Natasha Callewaert will never forget the frantic phone calls from staff when her hotel received 506 cancellations in the space of an hour.
The Quest Wodonga owner had been speaking with a mentor, a Quest owner in Melbourne, before boarding a flight from Albury to Orange before the pandemic hit in March 2020.
The day etched in her mind was Friday March 13, and they had been preparing for what they thought would be a temporary situation.
Almost two years later to the day, she shared the hard lessons and how she turned the situation around with fellow business owners at a Business Wodonga event, A Time to Grow.
"It did flatten, and of course ... no-one could predict how long that would go for and to what degree," Ms Callewaert said of the business when the pandemic hit.
Managing cash flow and keeping open lines of communication with staff and suppliers, along with maintaining corporate relationships were key.
Ms Callewaert, who began working at a Quest franchise when she was 22, said for her, the seeds of entrepreneurship were sowed while working for a husband and wife team who taught her how to "seize the day".
"They really let me know their world, so even though I had a job to do, I felt like I was self-employed," she said. "I also felt like they gave me an insight into something more that just the role I was doing at that point in time.
"Because I was working there when it (the business) was on the first of its many growth phases, opportunities existed for me."
Her first franchise was Quest Jolimont in Melbourne, which she bought in 2005, followed by Quest East Melbourne. In 2007, she won franchise of the year for the Quest Jolimont business.
"I didn't have this goal to suddenly become a business owner," she said.
"I was just chasing the next thing because I was loving what I was doing."
Ms Callewaert said self-belief and a level of risk-taking were the qualities that made an entrepreneur, and that it was not about chasing money.
"You can see what can be and that's what you work towards," she said.
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Ms Callewaert said she was grateful for her staff, whom she credited for helping create the sense of belonging and connection in her team, which was strengthened during the pandemic.
"They all continued to home school their children, and they all continued to give me their very best," Ms Callewaert said. "I feel so much connection and so much love."
During Victoria's lockdowns, Ms Callewaert opened Quest Wodonga's conference rooms so staff could keep home schooling their children while working.
"It really takes a village," she said.
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