Starting up a new business and keeping it going always has its challenges, but wow – this year has been particularly difficult. A global coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty, and national lockdowns? These are far from the ideal conditions for nurturing self-employed workers and small businesses.
Which is why we want to celebrate you for doing it. We asked our client community to share their experiences about starting and running a business through the COVID-19 crisis. And we have to say, it’s been profoundly humbling to read the responses.
I am a freelance graphic designer and, in February 2020, I took the plunge to become a Limited Company, working for myself full time.
Since becoming a mum in 2016 I have questioned whether my happiness really lies in the workplace. Working part time hours made me feel less than adequate at my job. I was always playing catch up with colleagues working full time, and feeling a growing divide between myself and them.
This was having a profoundly negative impact on my mental health. I needed a solution that was going to reignite my love and passion for design, as well as give me the opportunity to be the best mum possible.
“I needed to discover the real value in myself.”
Leaving the luxury of annual leave, sick pay, and a regular pay cheque was the biggest challenge to overcome. Understanding that I needed to discover a new sense of bravery within myself was something that was incredibly difficult to get my head around.
But, after years of feeling like I was constantly playing catch up, I knew that my mental health needed to be my number one priority, and so I took the plunge.
And then lockdown. Wow. What a challenge in itself, even without the added pressure of being a mum thrown into the mix.
Luckily, a few weeks before lockdown I signed a one year contract with a company in London. It gave me the flexibility of working my part time hours, but also being able to financially support myself and my family during such a difficult time for so many.
My husband and I shared the childcare, so we were able to support one another, as well as be there for our son during such a weird and unusual time.
“As soon as I set up my business, I had plans to grow it.”
I have never wanted to employ anyone other than myself, but I set the challenge of gaining at least 3 new clients in the first year. As soon as lockdown hit, I knew that would have to take a back seat.
It felt really selfish to have a fantastic contract under my belt and also want more. So I decided not to promote myself and to simply let lockdown take its course.
“My initial plan for 3 new clients this year has gone out of the window. I already have 7, with a further 3 in the pipeline.”
The growth has been organic and I have loved every new call that has grown and evolved into a beautiful working relationship. I love the fact that I am busy during the day, working hard on my contract, and I can dedicate my time to them 100%. Then as soon as my son is in bed, I am able to dedicate myself to all of my other clients.
It’s giving me the freedom to be my own boss, plan my own schedule, take time off when I need, be the best mum I can, but most importantly, make my own fortune in life.
I am so much braver than I ever was before, and sometimes in life, when things don’t go the way you want them to go, it isn’t so bad. As long as you can pick yourself up and look to the future, and that’s exactly what I am doing!
I am the director and sole employee of Mullett Solutions and no… I do not offer haircuts! Mullett Solutions provides time and cost-efficient solutions which enable clients to be ready for passing an ISO audit and gain ISO certification.
Having ISO certification is often a requirement on tenders, especially when working for the public sector and/or most blue-chip companies, so businesses can use this to improve their bottom-line performance.
I’d thought about starting the business for some time and then kinda had a ‘toys out of the pram’ moment with my (then) boss. I thought I could do it better – offer better services with better back-office support.
Trying to make change in any company can be hard sometimes. I tried, failed, fully accepted their reasons for not making changes, and parted on good terms.
“Taking the leap into the unknown was a big challenge having never worked for myself before.”
I love certainty, and knowing the outcome of events. I won’t go to the cinema without having read the film on Wikipedia first!
Whilst I found setting up the website was easy, and I can network to some extent, the key for me was not knowing how the finances would work.
People always say that setting up your own business means that you’re better off and earning more, and it can be more tax efficient. Not having done this before, I didn’t have the certainty I’d want.
This is one important area that TAP have helped me with. They were there with me before I even started the business, and before we even established our formal relationship.
They gave me encouragement, explained how to get going, answered the 1,001 (mostly stupid) queries I had, and generally gave me the confidence to go for it.
“I decided to go it alone in February 2020 so resigned, worked my 3-month notice period, and the company started operating in May 2020 – during lockdown!”
The pandemic has obviously had a massive and dreadful effect on our health and we’ve sadly lost so many people, including family and friends.
The economic impact on my market (ISO certification) was also dramatic. Companies need two things to go for ISO – people and money.
It’s not as much as some people may think, but as companies tightened their proverbial belts and the furlough scheme kicked in, new ISO work dried up almost overnight.
It’s started to come back a little since, but it’s mainly through existing clients rather than as a result of winning new business. The key has been looking to expand services within my existing network, where they were still operating.
“As well as important to me financially, work has given me a focus and structure to each day.”
Lockdown (and the pandemic in general) has also affected my mental health. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and stress, and the current pandemic control measures have been really testing for me.
My ‘year one’ ends in the Spring (2021) and I’ve maintained a focus on getting established for now. I’ve expanded the services I can offer to make myself more appealing to potential clients, as well as using a simple delivery model and competitive pricing.
Beyond that, it’s about building long-term relationships with clients, finding new ones, and hopefully having some fun along the way!
I am the sole director of Casia-Robinson, a design and drafting company which provides high-quality design, CAD and BIM services for our clients. I realised that a lot of companies need design & drafting services, but do not want the considerable expense of hiring full-time employees short-term.
