How This Entrepreneur Pivoted During COVID-19

Written by Kelley Keehn

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

Jessie Cayabo founded BONAFIDE in August 2016, somewhat by accident. She was managing a Toronto-based boutique PR firm's Alberta office and her former employer decided to move in a direction that no longer served a culinary portfolio.

"I had been focused on developing for this division for over two years, and with their blessing, my clients joined me as I started my new venture," Jessie said.

Going from Employee to Entrepreneur

As with many employees that take the leap into entrepreneurship, Jessie struggled with accounting and administrative tasks, but knew she didn't need to know it all.

"I hired an accountant because my skills aren't strong in the numbers department. I also realized I can't do everything it takes to run a business and work closely with clients, so I was able to hire part-time assistance for a few months before COVID-19 hit," she explained.

Despite the growing pains, Jessie has no regrets. "Some days I wonder why I didn't become an entrepreneur sooner! It's so rewarding to choose who I wish to work with, but truth be told, I don't think I had the confidence to do it until I hit my 40s."

Managing a Business During COVID

Like every small business owner, the crisis took Jessie by surprise.

"My business was thriving pre-COVID-19, and I'd spent a lot of time travelling over the past few years. All of my clients were incredibly profitable and even expanding. I was actually in the middle of planning a trip to Italy with a client, which of course was cancelled. Elements of my job, like planning culinary events, grand openings and charitable initiatives, came to a screeching halt."

"I shifted to leading crisis communications for my clients, generating ideas, creating digital content and you could say I unofficially added motivational speaker to my workload. It's been an emotional and difficult time for so many people in my network."

For the hospitality industry and ancillary service providers, it's safe to say no one could have forecasted the lockdown year they had and how it could immediately affect their bottom line.

"My clients were all doing very well and poised for growth in 2020, so not only was COVID-19 a shock, it continues to be an enormous struggle for the restaurants. Consumers don't realize the rising costs of food, labour and operations on a regular day, and the precautions around capacity, contact and sanitization is another layer of stress and costs restaurateurs must cover in order to keep their doors open."

Finding Her Confidence in Her 40s

If COVID-19 had hit earlier in Jessie's life, she wouldn't have been in the situation she's in now and sleeping soundly at night.

"Thankfully, after spending most of my 30s in debt due to a recession and job layoffs, I'm thrilled to say debt is no longer a stress point for me. With travel, clothing and entertainment budgets currently going into savings, I also try to support the local food scene two or three times a week by getting takeout."

Despite the challenges in the restaurant and hospitality industry, one of Jessie's clients was able to open last year. "I have so many good news stories to share, like the opening of The Butchery by RGE RD in Edmonton," she said.

The Importance of Giving Back

Not only did Jessie's clients do everything possible to stay afloat and serve the communities they love, but they also gave back when possible.

"I'm immensely proud to be aligned with clients who managed to support charitable causes during the most difficult financial times in their company history. A Cappella Catering raised just over $4,000 for Ronald McDonald House over the holiday season, SABOR Restaurant raised $5,000 for Santa's Anonymous, Ronald McDonald House and The Bissell Centre, and Calgary's Italian Centre Shop partnered with Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano to raise $10,000 for school food programs."

"I think the silver lining is when we spend money at a locally owned small business, they invest back into the community. Our consumer dollars are really a gift that keeps giving if we shop local."

What's Next for Jessie and Her Company?

"I'll continue saving money and will apply for any grants or funding my small business is eligible for," Jessie said. "My travel piggy bank is getting heavy! I really can't wait to go on a vacation and plan to splurge when the timing is right."

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