For many people, the covid19 pandemic was a non-stop bus ride to rock bottom – financially, socially, emotionally, mentally and otherwise. For accountant Andrea Ragoo it was a lesson that took her to the top of her game, with some added bonuses. For although the owner of ATR Business Solutions too felt the sting of the effects of the virus that rapidly spread across the globe, causing grief and crippling economies, she told WMN she used the downtime to sharpen her accounting skills and learn a number of new business-related skills – an investment from which she is now reaping the benefits.
"I actually spent most of the time of the lockdown during the pandemic learning how to run this business. I am a qualified accountant, and have been practising for close to 18 years. But the running-the-business part, the marketing and managing social media skills, I absorbed from webinars during the downtime.
"I just dug into it, followed people on social media and read a lot. People were practically giving away webinars, so I spent a lot of time learning how to run my business as well as networking.
"I met a lot of people virtually, some of whom I still haven't met in person. I was always on a million calls, built strong relationships. It’s almost like a dividend I'm getting back now because I was interacting with entrepreneurs like myself, some of whom are now my clients."
The former St Joseph's Convent, St Joseph student is ACCA certified and said although her business was built on an accounting foundation, it is not just about providing accounting services. Accounting, she said, is just one piece of the puzzle – "the thing you do after everything else has happened."
"I call myself the virtual CFO (chief financial officer) for small businesses and entrepreneurs because it's not just about filing taxes. I try to educate my clients of the need for my services not just at year end, but throughout the year. I offer services for financial management and strategic direction, helping them understanding budgeting, projections, and making better financial decisions, because if you look at it from a corporate perspective, that's what a CFO does.
Ragoo, 38, said she initially offered her services to small businesses as a "side hustle" while she worked full time at a company. She began working on the official launch of ATR Business Solutions after being dealt a financial blow from her then employers.
"The push to start came following a drastic cut in my salary...What stuck out was the feeling of hopelessness I felt because I had no control over my earnings. Someone had the power to dictate my income. I made some adjustments and while I was trying to recover I started planning. I promised myself that I would never be dependent on an employer again because they have the ability to make decisions that could put you on the breadline. That was my 'aha' moment."
ATR Business Solutions is a one-woman-show at the moment, but the "solopreneur" said she has plans to expand the number of and types of services she offers and indirectly create employment for others. But the overall goal is and always has been to help other entrepreneurs to succeed and take control of their financial lives.
"I started this business out of necessity, as do many other people. I often tell people they don’t have to be a business owner full time, especially because I've noticed most of the side hustlers are women and mothers. It’s about financial freedom and independence."
Ragoo's desire to help people become more self sufficient is so strong, that she is also offers her services outside of her business clientele. She is one of the founders of a charitable non-profit organisation, Gift Less Give More, registered two years ago to do charity outreach. She is also a mentor to young business owners through Youth Business TT, an accredited member of Youth Business International, which helps young entrepreneurs to build profitable and sustainable businesses.
She sits on the board of Rhand Credit Union; has collaborated with the migrant and refugee arm of the Living Water Community helping migrants and refugees to establish and run their own businesses; has worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to offer advice to migrants and refugees on basic tools for starting and running small businesses; and has presented at workshops at both the Central Bank and Tobago House of Assembly financial literacy units, "All geared to help business owners with starting and running their businesses."
Ragoo said her parents were public servants and even as a child she took notice of their struggles and all that they did to build their family.
"Back then going to university was a luxury, so if you couldn't afford it you had to make do with your situation."
She has been married for over ten years, and although she and her husband, Taiab, have no children of their own, she believes setting an example of independence and sustainability for her "amazing niece " is important.
"Amaia is three going on 30. She is the first and only grandchild, and the live wire in the family," she said with a chuckle.
To anyone hesitant about taking that leap of faith in starting their own businesses, Ragoo encourages them to plan and then take that first step.
"For me it was scary because I struggled with imposter syndrome," – a psychological condition in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.
"I often asked myself, 'am I even good enough?' You literally have to make up your mind to put aside self doubt. It will be difficult, but if you really want it somewhere you will find the gift you want to offer to other people.
"And it may start off slow, but continue persevering. People are watching and in time you will start to see the returns of it."