Staying Afloat: UK Small Business Owners on Adapting to a Pandemic

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 1am

Small businesses make up over 90 percent of Western economies, employing millions of people every year and generating significant revenue in the marketplace.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has changed things rapidly, especially in the UK. Many business owners have been forced to furlough employees and reduce their working hours drastically, while others are awaiting the government loans that could save their firm from collapse.

“Owning a business has been a challenge during the past month,” said Lee Chambers, Founder of Essentialise, a functional life coaching company that offers workshops, events and one-on-one assessments to individuals and businesses.

“Our activities are based on physical attendance. We have had some of our clients cancel or postpone services for the time being. We honestly believe that the physical element of our work is integral to what we do.”

Many company owners that rely on in-person B2C interaction, like Lee, have found themselves in a business dilemma. On one hand, shifting activities entirely online might help them keep profits up, and on the other, coming up with a new brand strategy in the midst of a pandemic isn’t going to be easy, let alone effective.

But Lee remains positive. Despite having launched his business only nine months ago, he and his team have successfully transitioned to digital, using Zoom to hold workshops and presentations and by building online versions of their in-person psychological assessments.

Now more than ever, he believes that Essentialise’s work around personal and corporate wellbeing could positively change the future of business.

He said: “The virus has shaken the status quo. Now is the perfect opportunity to define what you stand for, who you’re aiming to help, why you want to build a business and get your head down while many are panicking.

“We feel that when we reset a new normal, it will be a more absorbent culture for our ideas to take hold.”

However, it’s a different story for self-funded entrepreneurs whose businesses rely on selling physical products. Getting them into the homes of consumers requires in-person interaction, making a complete shift to online nearly impossible.

Neil Elliot, Co-Founder of Sir Gordon Bennet, an online store that sells exclusively British goods, is well aware of this.

He said: “This is a taxing time for people as much as it is for business, they are inextricably linked.”

In the past month, Neil and his business partner have had to quickly adapt to government guidelines. First, they substituted their weekly face-to-face meetings with Zoom Google Hangouts calls. Second, they reduced delivery to just one day a week to ensure that workers at their warehouse and fulfillment facility can work safely and abiding to lockdown instructions.

He said: “We take our social responsibilities seriously in everything we do. This could mean that we don’t deliver on our three-working-days promise, but we will ensure through communication with customers that they know this, and most will understand.”

Unfortunately, other small business owners like Giles Whitman don’t have the same luxury.

Just last week, Giles launched his own snack brand vedge snacks, which has been over seven years in the making.

However, because of coronavirus regulations, he hasn’t been able to promote his products in person, and he is now struggling to receive the consumer base necessary to get the brand started.

He said: “For a new food business, it’s critical to be able to let people sample the product for free. Consumer shows and farmers markets have worked very well for us in the past, but all those have obviously been cancelled. And sampling in retailers is also very important, but not possible at the moment. So that has been tough, as we really just want to get the bars out there.”

But Giles refuses to let himself get discouraged.

He said: “On the plus side, as a start-up, we have a very low-cost base and no employees, so I haven’t had to make any tough decisions about furloughing staff, for instance.”

To counteract the negative impact of the pandemic, Giles is using the extra time he now has to come up with new recipes and creative marketing ideas, as well as providing free bars to frontline NHS staff.

He believes that keeping customers engaged without relying on them visiting a physical location is key to future success.

He said: “Crises like these do focus the mind. It goes without saying that if you can survive this period, you’ll probably be well-placed to thrive when things do return to normal.”

As the pandemic continues to develop, SME entrepreneurs all over the world are still holding governments accountable, waiting to see how they’ll continue to assist them in keeping their businesses afloat.

In the meantime, they hope that consumers don’t abandon them, and instead recognize the value they bring not only to the economy, but to their daily lives as well.

Neil said: “This won’t last forever. Many people will not have a positive mindset and those are the businesses that will struggle and probably fail. But there will always be customers out there if your brand is right, you reach those people in the right way and you have the right attitude for them to buy into you as a company.

“Now isn't the time to be shy neither. Keep telling the world you are here and want to do business.”

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience.

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