According to US-based research, recessions spur entrepreneurship. Unemployment, or the threat thereof, drives the business-savvy (brave, adventurous, sometimes desperate) among us, to embark on their own business ventures. It’s not easy. The failure rate for new businesses is high. But, with passion and determination success is possible.
So says successful local entrepreneur, teacher extraordinaire and my friend, Malisa. In 2009, Malisa could not find a job, despite her Bachelor’s degree in Geology. Months of rejection, mounting family pressure to get a “proper job” and, eventual depression, led her to a life-changing decision. She’d start her own business.
A recent high-school teaching stint showed Malisa that she excelled at teaching and absolutely loved it. So, she got to work. She designed a flyer to advertise her skills, printed a few stacks and, with her family’s assistance, began to distribute them. This included some serious leg-work – going from one neighbourhood to another, leaving flyers in every mailbox.
Soon, Malisa had her first ‘after-school-lessons’ students. “Once I got my first few students, it just grew,” she says of her career. “[My sister] Dana, joined me. We were making money and I could do things I couldn’t before – go out to eat, invite people to dinner and pay the whole bill, sign my family up at the gym, help my sister save … I could help and it was so nice to be able to do that.”
But, that’s not all. In 2011, Malisa was making enough money to treat herself to a trip to Rome. She came back home with another business idea brewing – rosaries and jewellery. That Christmas, her ‘showroom’ (i.e. her mom’s kitchen) was filled with excited shoppers.
Yes, she experienced (and still does) a lot of stress and sleepless nights. She’s shed her fair share of tears and even lost some blood (jewellery-making is for the thick-skinned!). But, seeking entrepreneurship was the best decision she’s made for herself and she encourages everyone with a passion (that’s everyone!) to consider it.
If her success got your brain juices churning, read on. Below, Malisa shares some wise words.
Choose your passion
Your business of choice “has to be something you are passionate about. It can’t be anything else!” Malisa says. If you’re passionate about what you do, you will excel and her track record shows it. “I’m still teaching my first kids, six years later. You build this relationship, where they can’t leave you. They believe in you … Kids who were failing when they came to me are now top performers in school. One of my students got an SAT scholarship, [another] a government scholarship. One of my SEA [Secondary Entrance Exam] kids came in the top one per cent in the country. I feel proud.”
She’s in such demand, that her teaching repertoire now includes fully home-schooling some students.
Go above and beyond
Be prepared to go out of your way, Malisa says. One of her first students was struggling so much, she was physically sick at the thought of going to school each day. A relative found Malisa’s flyer in her mailbox and felt compelled to call. Would Malisa help? Within a week, that child was happy to go to school. Today, she performs at the top of her high school class.
Had Malisa settled for advertising via email and Facebook, that relative would never have seen her flyer and she would have, at least, one less client – and a child may have continued to struggle. “Even if I can’t teach a subject, parents ask me to try. I’ve had to learn whole subjects to teach kids,” she says.
“Success requires dedication and discipline,” she adds. Her idea to start making rosaries and jewellery began during an excursion in Rome. She immediately bought the material she would need, went to her hotel room and stayed up all night experimenting with her new pursuit – while still on vacation. She now has two sources of income.
Literally … After 2 years of teaching, she needed a bigger space for her students. On her flight back from Rome, jewellery beads safely tucked in her luggage, Malisa envisioned that new space. She imagined the room’s layout and wall colours. Soon enough, she heard about an available apartment and went to see it. It was better than she imagined – close to home and much bigger than she dreamed. Now, it’s not only her teaching space. It became the home she’s sharing with her husband.
Take risks and block out negativity
Throughout her journey, Malisa and her parents didn’t always see eye-to-eye. While some of us seek passion and happiness, others see greater value in stability and financial security. Being your own employer “is a big risk,” she says, “but that’s how you succeed. The universe opens pathways. You have to let go of fear.”
Never feel like “you reach”
“You must be able to take advice,” says Malisa. “Never be full of yourself. You’re always learning. Consider yourself an amateur,” because you’re always trying to be better. “I think that’s how people fall. There’s something different about knowing your worth and thinking that you’ve reached.”
Stay tuned for more articles on Entrepreneurship, where we’ll talk a bit more about the recession and entrepreneurship in T&T, and we’ll learn about the start-ups that are most likely to succeed today.