'Since Covid-19, I went from making $100 an hour to nothing'

'Since Covid-19, I went from making $100 an hour to nothing'
PHOTO: MagicPainters

Gisele Woon has been running MagicPainters, a face-painting service, since 2014. But just as the company was beginning to enjoy steady success, the Covid-19 pandemic brought business to a screeching halt.

The 24-year-old tells us about how this experience has taught her a big lesson about making money, and how it has made her re-evaluate her spending habits.

Few people have started a business even before entering university. But that’s exactly what Gisele did when she decided to monetise two of her passions.

“I wanted to earn some extra cash while waiting to pursue a political science degree at Nanyang Technological University, so I decided to face-paint as I love painting and interacting with kids,” she explains. She reveals that she only spent a few hundred dollars on painting materials to kick-start the business.

Her gamble paid off quickly, particularly since, as she came to realise, parents are usually more willing to splurge on their kids than on themselves.

Business started to really pick up in mid-2018, after she increased her marketing efforts and invested in social media ads.

In fact, it was going so well that she started commissioning the services of balloonists, magicians and other face painters, and was providing services regularly for everything from children parties to corporate events.

The ambitious millennial graduated last year and has been running MagicPainters full-time with her mother since. But as with many other small businesses, her income has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The one lesson the pandemic has taught her about making money

Gisele was making around $100 every hour and events could go on for up to eight hours each time, so suffice it to say, the circuit breaker measures put in place to contain the outbreak has severely impacted her income.

“Never did I think that a day would come where it’s illegal to hire me! Because we can’t hold events, our April and May earnings have dropped to nothing.”

But she has chosen to learn a lesson from this situation and value the importance of diversification.

“I’ve come to realise that we should have multiple streams of income. I used to think that a service-based business is indestructible, especially since we have low-overhead costs — we work remotely and hire only part time staff.

"But now, I’ve started to see the potential of a product-based business and am currently looking into producing party decorations,” she shares.

In the meantime, she plans to rebuild her efforts by continuing her marketing efforts, building partnerships and catering to smaller, more intimate events as soon as the regulations are eased.

It has also made her rethink her expenses

This trying time hasn’t just helped Gisele think about how she can improve her business — it has also made her reflect on her personal relationship with money as a 20-something.

“It has certainly made me rethink how I should spend money. Prior to this, I had the luxury of buying something without thinking. Now, I try to spend as little as possible and have stopped indulging in comfort foods like bubble teas and acai bowls.”


And even though she has savings, she lets on that the abrupt loss of income is emotionally difficult.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow. There are days where I worry about how this will affect the plans that I have for myself. As someone in her 20s, I want to buy a house, have a beautiful home renovation and enjoy a head start in life.”

But given her enterprising spirit, it probably isn’t surprising that she isn’t all that daunted by this setback. If anything, she is inspired to work even harder.

“This pandemic made me realise that I had the luxury of doing what I love for a living. It’s something I am extremely grateful for and will never take for granted again. In a way, it has made me more motivated and determined to improve MagicPainters and bring it to greater heights.”

Planning an event for when all of this is over? You know who to call.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in CLEO Singapore.

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