Starting up a business in the middle of a pandemic is no easy feat. But if you know the rules of the game, then why not seize the opportunity?
Specializing in brand development is Chinoy business consultant Isabelle Chiang, who, through her digital marketing agency By the Bullhorn, manages multiple brands that she herself has had a hand in founding.
“My love for building business concepts and seeing them come to life would definitely be rooted from how we were raised. Our parents often taught us the concept of doing business by supporting the small “buy-and-sell businesses,” so growing up, our entrepreneurial spirits were honed early on,” said Isabelle Chiang, expressing her passion for creative entrepreneurship.
In addition to By the Bullhorn, Chiang is personally involved in three brands across a diverse range of industries: The Original Savory, a fried chicken business that Chiang’s family has been operating for more than 70 years; NUTHERA, a healthy nutrition therapy brand co-founded together with friends; and Second Skin Industries, the premium go-to shop for protective automotive solutions that Chiang brand-builds alongside her brother.
“I work with brands with a vision to elevate their presence and success every step of the way by immersing myself in my clients’ shoes, no matter what industry they may be,” said Chiang.
In a Zoom interview with CHiNOY TV, Chiang reveals her insights, experiences, and advice on building a brand in the midst of a pandemic.
Adapting to an increasingly digital society
Starting out a business is difficult enough without COVID-19 in mind, but imagine rebuilding one ground up while adapting to the rapidly changing landscape of global commerce as the world knows it. This, of course, is a reality for many entrepreneurs hoping to last the next few years.
Ruefully, Chiang shared with us about how some of her own business plans had gone awry. “Actually, Savory Escolta is our family business. We actually turned 70 last 2020. Given the pandemic, we were not able to celebrate and launch the first branch on site.”
Savory Escolta refers to The Original Savory restaurant chain’s first branch, which previously burned down in 2015. According to Chiang, the store was supposed to physically re-open in 2020 to celebrate its 70th anniversary; however, the pandemic altered how the launch took place.
“We just decided to launch it online. And we are digitizing and moving our business online to be able to cater to more people as well — and to continue this generation of the family business,” continued Chiang, elaborating on the necessity of engagement via online marketing.
“A lot of businesses now need to have digital presence. Way back, we were just relying on Facebook and Instagram. But we weren’t really doing online e-commerce for the brand, given that it’s a more traditional business. Given this pandemic, we had to [hasten] our pace and digitize everything. […] We slowly worked on accepting ‘what is’ and let go of ‘what should be’, allowing us to be present in the now.”
Although adapting to the times is easier said than done, when it comes to digitalization, the most important thing to consider about transitioning is to start.
“For now, definitely, the business landscape is very volatile, so you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months,” Chiang remarked. “However, we really encourage everyone to start dipping their toes into learning about the basics of digital marketing. Because just mere presence will actually help your business be found, and then the rest will follow as you get along. So don’t be afraid.”
Recognizing the needs of the market
Isabelle Chiang’s digital marketing agency By the Bullhorn offers entrepreneurs and businesses end-to-end ecommerce solutions tailor-fit to their goals. In order to efficiently provide relevant results, Chiang reveals that the first step to conceptualizing a brand is to make sure that one’s business meets a demand in the market — that it presents the answers to a question.
“Your business actually offers solutions,” said Chiang, explaining how such solutions are the fundamental concepts that a business’ marketing strategy should be grounded in. “If your business actually offers solutions, it’s not going to be hard to show the need to the market. It’s going to be easier to translate when you work with marketing agencies, as well. So find the niche in the business that you’re doing. It’s going to be something very exciting as well to do.”
A concrete example of this is Chiang’s very own nutrition therapy brand Nuthera. Initially, the business started off in 2014, expanding to become a more nutrition-centered company that offers healthy meal plans and catering services. As a response to the pandemic, Nuthera also launched its sub-brand NuGrocery, an online grocery store that provides healthy food essentials with an efficient and convenient delivery service that suits the times.
In addition to meeting the pandemic-specific need to do groceries while staying indoors as much as possible, Nuthera also considered the shift in customer habits, highlighting the priority that customers have placed on spending more time with their families during the community quarantine.
Chiang explained: “For Nuthera, the challenge [during the pandemic] actually laid in people’s diets and lifestyles being put into pause this time. A lot of people were focusing on other more important things apart from weight goals and their diets. So for that one, we had to shift the business [focus] and offer something that would be more applicable at this time in their lives, which is offering healthy family meals. Not everyone would prefer having individual meal plans because it’s more of prioritizing spending time with the family and enjoying it again together. So we had to shift it that way.”
Taking the risk
At the end of the day, the scariest aspect about considering change is risk, which is not something that everyone can afford during these trying times. However, no business venture is without its dangers. Second Skin Industries, for instance, is a premium brand centered on automotive protection solutions. The company, which Chiang co-founded alongside her brother Archie Chiang, started groundbreaking just a week before last year’s metro-wide lockdown.
“Imagine that,” began Isabelle Chiang. “We were doing the ground-digging a week before [the lockdown]. So it was, ‘Oh my God, what are we doing?’ But then, my brother and I were really one of the riskiest — we were one of the people who would really have a strong gut feel in doing things. And knowing that we were going to do this together definitely provided us the confidence to push through with our plans.”
In this case, Chiang advised on taking calculated risks and offers three tips for doing so: to stay curious, to immerse yourself in your chosen field of interest, and to not be afraid of making mistakes.
“It’s a beautiful journey, kasi — to learn everything,” said Chiang. “Because when you keep on asking questions, you’ll be led to something. You’ll be led to more questions or more people who would ask the same question and work with you to find the answers to that.”
Chiang added: “You just have to really be confident and go into pursuing it. No matter how crazy it is. A lot of people, by the way, ask if I’m a nutritionist or [in the] medical field. No, I’m not. My partners aren’t nutritionists. We’re all entrepreneurs. And that’s actually our proof that you don’t need to actually be confined into finishing this and then just building that. Tayo mga Chinoy, ‘di ba? We’re very innovative and rigorous.
“So ang kalaban lang talaga natin is our ourselves.”