The ups, the downs and the (virtual) coffee
At the beginning of February 2020, after ten years of working in digital marketing, I started my own business. After the fear subsided following the jump, the first few weeks were exciting. I was ready for a fresh challenge and the next chapter of my career.
I’m sure for everybody, February feels like a lifetime ago. At that time, the UK only had two confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Cases were growing around the world but that felt, thousands of miles away. I knew to start my own business was a risk and it would be hard work. Then Covid19 hit us all harder than we could have imagined.
Those first few weeks were brilliant, I was being pushed out of my comfort zone and I loved it. I was meeting new people and learning new skills. I’ve learnt more about business (and myself) in the last 3 months than I had in the previous 3 years. Whilst I didn’t have a team to manage and engage with, I had a great set of friends and a handful of ex-colleagues who I’d speak to constantly. This support network would become even more important in the coming weeks and months.
Initially, I met new people in person, not over a video conference or phone call (remember those days) and I even attended several industry events. Attending the Manchester Digital Festival and then seeing this amazingly transformed into an NHS Nightingale Hospital just weeks later was equally terrifying and inspirational as the country came together.
I rarely drank coffee at my previous job, mainly because I knew that I’d have to return the favour. At the time if felt easier to not drink coffee than remember 12 different tea and coffee orders.
Anyway, I was networking – a lot – in person. I soon realised most conversations included ‘we should grab a coffee’ at some point. So, I drank a lot of coffee and had a lot of positive meetings.
After ten years of working in digital marketing, I know how it works. It was the same with the last recession. Any sign of market trouble, any concerns around cashflow – marketing is often the sitting duck. Suddenly marketing investment becomes a marketing cost. Businesses often focus on short-term survival, not thinking about the long-term impact on awareness or sales. Whilst some understand the value of adapting to the market and evolve their strategy, many stop investing in marketing altogether.
So here I was. In the middle of a global pandemic with no income and trying to build a business. I was confident I have a good product and a strong brand. I’ve worked with many of the leading retailers in the UK. I care about my clients and their performance. As difficult as it was, I knew I had to keep going. My new mantra was, if my business can get through the next few months, I must be on to something good.
As many of the networking events went virtual (a great demonstration of how technology brings the world together), I tried to focus on the long-term strategy. I started to produce more content and looked to engage with as many people as possible by picking up the phone, exchanging emails or using LinkedIn. I also found the time to brush up on a few skills. Using the Google Digital Garage, and learning via the Open University website.
I found that whilst people were not actively looking for marketing support, many were happy to chat about their challenges. Some were overcome with demand and didn’t know how to manage a sudden influx of customers. Whilst others didn’t know how they would get through the next few weeks from a financial perspective. The theme was clear, people wanted to help and support each other through this.
Having worked as part of a big team for such a long time, I was grateful for the local networking and community groups. Cabin fever was setting in and I was finding it tough. The support and advice in these groups have been invaluable. I’ve felt more than a hint of guilt for not making the most of these whilst at my previous company. There was always somebody who could answer a question or give some advice. Even those who I would class as competitors were open to talking and seeing where they could help – I was blown away.
The government announced an unprecedented package of business support and relief. For many, this has been invaluable to keep their business afloat. Then there are business owners like me who fall between the gaps. Having started businesses in the last twelve months we are not eligible for much of the government relief, making things tough. It was at this point I was grateful for being relatively self-sufficient. I hadn’t committed to any long-term premises or costs which would have put real pressure on my finances. I knew many other people were in a much more precarious position than me.
The more I helped others and shared my knowledge, the more people started to come to me asking for advice. I focused on developing relationships and trying to understand how I could best help people and thankfully some of these relationships started to turn into clients. We are still a small agency but throughout the pandemic, we have managed to develop an exciting and varied client base.
Now we have a growing client-base, the hard work starts.
Coming out of the pandemic my business will be in a better place, many will not be as fortunate as me. It has been hard, harder than I ever thought it would be, but it has taught me some lessons to take forward:
- Be thankful for your health. It’s a cliché and I know it’s easy to take for granted, but your health should come first and that includes your mental well-being which can get forgotten about.
- Support each other. When the chips are down, the good people will support you and help you as much they can, use them and repay the favours if you can
- Be flexible. Plans go out the window and you need to think fast, which will be a good thing. I bet a lot of businesses maintain some degree of flexible working and many restaurants continue to offer home delivery long into the future
Let’s be honest 2020 has been pretty terrible so far, but I’m sure every business owner can take something from the last few months. Thankfully, through hard work, amazing support and (a lot of the time) sheer bloody-mindedness it looks like Green Ginger Digital will come out the other side.
Just think if your business can survive this, it can survive anything. As the ‘D:Ream’ song goes, things can only get better.