Entrepreneurship in the face of Covid

  • Seoana Sherry-Brennan

    Seoana Sherry-Brennan

    Digital Communications and Prize Engagement Officer

    View profile

07 Apr 2021

How three women overcame the obstacles faced during lockdown to continue smashing their business goals

There are plenty of things we can grumble about over the last year – the opportunities, adventures and experiences that were snatched away from us as we sought to protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus. However, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. For some, the additional free time has enabled them to pursue their passions, and channel their energy into something which they have always dreamed of doing, but never had the time for. 

We spoke to three different women who, despite the national lockdown, were able to continue building their businesses, pivoting their original services to cater to the ‘new normal’. They shared their experiences of running a business during a pandemic, as well as revealing their top tips for anyone out there looking to do the same.

Orpa Haque, The Business Gazelle

Orpa Haque is a Senior Programme Manager at Decoded and co-founder of The Business Gazelle. She started her business with her friend and fellow business owner, Ivana Kostova, after noticing a lack of high quality business events, networks and seminars aimed specifically at women. It provides a women’s learning, training and events network, which aims to connect women across the globe. 

How has your business changed as a result of Covid-19?

Having a business which centres around events, workshops and training sessions, it meant that we had to completely pivot and take everything online. The con is that zoom fatigue is a real thing, but the pros are that now anyone can join from any location. We’ve also found that during this time, events like ours are really appreciated as an opportunity for both learning and social connection.

How have you stayed motivated during lockdown?

Interestingly, I’ve found it a lot easier to stay motivated during lockdown. Fewer distractions and more time meant that I’ve been able to dedicate more to TBG! My top tip would be to create a schedule and a routine (after all, we are creatures of habit), and also give yourself small rewards when you hit certain milestones.

How do you balance running a business with other priorities?

Firstly, I believe that if something is a genuine priority, you will make time for it. So it doesn’t matter how many things you may have going on, if it’s important, you’ll make the time. Secondly, it’s very much about time management. My calendar is fully time blocked so that I know exactly how I’m going to use every hour. That way, I make progress on all the important things and also ensure I’m actively maintaining time for other things such as self care, down time, and exercise – alongside all the work and business priorities.

What are your top three tips for young people keen to start their own business?

1. Remember your “why” and put it up everywhere. Print out and paste your mission statement on your wall. Stick pictures in your planner. Make it your laptop wallpaper. This way, when things get tough, you’ll remember why you started, and it’ll help you to keep going.

2. Get a mentor or a coach! Founder of SheAlmighty Mikaela Jackson has been invaluable for me.

3. Learn as much as you can, and then learn some more. Some things in business will be completely new unchartered territory for you. So read all books, watch YouTube tutorials, learn from other peoples experience, take courses, attend workshops – make sure to dedicate time to learning, and it’ll be invaluable to your business as well as your own development.

Fiona Aber Taruona, Visualise in Motion

Fiona Aber Taruona headshot

Fiona Aber Taruona is a General Manager and Producer at Shubbak Festival, London’s largest biennial festival of contemporary Arab culture, bringing new and unexpected voices alongside established artists to London every two years. She is also the Founder of Visualise in Motion, a Community Interest Company which helps early stage creatives navigate the industry. As well as this, she launched a product-based business called Dolce Butter, which makes a range of sweet, flavoured butters. 

How has your business changed as a result of Covid-19?

To begin with, Visualise in Motion was going to be a real-life event. When I started to get serious about it, I was obsessed with online courses and programmes and how effective they were. I eventually decided that moving things online would be the best thing to do right now. As for Dolce Butter, there wasn’t much of a different approach as this was always going to be something I did online, as I liked the idea of selling directly to my customers.

How have you stayed motivated during lockdown?

It’s been really difficult! The productivity brigade was out in full force during the earlier days of lockdown, making people feel like they had to be productive in this difficult  time. I came to the conclusion that it was important for me to only do what I could; whether that was hours of productive work, or just 30 minutes. The moment I stopped applying too much pressure on myself, the easier it was to maintain motivation and productivity because I was working according to my abilities and energy, as opposed to others.

How do you balance running a business with other priorities?

