Business Link’s Client Feature blogs allow us to highlight some of the many incredible Alberta entrepreneurs we work with, like Melrene Saloy EagleSpeaker and her business Native Diva Creations. We connected with Melrene and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial journey, and the impact that COVID-19 has had on her business:
Q. What is your background?
A. I have a retail management background of over 12 years. I have been in business for 5 years. I am a Blackfoot woman from the Blood reserve in Southern Alberta but I reside in Calgary.
Q. Tell us about your business and what it does.
A. Native Diva Creations makes and sells First Nations beaded jewelry and accessories. The foundation of the work is based on traditional Blackfoot designs, techniques, and color combinations made with a new contemporary Native Diva Creations flair. Making culturally appropriate jewelry and sharing my cultural background is important to the brand. As a business owner, I do public speaking on panels or keynotes about myself and my entrepreneurial journey to other aspiring business.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. After working 12+ years in retail I had an opportunity to attend an Indigenous entrepreneurial small business symposium. While attending I learned so much about the possibilities of starting my own business, and I had always wanted to be my own boss. Knowing that I could have a business doing something I loved like beadwork was mind-blowing and inspirational. I took a big leap and quit my full-time reliable job in only days after attending the symposium; I knew that there was no time like the present to take that leap. I am thankful for all of the support that gave me the push I needed to follow my dream!
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. I think that I am most proud of is my business. With the many barriers that women Indigenous business owners face, I was able to take an idea and turn it into something meaningful, ever-changing, and a self-sustaining business that I am proud of.
Q. What is your biggest challenge now, in light of COVID-19?
A. My biggest challenge during and because of COVID-19 is the lack of selling that is my normal. I went from Feb 2020-June 2020 with 25 different, showcases, trade shows, pow-wows, and conferences booked, where I would set up a table to sell my products, to 0. I also had 5 galleries and gift shops that purchase my products to sell in their store reduced to 0 due to them having to close their shops down. I overall experienced a great loss due to the pandemic.
Q. Have you had to pivot your business due to the impact of COVID-19? If so, what have you done?
A. Yes, I have had to make big adjustments and pivot how I do business. I have taken on more of an online presence, where before it was 50/50 now it is 80/20, which gives me a larger and wider platform to reach customers. I have also started live streaming on my social media platforms with live showcases, I talk and show the product that is available and sell direct from there. This gives customers the chance to see the product in a different way, that is not just in a photograph. In the coming weeks, I will also be doing online tutorials on beading; I have been hired by local agencies to do so, where I would normally do in person.
Q. What has this pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
A. The pandemic has taught me that I am resilient and that my business can make it through anything. Most of all, it has taught me that I am much more creative than I thought to be able to find new ways to sell one of a kind products.
Q. What advice would you offer other small business owners as they continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 on their business?
A. I would tell other small business owners to really do their research and try all and any kind of new ways to bring their work or products to the forefront, and that they will be surprised by the loyal and caring customers that want us to succeed and make it through. We just have to get our names out there enough that we are seen. Also, that the online world is where the future of sales is going and they need to adapt, or they will be left behind. And last not to give up on trying — if they believe in themselves and their products then they will make it. They might not be as successful as they once were, but it will get back to normal soon.
Q. How has Business Link helped you? Why did you come to us?
A. Business Link has been so helpful in this hard time by being a guiding ear and helping navigate through these tough times. They have given me great resources and support. I contacted Business Link because of their knowledge of small businesses and their amazing support and understanding of Indigenous business.
Q. Have you received support from other organizations? If so, which organizations?
A. I have not received help from any organizations recently, as many have closed their doors due to the pandemic. In the past, Community Futures Treaty 7 has been a large support of me and my business.
Q. What advice would you share with others who want to start or grow their own business?
A. What I would tell those that are wanting to start or grow their own business would be to really take the time to do research, and get a business plan together. Be a part of the process and don’t let someone do it for you, unless you are involved. It is your idea, passion, love, and business so be in every bit of the beginning process and make realistic goals. And mostly, never give up on your passion and no matter how many no’s you get, don’t give up and keep pushing forward.
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
A. In the coming months, Native Diva Creations will be changing to a much bigger online presence and will continue to share and showcase in various forms. I am hoping that in the next year or two I will be able to take the business to the next level and expand by hiring staff all the while keeping my culture and passion alive. You can find more information on up and coming events on my website and social media pages.
Q. Is there anything you would like to share?
A. I would just like to share that having my own business is one of the hardest things that I have ever done, but I get so much fulfillment out of it. Aiming for longevity and hopefully passing the business down to my children is a goal of mine.
Where you can find Native Diva Creations: