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12 min read

Coronavirus: What Has Been The Impact On Business Owners?

It’s now three months since the UK went into lockdown and the economic impact has been felt everywhere. ONS figures released for March showed the economy contracted by 5.8% and the Chancellor Rushi Sunak has warned that a significant recession is likely this year. 

However, the stark figures and statistics we see on a daily basis fail to tell the human stories playing out all around us. For many business owners and the self-employed, these have been the toughest times they will ever experience. Conversely, others have seen a surge in demand for their services or have successfully pivoted to find new ways of operating. 

We spoke to a range of people across the business world to understand how their livelihoods have been impacted by Covid-19 and how they feel about their prospects going forward. 

 

Music industry

Rohan Sakhadande launched Family We Choose in August 2019. 

What does your business do?

We’re a Music and Culture agency that deals primarily with clients from the music industry. Our summer work is focused on Marketing and PR for international music festivals so we have been hit hard by Covid-19.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work?

Our commissioned work has all been put on hold as the situation evolves but we are starting to see how the industry adapts. As we are a small team there is always admin work to be done so although we are not currently operating at capacity we have been able to use this time productively.

How are you coping on a personal level?

As the realisation of the full extent of what was happening dawned it was very stressful. We are in our first year as a business and this summer would have been a landmark season for us. However, once we had gone through the first couple of weeks it was a case of being pragmatic and trying to plan for the future with the information available – which is a challenge in itself.

There are bigger issues at play than what we do as a business and the fact that we are a small team meant that we are not exposed to as many overheads as a bigger operation.

How do you feel about your future prospects?

We are optimistic. The music industry has always been forward-looking. There will always be a desire for music and live experiences, so right now it’s essential to be agile and alert to any developments and seeing out opportunities. And we are hopeful that we can get back to seeing a normal festival season by 2021.

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

On a business level, there has been a real sense of solidarity within the industry which is nice to see. Outside of this, you can see on a wider social level that the sense of local community is growing, more people taking up crafts, cycling etc. All of these things are impressive and bringing it back to what we do as a business. I feel we could see some really amazing localised music scenes emerge from this which is going to be really exciting.

 

Digital

Rich Brassett is the Co-Founder of Long Live King Ltd.

What does your business do?

Long Live King are a digital agency creating bespoke built websites and applications. We’ve been running for over 5 years now and work across the food, health and wellbeing industry, as well as working with purpose lead companies.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work? Were you able to continue operating?

Yes, we were able to work remotely instantly from a technical perspective but had to make adjustments to comms and workflow. All clients have been able to continue project work so far across different sectors.

Have you accessed any government support?

We used the Job Retention scheme for 1 month, which our accountant helped arrange. Setting up a contract/notice agreement was also straight forward. Taking on debt at this time, albeit at a good rate, didn’t feel like a good solution and actually focused us on making this work ourselves rather than relying on external money.

How are you coping on a personal level?

Personally, the first few weeks of change and uncertainty were really tough. The challenge of balancing working hours with 2 young children was hard. I felt guilty for not playing with the kids and then I felt guilty if I should have been working. It was a constant battle on an almost hourly basis. With the change in positive attitude with work, my mental capacity slowly improved and my feeling towards work and time with the family has become more stable.

How do you feel about your future prospects?

It’s given us a chance to reflect on how we run the business and what areas needed improvement, which has given us a good feeling about our future prospects. We decided early on to push forward and think positive about the situation and have been fortunate that our workflow has matched our optimism.

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

Just trying to be more positive in general has been a massive boost. I’ve learnt I can be more resilient. It’s been good to see how the company reacts in tough times and how the team has coped with the change, but also how much we value our social interactions.

 

Ecommerce

Andy Cordina runs Bettie Confetti

What does your business do?

Bettie Confetti is a Greeting Card and Gifts business and we’ve been trading for about four years.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work?

Our business is split roughly 50/50 direct to customer and wholesale. So while our wholesale has come to a halt for obvious reasons, the online has been able to continue trading as normal.

Have you accessed any government support?

Both of our staff members have been furloughed. And if I’m really honest, my accountants handled most of this so it was super easy for me ☺

How are you coping on a personal level?

I’ve found the whole lockdown period incredibly challenging. I think mainly because I’ve been so busy with orders and the time I do have away from work, I can’t actually get away from work as our office studio is the top floor of our house.

As someone that’s fiercely independent, I’ve found it very difficult being told to stay indoors and not have any control over the situation. And while I’m incredibly grateful to have my health and not be worried about the business, I’m ready to start getting back to normal now.

How do you feel about your future prospects?

I think that there’s definitely going to be a shift to more direct to customer sales. The wholesale business will definitely resume, but I think it will take a while to pick up again. But people are definitely shopping more online than ever – our direct to customer sales are up massively on the same period last year. Which is amazing, but has been difficult with both staff being furloughed.

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

Definitely. I’ve looked at some processes that we have and have identified where the business could be far more efficient. I’ve also had some creative moments where I’ve been looking at new products and ranges which has been really great.

I’ve found the whole lockdown period incredibly challenging. I think mainly because I’ve been so busy with orders and the time I do have away from work, I can’t actually get away from work as our office studio is the top floor of our house.

Andy Cordina Bettie Confetti, Founder

Marketing

Emma Saldanha runs Catch Marketing

What does your business do?

I’ve been trading for three years as a content manager and copywriter. I offer content strategy and planning and copywriting, copyediting, and proofreading for clients in multiple sectors across the UK and internationally. 

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work?

I have been able to work but at a reduced rate as most of my clients have scaled back or put a hold on projects. Also, with the kids being off school, I have less time as I’m having to help them with their school work as well as working. 

I haven’t changed anything about my business, but the new projects I’m taking on are slightly different in that they’re smaller than what I usually work and this is because budgets have been cut. 

Have you accessed any government support?

I have. I’ve claimed for a grant through the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. 

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was eligible but my accountant confirmed I was. About a week before I could claim I received an email from HMRC asking me to check my eligibility online. They confirmed I was able to claim and they gave a date from when I could claim. 

I logged on that morning, entered my UTR and National Insurance number, along with my bank account details, and submitted my claim. It couldn’t be easier really, which is surprising as anything to do with HMRC is usually complicated!  

How are you coping on a personal level? 

The first couple of weeks of the lockdown were incredibly tough.

With the kids been at home, noise levels increased, the house was constantly in a mess and I felt like I didn’t have a minute to myself. It was claustrophobic.

Over the last few weeks though it’s got easier as we’ve all moved into some sort of loose routine. Emotionally I’m still up and down. I’m missing my family who are based up North, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to go and see them. 

How do you feel about your future prospects?

I’m trying hard to stay positive, even though every day the news is about how we’re heading to the biggest recession recorded. My hope is that once restrictions are eased further and we head back to a new ‘normality’, businesses will start to invest in marketing again. 

Even though lots of businesses have cut back on marketing spend and have furloughed or laid staff off, there are some positive signs: I’m noticing a slight increase in marketing jobs been advertised on job boards and there are more posts on LinkedIn about people looking for freelance support. 

My fingers are crossed that this continues 🤞

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

Something positive that I will take away from this is that I’ve realised I’m more productive by blocking out distractions, particularly social media. When I was working I used to frequently jump on to LinkedIn or Twitter to have a quick scroll through my feed. 15 minutes later I’d find myself still doing it. Now with less time for work, I can’t afford to do that and without checking social media I’m getting much more done. 

 

Marketing strategy

Gerry Arcari is the Managing Director for Vivid Creative.

Gerry Arcari

What does your business do?

Vivid are a strategic marketing agency that work with aspiring brands and progressive business leaders – national and global.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work?

We are fully operational with remote working in place and a skeleton crew in the office. Although a handful of clients have stopped spending altogether we have seen a positive shift in focus towards digital campaigns and ecommerce.

Particularly, paid search is a very compelling proposition for businesses right now as competition is low, therefore the cost per click (CPC) is reduced, so commanding greater market share is guaranteed. So really, it’s our clients that are pivoting with our strategic help and insights and together we are making great progress and demonstrating strong ROI.

Have you accessed any government support?

We received our business rates grant which was really easy and helpful. We have also used our accountants to prepare a CBILs submission which we would invest within the business to drive growth. However, our bank (RBS) are proving impossible to access and deal with. They have one team in Manchester servicing the entire country so there are huge delays which makes it even more important that the submission is ‘spot on’ first time or you may end up in the ‘rejection’ pile never to be seen again!

How are you coping on a personal level? 

It’s been really tough. I’m a bit of a social butterfly so lockdown has felt a bit like a heavyweight round my neck! However, new routines, default diary etc has really helped me focus and achieve more than I probably would have done at my office desk.

But the biggest challenge has been motivating myself and my team and keeping the culture of the business front of mind and front of house. Remote working is great short term – but when you run a business based on people and culture – this gets eroded over time with no physical contact. So, for me, I’m desperate to get back to normal – and I use the word ‘normal’ deliberately because I disagree with the overused pandemic rhetoric: ‘unprecedented times and the new normal’.

We’ve been here before…the internet…iPhones…digital photography…all change…it’s just the way the world works and moves forward. Nothing stops – it’s called progression.  

How do you feel about your future prospects?

Very positive. Opportunities are everywhere. Having traded through these last couple of months and seeing really strong sales in May we think that brand and digital industries will continue to thrive as companies seek to differentiate and attract more business. We have established a strong sales pipeline stretching six-months ahead. Really proud of my team for rallying round and giving their all to help us succeed. I’m very thankful to them.

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

There are strong takeaways from these times. Acting like a start-up for one – turning the business into a well-honed sales force – putting staff first – engaging positively with all clients – finding out how they are. Celebrating every single win and sharing daily good news stories.

It’s easy to become complacent in business – and this was a huge wake up call for all of us. We were all caught out and we’ve all had to adapt. It’s forced us to embrace new ways of working, ways that were always on the horizon but are now in action and here to stay for many. So, overall I’ve learned lots about myself, my business and my team – which can only be a great thing for the future!

 

Accountancy

Dale Mitchell is a partner at Baldwins (Whitney)

Dale Mitchell

What does your business do?

Baldwins is a UK-wide accountancy practice offering a wide range of accountancy and tax services, including Forensics, Corporate Restructuring, Banking & Finance and Global Mobility Tax Services for those overseas with a UK tax obligation. Baldwins is a collection of 100+ offices across the UK with various histories, but most of which are local offices that have been operating for 20+ years. Most of the offices became part of the Baldwins Group in 2017-2019.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work?

Like most businesses, it is the unknown nature of Covid-19 that is the biggest issue – not knowing how long the pandemic is going to last and what affect it will have on our clients. All staff are now working remotely from home which, thanks to an excellent IT secure system, means work can continue as close to ‘normal’ as possible.

We have adapted to more video conference calls with clients and contacts and our key focus has been an increase in communication both via email and on LinkedIn etc to communicate the relevant Government advice and support available. We have also increased the number of webinars we have run.

What has been the impact on your clients?

We act for clients across all sectors and industries and of all shapes and sizes. Approximately 50% of our clients are businesses and the other 50% are personal tax clients. Some businesses, in the hospitality and leisure sector, for example, have had to stop all trade. They have benefitted, for the most part, from Government assistance and so cash flow has been helped.

As things stand, the vast majority of clients have been able to continue to trade, even if it is in a reduced capacity. Even the pubs/restaurants have offered takeaway/home delivery options to keep an income stream.

Many businesses have pulled what services they can online, particularly professional services – using Zoom and multi-media platforms to deliver training and consultancy services. For some, this was already planned but it has accelerated their implementation.

Have you helped them to access any government support?

We have offered our clients help with all aspects of the Government support available and have provided advice and assistance to a large number of clients. The Job Retention Scheme (JRS) claims has been the key service but we also have a Banking and Finance Team who have been able to discuss the merits of both the CBILS and Bounce Back Loan Schemes, as well as looking at wider financing options, so clients can make an informed decision on moving forward.

We have also advised on cash grants available in relation to the Small Business Rates Relief, especially for retail, leisure and hospitality clients and the SEISS (although this claim can not be done by agents and so this has been an advisory only service).

Overall, the Government support has been easy to access and we have found clients have, for the most part, received their money quickly.

How do you feel about your clients and their future prospects?

This largely depends on the length of the economic disruption and so is difficult to quantify. Businesses with a solid foundation and good management will be able to weather some short-medium term recession/disruption but longer-term they will have to adapt quickly to the ‘new normal’. There will be casualties – many businesses were struggling before the Covid-19 pandemic and so these businesses are likely to collapse quickly (if they haven’t already).