I have a full time job alongside my two businesses, so it’s definitely a juggling act! It means that my evenings are spent mostly working on my businesses. I tend to go for a walk when I log out of my day job just to re-energise myself before jumping into my own work. I also currently work on my own businesses on a Saturday, be it testing out recipes or developing courses. The only thing I make sure is that Sunday is a laptop free day to give myself the opportunity to relax and do something mindless like binge a TV show or have a movie marathon.

What are your top three tips for young people keen to start their own business?

1. Don’t skip the foundational elements of entrepreneurship when you’re ready to take your ideas to a more official level. I know they aren’t as fun and that it’s quite overwhelming, but they are really important, and if not done or understood from the beginning, it could harm how you operate your business in the future. Have a search for business services in your local area, most councils have them. Or look for local organisations that might offer this service. One of the key things with Visualise in Motion was about being able to guide young people through the process of creative entrepreneurship by providing easy to digest information around elements like business registration, accounting, contracts and thinking about your brand, etc.   

2. Don’t let the idea of perfectionism stop you from actually taking action. For a long time, I would fuss over things that didn’t matter, that others probably wouldn’t even notice. In the end I realised that actually I was the one holding things up because I wasn’t brave enough to just go for it. Done is better than perfect. You have to remember that no one really knows what they are doing, but we’re all brave enough to simply give it a go.

3. Have fun with it and be open to learning and meeting new people. Look for people in your community – Facebook is a good place to start. Look for groups in your chosen area and join them. Once you’re in there, browse the posts, contribute answers to questions when you can, ask your own questions, share your product/service and generally put yourself out there. That’s how you build up connections with people, and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a tribe of business owners you can call upon.

Kate Khullar, Little Dot Loves

Kate Khullar headshot

Kate Khullar is Chief Craft Officer of the happiness project, Little Dot Loves. Little Dot Loves believes everyone can craft, and promotes calm through creativity. It also offers monthly craft subscription boxes, which are suitable for all ages and abilities. Kate also works with local schools, independent craft and designer markets, festivals, hosts individual parties, and runs a weekly social Makers Mob in North London.

How has your business changed as a result of Covid-19?

I used to run face to face workshops and events every week, as well as a kids craft club twice a week. During lockdown, I had to stop all of my work – which had a very negative impact on my work and revenue. I decided to start a monthly craft box, which would create a more regular income and focus on the client base I already had. I moved my kids craft club online, and that was a really positive aspect of lockdown. I delivered kits by hand each week, and then we all joined and made arts and crafts together. It reminds me, there is always hope, as long as you look for it.

How have you stayed motivated during lockdown?

My business is centered around the belief that everyone can craft and promotes calm through creativity. My kids group (Jr. Makers Mob) kept me motivated, the energy and creativity they have is infectious. Seeing confidence grow, and the way they use materials is inspirational. I also belong to a Facebook Community for women entrepreneurs, and we all leaned on each other! Sharing stories, challenges and kind words always helps and supports! I am lucky to have found a group who raise up women’s voices and empowers me to make good choices, and trust my instincts.

How do you balance running a business with other priorities?

I have a family, with two children of school age. During lockdown, managing the balance was very tough. I would work mainly in the evenings, and doubted myself a lot. I think this was because I was doing too many things, and not being able to focus in a structured way. Now everyone is back at school, I finish most of my work in the school day, and then can focus on the family. I treat this like I would manage two jobs, and try not to cross them over. It is tough, you have to set boundaries and stick to them!

What are your top tips for young people keen to start their own business?

1. Research, research and research again! It is really important to understand what problem you are trying to solve with your idea, and if it is viable. Know your customer – who are they, what do they like, how old are they, what do they want? Write a Business Case – it is not just fancy words, it helps keep you on track and not get distracted. All of this might take time, that’s OK. Time is your friend

2. Learn some basic accounting software, or excel set-up, track all incoming and outgoing costs. You have to understand your profit margins, and track all costs.

3. Keep it simple. Allow your initial idea to keep you focused and shine through, put your energy into one thing. Time for add-ons and new ideas later along the line.

4. Remember No is a full sentence. If it is not right for your business, or your instincts are not feeling it, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone

5. Trust yourself, you have got this far, you can go further. Self belief is a really powerful tool!

6. You succeed or you learn, being an entrepreneur is not always easy, and changing your path is necessary. It’s OK to change, you grow and you learn! 

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