn’t passionate about.

Time to make a change

I’ve always loved formalwear. However, a career in fashion seemed somewhat unattainable. When I started thinking seriously about opening my own formalwear business and assessed the risks of going out on my own, the more appealing it was for me to leave the corporate life behind and actually put my dream plan to action.

Now that I’ve done it, work never feels like “just a job,” and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.


Related: 5 Things Your Business Should Do Now to Recover From the Pandemic

Ask yourself the important questions

As you contemplate making a change yourself, the first step is to take stock of where you’re at today. Look at your financial situation, and ask yourself how long can you go without work (i.e. a steady paycheck)? What expenses can you eliminate or reduce?

If you decide to start a business, you can expect that it will take some time to get back to the same financial cushion you left. With a handle on your money situation, it’s time to turn inward and see what excites you.

Ask yourself, what aspects of your past jobs did you like? What hobbies do you have that could be turned into a career? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?

Examine the market

It’s also imperative to look at the market. Do your research and work your network to learn about what industries might start to boom in a post COVID-19 world. Even if you’re drawn to sectors that were hit hard during the pandemic, don’t rule them out entirely. This is the perfect time to bring a disruptor idea to areas like travel, restaurants and retail.

Also, don’t be discouraged by the volume of existing competition in your chosen field. The market you are entering is not too crowded for you, and there is always room for new players.

For example, when I started Lady Black Tie in 2018, there were already plenty of established formalwear stores in my area, and tons of online retailers with millions of social media followers. I, however, was starting from zero. Don’t let the brands that have been around longer than you intimidate you and keep you from starting. If anything, use this competition as motivation, and recognize that you can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the industry.

Next, start thinking about how your current skills and past job experiences will transfer to your new business. Make a list of your formal education, any certifications, language fluency, licenses attained, technology proficiency or skills learned in a volunteer role. Then, make another list of all the soft skills you bring to your new role.


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Consider starting slowly

One of the best ways to find a new career is to try it out before you fully commit. When I decided I wanted to open my own formalwear business, I took a low-paid, part time job in retail while I worked on my business plan on the side. I gained valuable consumer information and, more importantly, learned first-hand what to do and what not to do from this experience.

While COVID-19 restrictions might make it more difficult to fully try on a new career for size, you can still do informational interviews via Zoom with people in the field, or do online courses related to your new path to learn more and gain industry knowledge.

While world events may have gently nudged you to take the entrepreneurial leap, if you embrace your new path with excitement instead of fear, you may find your own lemonade from the COVID-19 lemons.

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