by Maria Cordova 

The uncertainty when navigating the pandemic was one of the toughest things businesses had to endure. A shutdown like the one caused by COVID-19 is unprecedented, and business owners had no experiences to look back on—an experience worsened for start-ups. For Stephanie Mead—the founder of Serenity Wellness—shutting down as a start-up was her worst nightmare. Being a massage therapy and counselling business, it was impossible to keep social distance as recommended by the authorities. Realizing that she could be putting her immunocompromised husband and clients in danger, she decided to close even before her regulatory body enforced it.  

At that point, Serenity Wellness had only been operating for two years. Stephanie thought they were not going to survive the pandemic if they had to shut down, as they were completely service based. “I took a big leap of faith for the fifth time in my life because this is what you do when you become self-employed, you take big leaps of faith.” 

As soon as her business closed, Stephanie started having conversations with her landlord and everyone they had to pay bills to. “I was very thankful because I heard from a lot of people how they had a really hard time with their landlords on getting a break on their rent, and my landlord was incredible.” Once she knew that they were not going to lose their space, she felt like she could relax again. However, she was not as fortunate with some of the other companies she worked with, so she had to disconnect her phone and internet.  

When federal and provincial programs started to become available for small businesses, things took a turn for the better. “I actually started to be able to breathe again because we qualified for some of the programs that were starting to be available for other businesses.” Serenity Wellness is also a Chamber member, and it benefitted from the activities put out during COVID-19. “The Chamber has always been supportive but this just took it to a whole new level. I had the CEO of the Chamber, Krista Ross, emailing us to see if we were doing okay because in the early days of it, I really was not sure if we were going to survive.” Stephanie participated in the Webinars and she connected with other chamber members to brainstorm ideas for when business were allowed to reopen. “I was really impressed by everything the Chamber was doing.” 

Taking inspiration from other businesses offering services remotely, they decided to offer counselling online or over the phone. Stephanie would have liked to offer her massage therapy services remotely, but her insurance prevented her from that. “We couldn’t offer telehealth sessions because our insurance is very clear it has to be hands on.” Instead, Stephanie decided to donate some of her time. She called their clients at home to ask them how they were doing, and she gave them exercises they could do at home to manage their pain. She even set up video chats to show them how to do the exercises. “What I found was just because I was willing to donate a little bit of time and some information for them, when we were able to open back up it was a mad dash of people booking appointments.” Soon after, her regulatory body announced that massage therapy businesses could start to open again, and the business has been extremely busy ever since.  

When asked about the future, Stephanie said she felt “really darn good.” The team at Serenity Wellness is still working as hard as they can now in the event that they have to shut down again. Despite that, Stephanie is hopeful and she feels very positively about what is to come.  

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