When Aracely Melendez first learned her local Employment Professionals Express was for sale, it seemed like the best way to make her dream of owning a business come true.
“Then, boom! Here we are in March, and whole cities are shutting down, and here I am in the middle of buying a business!”
She doubted whether to continue with the purchase. It wasn’t yet clear how COVID would change the small business landscape short-term, let alone long-term—never mind the fact she was purchasing a staffing business.
But her dream won out. She officially acquired the business on April 27th, 2020.
Jumping In With Both Feet
For Melendez, the acquisition was the easy part. Soon COVID forced longstanding client companies to pull their business, and she was struggling to make up the loss.
“On a typical day, you walk door to door and ask for the HR point of contact or the general manager or whatnot—but at that time, businesses were literally locking their doors. It wasn’t sales as usual. And the majority of the businesses that could go on as normal were working remotely. How was I supposed to reach them at home? It changed the dynamics of how businesses do business with local companies.”
Melendez was operating at a loss for the first three months of her business. “Tough” would be an understatement.
“I could have easily said, ‘I don’t want to be a business owner during COVID!’ I could have, but I didn’t. Even after operating the first three months at a loss, I could have said, ‘I need out.’ But I didn’t.”
Going the Extra Mile
Melendez needed a strategy. As a small business herself, she knew her clients must be having a rough time. She focused on understanding the current client company experience.
She firmly believed the role of her business was more than just another service: she was there to partner with her clients, and she wasn’t about to let COVID compromise that partnership. Her staff quickly embraced the virtual world to stay connected with her clients. When something had to be physically delivered, they got creative about ensuring the package was safe and clean. Those gestures—going the extra mile for the client—paid off.
As COVID continued, client companies continued to use Express Employment Professionals because they didn’t know if they could maintain a permanent staff. Old clients returned. And as COVID eased, her business began doing better and better.
“It’s not just about being a business owner.”
As Melendez adjusted to operations under COVID-19, the challenges didn’t end. They were, however, a little more familiar.
“With COVID out of the picture, balance has been my greatest personal challenge. I’m a single parent of two very busy teenagers — they’re in band, track, baseball, cross country — and this is my first business!”
On top of that, Melendez’s father passed just before the pandemic, and she had been regularly helping manage her family’s grief. It felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day for her personal and professional responsibilities — but she was committed to the journey, her employees, and the candidates her business helps.
“It’s always been a personal mission to help people. At Express Employment Professionals, I get to help people about to lose their house or needing to provide for their children — specifically, I help them receive that next paycheck. These individuals want to work, but being out of work can really break down a person’s self-esteem. It’s my team’s job to be the voice of hope those people need to keep going.
“So it’s not just about being a business owner. It’s the livelihood of you, your staff members, and your clients and customers. It’s a bigger role than just a job. It’s accountability. It’s responsibility. It’s making sure that you’re doing things for the right reason.”
The Right Strategies
Melendez’s self-awareness of her responsibilities drove her toward helpful strategies. She began figuring out how to prioritize her day, where she needed to staff up, and “finding specific professional support teams, like Guidant, to run my business and my life. That was critical.”
“Guidant’s assistance was a blessing sent from heaven, to be honest with you. You should always have a good professional team like Guidant by your side. It really helps you focus on the heartbeat of what’s going to make your business successful.”
Melendez also spent a lot of time perfecting her work-life balance. In the beginning, she says, you need to “give your business enough of your time to help it grow.” More than that, you need to communicate your balance to your family and your support teams.
Finally, she recommends having a communication strategy in place for your personal and professional teams. “You have to help them remain aligned with your mission and journey.”
Education is the first footstep, the opening door, to achieve anything you set your mind to. You can achieve anything, whether you’re female, male, Hispanic or any other ethnicity — it’s possible. You can make it happen.Aracely Melendez
Hispanic Heritage and Being a Business Owner
According to the 2020 Small Business Trends, only 6.9% of all small businesses have Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish-origin owners. These groups make up 18.7% of the United States population. Whether we like it or not, there are additional obstacles for small business owners of color.
Melendez knew this and was not deterred.
“I’ve always understood where I stand as a Hispanic woman. It hasn’t been easy. My parents immigrated to the country. They struggled financially. My dad, as hard as he would work, had difficulty making ends meet.
“But they always emphasized education. That was the big message they had for my brother and me: education, education, education. Whatever it takes, get some kind of skill. Education is the first footstep, the opening door, to achieve anything you set your mind to. You can achieve anything, whether you’re female, male, Hispanic or any other ethnicity — it’s possible. You can make it happen.
“My parents taught me that. And I’m so grateful for them for showing me that because I wouldn’t be a business owner without my education.
“Keep Going Until You Get There.”
Her journey was rough, but Melendez is adamant that she wouldn’t change a thing.
Her advice for others?
“First, do your homework and plan, plan, plan. Get professional services in the loop, such as Guidant or a good lawyer, to make sure you’re clear on what you’re doing. Seek advice and support from your local small business office. It really helps to understand what steps you’re going through, so you can get from point A to point B.
“It’s just a matter of everything being in order. It’s a matter of perseverance and discipline. Then you just keep going until you get there.”