We offer them the option of acquiring the services they need, whilst paying by the hour or project. It significantly reduces their expenses and logistical problems.
It took us time to build client trust. Also, the competition in this industry is tight. To standout is what we aim for.
“I started Casia-Robinson during lockdown.”
A lot of companies were making designers redundant but still needed their design and drafting projects to carry on. This is where Casia-Robinson comes in. Gaining clients trust is difficult when finances are fragile, so we aim to provide high-quality services for individual clients as well as B2B.
Soon, I plan to have a physical office in Albay, Philippines where some of the employees can work together. Everybody will be undergoing continuous training to improve their design and drafting skills.
We are a small resale company for CBD oils. At first we were curious, and then we were driven to start the business when we saw a need for high quality products with proven lab records.
Due to the type of business that we have, banks were not jumping to open an account for us. We were rejected by all of the high street banks, though Starling accepted us in the end.
We also had to go through multiple payment gateways because, like the banks, most will not accept payments for CBD products.
“When lockdown happened, we were unable to move around and meet customers.”
We strengthened our internet sales and shipment processes, and changed our approach to international shipping. It paid off! Whilst we went down 90% in the first month, we are now well over 100% up on internet-only sales.
There is a new FSA regulation due at the end of March 2021. This will shut down most small CBD businesses, so we intend to adapt and work with our manufacturers in Switzerland to comply with the strict new regulations in the UK. We’ll broaden our products and continue to increase our sales.
I’m the founder and CEO of The Commercialiser. We help small and medium enterprises and tech start-ups find new corporate clients. We also provide advisory services to help our clients understand, structure and maximise their sales process.
The majority of people who found B2B SMEs and tech start-ups build their business because they are passionate about the product or service they want to offer to the world.
Not because they want to spend 80% of their time selling to other enterprises, and trying to build relationships with strangers who, most of the time, will painfully reject you.
“However, without being excellent at B2B sales, their market potential will never be fully realised.”
They might coast along and survive by holding onto their key clients, but they will find it challenging to realise their aspirations for true growth.
Most SME founders either do not want to sell, do not enjoy it, or they enjoy it and are good at it, but don’t have the time to do it competently.
Hint: they actually need to run the business!
Our mission is to help companies recognise that corporate sales must be a rigorous a process. We want companies to start outsourcing their business development processes to specialist business development organisations, rather than doing it themselves and failing at it.
“A particular challenge in setting up the business was learning everything.”
From how to set up a phone line, to accounting, finance, marketing, hiring, managing, motivating, retaining employees, adjusting strategy, and getting paid by clients on time.
When you start the business as a founder, you need to do absolutely everything. The only thing I am an expert in is commercial business development. The rest has been a constant learning journey.
Which is exactly why I love building start-ups. I find the sheer amount of learning which is involved, the self-discipline required, and the need to take decisions with incomplete information absolutely fascinating.
“It’s what makes me excited every day.”
In February 2020 our calendars were booked with international business development and consulting trips until April 2021, and I was planning how to maximise revenue and profits in 2022-2025.
In a matter of three weeks everything was literally wiped out from the calendar, and revenues went to £0 overnight.
It was like having a train hitting you full force in the face, too painful to even realise the feeling of pain. It was a psychological shock, having to experience this global economic cataclysm so suddenly.
However, I believe that small start-ups like ours have much more resilience and agility in adapting their strategy.
“Change often bears opportunities for emerging companies, and I decided to focus on the opportunities rather than the problems.”
We’ve gone fully virtual. As we help SMEs introduce themselves to C-Level executives of the largest companies in the world, all meetings were previously face to face.
We had to travel country wide and internationally, take trains and planes regularly, live in hotels for weeks, and sometimes account for up to 12-16 hours of travel for a one-hour meeting!
Now we can be in 8-10 different countries around the world in one day, and we’re having meetings that have as much quality as we had with in-person interactions.
This had an immediate impact on profitability, and it allows us to add even more value to our services.
“Having learnt that teams can be managed remotely during lockdown without loss of productivity, we started hiring for fully remote positions.”
This allowed us to find excellent resources outside of London without having to ask the resource to engage in the expensive process of relocation to central London, where we are based.
It’s also why we’re in favour of the TAP model; accounting for SMEs does not need to be serviced in person. Before choosing TAP, I met a number of accountants in London in person to consider their services, and I could not understand what the added value of a face to face relationship would be.
Our accountant, Emily, has always been available to answer all of my “stupid” questions (which I still keep asking on a regular basis), and I am ever so grateful for that.
Understanding the legal relationship between your limited company and your tax, financial, and accounting obligations is a vital part to being in control of your business.
This alone can be an obstacle which stops many entrepreneurs from starting their own business.
“Don’t be deterred. Try and learn as much as you can and let the professionals do what they are good at.”
Our mission is to have global organisations understand that they need to outsource their B2B sales process to credible experts – us and other great businesses in the industry.
In the short term we will focus on hiring great entrepreneurial talent to join our business and, as we hit our 2021 milestones and develop and introduce new products, focus on replicating our wins and scaling the business to make it accessible to as many SMEs as possible around the world.