Local Women Entrepreneurs Embrace Challenges and Rise Up as Shining Stars

by Ellen Joyce

Women’s Entrepreneurship Day #WEDO2020 (November 19) takes on special significance in Arizona this year in the midst of COVID-19. Just prior to the pandemic, woman-owned businesses here experienced 32.1% growth since 2007 compared with 1.7% growth among all businesses. According to the National Women’s Business Council, there are 13 million woman-owned businesses employing 9.4 million workers generating $1.9 trillion in revenue across the U.S. and still, according to a poll released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the end of August, 49% expect revenues to increase in Q1 2021.

Locally, Music Maker Workshops in Chandler is one home-grown business with 500+ students employing 35 music teachers that relied on the ingenuity of sisters and co-directors Shelley Yakubow and Kim Steedman to make a successful pivot as COVID-19 threatened to cripple their business. Music Maker Workshops’ trade relied on an in-person experience, or so they thought. When the pandemic hit and the studio went into lockdown, Yakubow and Steedman realized that their livelihood could evaporate.

Overnight, the sisters came up with an idea to virtually engage students in a series of fun demonstrations combined with at-home scavenger hunts and instructions for students to create their own instruments. At the same time, the sisters were targeting parents to gain their trust and prove that virtual music lessons could work.

Many of the 35 music teachers have now returned to their classrooms to teach virtually and the sisters needed to know their internet backbone would support simultaneous lessons. “If the internet was not working, the teachers would rally against us,” explains Yakubow, adding, “We called Cox Business, they scaled up our bandwidth and we have not had a single problem with providing virtual lessons.” In fact, Music Maker Workshops found that by offering lessons virtually, they didn’t lose the vast majority of students who travel during the summer and revenue actually increased. The sisters foresee virtual music lessons continuing on the other side of the pandemic, particularly for students who are ill and cannot come in and for those who go on vacation.

Steedman and Yakubow have some advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs considering opening a business in these times. “If you want to open your business but are scared because of the time we are in, don’t be scared. Take that risk! We took the risk of moving everything virtual and it was the best decision we could have made,” states Steedman. Yakubow agrees, “There’s nothing better than having your own business. It’s empowering being able to make choices knowing that you are building something for yourself.”

Everyone Loves Buttons, a Phoenix-based national button manufacturing company owned by Maura Statman, had traditionally served the hospitality business. When the phones stopped ringing in late March and customers started canceling orders, Statman found a way to rise up by following the trends and becoming an essential provider to a variety of industries. For instance, in the nursing home field, she began producing “You’re Important” buttons for residents and staff at veterans’ homes to show their gratitude for each other. In healthcare, Statman found a niche producing buttons featuring the smiling faces of masked workers who could not express themselves.

Statman says that prior to COVID-19, her e-commerce business spent much of its time focused on national corporate clients. “The pandemic gave me a different perspective on life. I don’t take anything for granted. Every order that comes in is like gold to me, even if it is a small order.” She is also thankful that her business has been certified by The Women’s Business Enterprise Council. “A lot of people want to do business associated with a cause, and being woman-owned provides a sense of integrity and reliability.” She adds, “A lot of our clients are woman-owned businesses. We give extra time and attention to nurturing those clients.”

Ellen Joyce is with Cox Business.

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