Lockdown has created huge challenges for businesses and their founders, with a sudden fall of revenue, and for some, the closure of their premises, and the knowledge that a very uncertain future awaits once the pandemic is over. But rather than dwell on the frustrations, many entrepreneurs have focused on the opportunities and used their enforced time in isolation to make the most of them.
Raising your sustainability profile
The aim of the The Wood Life Project is to replace everyday plastic items with beautifully designed, eco-friendly, British-made wooden products. The business was launched in early 2019 by Hazel and Jimmy Russell. A year on they were supplying to 45 retailers and in talks with some major brands, until COVID-19 and lockdown brought new orders and their discussions with prospective large retailers to a sudden halt.
“We focused our efforts on online sales via our own website and other online marketplaces, where we’ve worked on blogs and social media platforms to drive sales and grow brand awareness,” says Hazel Russell.
Crucially, the husband and wife team have used the downtime to demonstrate their commitment to supporting UK sustainable businesses by becoming Grown in Britain, and Forest Stewardship Council certified, and are in the process of becoming a B-Corp certified company.
“We have found a way to run our business openly, and more socially and environmentally aware, that won’t detract from our profitability,” adds Russell.
Go global, go virtual
Yena, a startup community that provides accelerator-like business benefits via subscription, has been ultra-productive during lockdown, moving its global events program online, launching Intros-as-a-service to enable networking for those who are isolated, and making their product free for two months. Their community has grown by 50% during lockdown.
“Our overarching mission is to democratize entrepreneurial opportunities for all, regardless of circumstances, including location,” says founder Ash Phillips. “Since lockdown we’re seeing higher engagement due to lack of active physical hubs, and this has highlighted the importance of digitizing high-quality business support for all stages. As a result this is helping to power conversations with investors.”
Improving skills and reputation
As an online business translation business Inbox Translation was in a better position than many others when the impact of COVID-19 struck, but it still took a big hit, as client demand for services dropped sharply.
Managing director Alina Cincan, a Romanian translator and Chartered Linguist, invested her lockdown time and her energy in marketing, including a website redesign, and her own personal development.
She says: “I ran an extensive survey across the translation services industry, and the results will help me better understand the field I am working in and make new connections.”
Her research prompted her to begin studying for a PhD in translation. “I discovered that I love doing this sort of research and looking at data from various angles,” she says. “I’ve just been invited to present these results to at least one translation conference.”
Exploring new technology
Little Beau Sheep sells a range of handmade laundry and body care products, from signature wool dryer balls to felted wool soaps and laundry fragrance, and was founded in 2015 by Sarah Turner.
She says: “Lockdown has significantly changed our routes to market, so direct sales via our website are now our primary channel, and has provided the stimulus to think about how our business needs to adapt to the post-lockdown world.”
Changes include an overhaul of the main retail website and the development of a dedicated website for trade customers for when they are able to re-open.
“We are also exploring the introduction of robotic automation to remove inefficiencies in the manufacturing process, and enable our team to concentrate on higher-value activities,” says Turner. “This will provide benefits way beyond lockdown, driving efficiencies and ensuring the business is in the best possible position for the future.”
Tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit
Being furloughed from his full-time job unleashed Paul Hulatt’s hidden entrepreneurial ambitions. He used lockdown to develop and launch an app, Supermarket Check-In, that lets people check and share shopping experiences at their local supermarkets and other shops. By helping them to make a more informed choice about when they visit, they can reduce their time outside the house and the risk of exposure.
In the first few weeks after launching in mid-April, the app attracted almost 500,000 users, charting at the top of the App Store and Google Play charts.
Hulatt says: “I don’t know where this will take me when lockdown and furloughing comes to an end, but it could be the catalyst I need to go it alone with my own full-time business, or an effective way of building my skills to help me in my regular day job.”
Becoming more visible
Author, coach and PR consultant Elaine Harrison helps people to write books, get them published, and get them publicized. She launched the business after a 37-year career in media and her work has grown steadily, mainly by word of mouth.
“I’ve been getting on with it quietly for the last 14 years,” she says. “In lockdown, I started working with a top coach and when he read some of my client testimonials he couldn’t understand why he hadn’t heard of me before. That had the effect of unleashing my inner-entrepreneur.”
During lockdown, Harrison began working with a branding expert and logo designer, started writing a book on how to write a book and get publicity, launched a Facebook group for authors and authors-to-be, and began planning a podcast.
“The podcast is forcing me step outside my comfort zone, but in an exciting way,” she says. “Things are already moving and I’ve taken on two new clients in the past two weeks. I’m ready to let more people know what I can offer, and lockdown has helped me make a great start.”