The Downside of Running a Remote Service-based Small Business
Exploring challenges faced by an online sleep consultancy run by a ‘mumpreneur” in Lebanon
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in and need for businesses to conduct operations and services remotely. Over a range of services, such as buying clothes or interacting with healthcare, consumers can participate from the comfort of their own homes. For businesses, it has presented new opportunities and challenges trying to conduct their services remotely.
Small businesses have found they can balance their employees’ work and home life while also facing difficulty engaging with customers to expand and grow. This article explores how small businesses such as Sleep Starlet in Lebanon, started by Rim Obeid in 2019 to help families, mothers and babies sleep and rest , can address key challenges navigating and thriving within a new economy.
Offering Value and Time for Remote Services
Since the onset of the pandemic, Rim highlighted that there has been a shift in how her clients perceive the value and time of her remote services. She explains that “before the pandemic, the idea of taking the opinion of an expert working remotely was difficult to accept. Clients would ask me, ‘Where are you located? I need to see someone face to face.’ They felt more comfortable this way.”
Through the pandemic, perceptions of remote work quickly began to evolve, and as Rm found: “I got lots of clients. Honestly, I was fully booked because parents were staying at home, children were staying at home. Now, they are thriving with a sleeping routine; they are monitoring their children closely, and they trust the service more.”
Despite the success she and other businesses have found, there are still challenges to overcome. Rim has encountered clients not valuing the time and effort required for remote services. She recalls, “I tried to support packages that were financially acceptable, with lower prices or less time for follow-ups,” and the services provided were “taken for granted sometimes or just not implemented in detail.”
Communicate the effectiveness of remote services to clients more coherently and utilize analytics to create value
Small and medium-sized businesses like Sleep Starlet need to communicate to prospective clients the effectiveness of remote services more coherently. This would include directly communicating to clients that remote services are effective, similar to how NeuronUP did. They “hosted free presentations online given by different professionals in the Spanish-speaking neurorehabilitation community” and saw that “some of the live presentations had over 1,000 attendees” . Prominently showcasing Sleep Starlets’ affiliation with professionals in healthcare, as NeuronUP did, would further communicate the value and effectiveness of the service and that professionals within the field support it.
Furthermore, using web analytics to track customer behavior would help Sleep Starlet offer value for its services and identify what consumers want and need . This would also help correctly pricing packages and services to ensure clients feel like the investment is of value.
Lack of Awareness of the Sector and Provided Services
Small enterprises encounter difficulties with consumers being unaware of the services a business might provide or the sector it works in. Rim noted that to begin with, parents weren’t aware of the type of service she offers. But once discovered, her clients were always in contact with her. And that “they talk about the business and raise awareness of it; it’s word of mouth.”
Rim also highlighted that this lack of awareness about the overall sector and services she provides is significant given that her services “reflect being well-rested as a parent. It has a positive impact on the rest of the family – not only on the child, not only on the parent. It affects cognitive skills and concentration; it affects mental health and well-being. You are talking about a health service. The amount of work we put in is huge, and people still don’t know much about it.”
Rim has taken small steps to bring greater awareness of her work and the sector through “hosting live events every Friday evening” and “becoming more active on social media.” However, she, like other businesses throughout the pandemic, needs more strategies to create greater awareness.
The Call: Government Support in Complementing Health Services
Businesses like Sleep Starlet need to work with national governments to provide greater awareness of their services, especially since it is related to healthcare. The International Labour Organization noted, “the Government of Ontario complements primary healthcare services and redistributes care tasks through its online Telehealth Centre.”  This has helped with their public health service. Reform in health policy would assist in raising the profile of Sleep Starlet and demonstrate the positive impact of the service on health and well-being.
The Call: Expand Business Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs
Women entrepreneurs, who are parents like Rim, face unique challenges while conducting their remote businesses. Rim states, “it is often more work required with children around.” She also felt strongly about the need to create more awareness about “mumpreneurs”. This is a significant challenge to overcome to grow and develop while providing the care and attention that a client needs, especially concerning their child’s welfare.
Sleep Starlet is open to new ways of expanding, such as seeking product affiliations, accessing different specialists and creating more contact between mums that work with children. These are useful for helping businesses like Sleep Starlet expand but would need to be implemented correctly to support women entrepreneurs.
The Call: Governments Fostering Growth for Female Entrepreneurs
With the increase in small businesses run by women throughout the COVID-19, national governments need to create more support for the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face. National governments should reform policy to ensure women have increased access to “education, skills development, technology and innovation, business plan development, business mentoring and allowances, dedicated agencies offering advice and counseling, and networking and professional development.”  This would ensure that women are equipped with the necessary skills for their businesses to grow and thrive.
The pandemic has provided numerous opportunities and hindrances for small enterprises. Remote businesses have been able to take advantage of the fact that they can access customers anywhere in the world. But they face uncertainty in expanding and demonstrating how they add value to people’s lives. Governments and businesses have the chance to work towards making remote entrepreneurship a sector that thrives.
Written by Dev Singh Bahra
Edited by Andrew Goodell
In 2020 Think Tank AlterContacts launched the Lockdown Economy, an international non-profit grassroots social-economic and educational initiative to help small businesses and self-employed professionals overcome the challenges of the pandemic and reactivate the economy. It is registered by the United Nations as an Acceleration Action for SDG. From May 2020 until July 2021 we have been collecting insights from small business owners and self-employed professionals from different business sectors and countries to see how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their business, their life, and future. This article is based on the field research of the Lockdown Economy.
1 - Think Tank AlterContacts, Lockdown Economy initiative, Lockdown Economy UAE with Pediatric Sleep Consultant Rim Obeid. Available at https://youtu.be/SKUazPueciI
2 - Ionescu-Somers, Aileen, and Tarnawa, Anna (2020). Diagnosing COVID-19 Impacts on Entrepreneurship: Exploring Policy Remedies for Recovery. Global Entrepreneurship Research Association, London, England. p. 31.
3 - International Labour Organization (2021). World Employment and Social Outlook 2021: The Role of Digital Labour Platforms in Transforming the World of Work. Geneva, Switzerland. pp. 119–122
4 - International Labour Organisation (March 2021). Empowering Women at Work: Government Laws and Policies for Gender Equality. Geneva, Switzerland. p. 86
5 - International Labour Organisation. Empowering Women at Work. p. 71.