However bad the initial recession is, there should be a significant bounce back of the economy and so if businesses can adapt and survive the initial hit, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to continue with a successful business, albeit one that looks and feels different to the business they were 3-4 months ago. Those businesses with good management who are resourceful and adaptable will have the greatest chance of survival.

How are you coping on a personal level? 

As the Partner in the Witney office, it is difficult to focus on yourself when you are thinking about the business, clients and staff. This will undoubtedly be the same for many business owners who now have additional responsibility and are having to react (and be proactive) in circumstances we have never experience before in our lifetime.

The biggest challenge, working from home, is keeping good communication across the team and being able to see the overview of how the business is functioning. This has been achieved through MS Teams and weekly Team Updates. It is also much more difficult to separate home and work life when the commute is just along the landing!

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

Internally, at Baldwins, the speed at which staff adapted and embraced home working was remarkable. It has reinforced my knowledge that we have an amazing team who work extremely hard and are dedicated to providing the best service they can to clients. It has also given opportunity to speak to clients who we may not normally have much communication with and we have learned a lot more about both their business and personal circumstances.

On a wider note, I think the change in working will make many businesses think about whether they have been working ‘smart’ and if there are changes to working patterns that gives greater flexibility to staff. There will undoubtedly be a move to flexible, home-working which will allow many more people to come into the workforce, who may have felt excluded before because of home commitments with children, family etc.

Similarly, businesses have been forced to make efficiencies and evaluate their service offerings. Businesses moving forward are likely to be much more adaptable and responsive to their environment/economy.

While there will be short-medium term turmoil, longer-term I think there are many benefits. But who knows what additional challenges Brexit may bring and the goal posts then move again!!

 

Telecoms

David Wardell is the Managing Director of Evoke Telecoms Services.

What does your business do?

We are a telecoms and communications company and have been operating since 2013.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your work?

We’ve been able to continue working. Fortunately, prior to the lockdown, we had switched our own business telephone system over to our cloud (webRTC) product. This has enabled us to work effectively, device, and location agnostic, using multiple methods of ‘feature-rich’ communication. All of our internal calls are video calls, which is keeping us all smiling and ‘on our toes’. It’s actually really good for morale, team belonging, and general wellbeing.

From a general business perspective, if anything it has been considerably busier than normal, as we help our customers to effectively work from home.

Have you accessed any government support?

We have accessed the Small Business Rates Relief grant scheme. We are fortunate to have a strong profit and loss account and a good cash flow position and, as such, have decided not to offset any Government taxes. If ever the Treasury needed our taxes it’s now!

We have not needed to apply for any business support loans as we do not want to build up debt for what could be an uncertain future. We see that as a very last resort should we need it.

How are you coping on a personal level?

I stroll to work with a nice coffee in hand each morning and am actually quite enjoying many aspects of the new normal.

I often worry about our customers and our teams. After all, these are life-affecting times in more ways than one. I am lucky personally in that I have a good work ethic and am a happy worker! Working solo from our offices hasn’t affected my wellbeing. I am making sure I stay close to all the things that are important for ours and our client’s futures.

What are the challenges?

The key has been supporting our staff. Homeschooling for some has been a massive challenge for example. So, we have allowed total flexibility, we make allowances for little nippers in the background – and encourage the team to take the same relaxed c’est la vie approach should uninvited little Monkees make a guest appearance on customer-facing calls. We all need to pull together as one in these incredibly difficult times. I must say broadband quality can be a tad unpredictable around the UK, which is ironic given what we do… 

How do you feel about your future prospects?

We are on one hand apprehensive. We fear that we may lose some of our customers should their businesses go down, and inherit none payment and backed off-network contractual commitments as a consequence. This would put massive pressure on our financial position. We have seen a complete fall away in new business capital project enquiries and are concerned about a possible recessive approach to investment and procurement in the UK. Many businesses failing in this market could leave a smaller addressable market for our already saturated vertical to ‘scrap’ over.

However, on a positive note, we are extremely good at what we do and excellent business problem solvers. This has seen high volumes of referrals and recommendations. We feel buoyant that our approach, positive attitude, and strong reputation will enable us to continue to do well, in the main part by enabling our customers to excel and succeed.

Do you feel there are positives you can take from the last few months?

Absolutely. The skies are clear, the birds are singing. We have more time for our families and are not wasting endless hours commuting. Life does not have to be a hamster wheel and perhaps COVID-19 has given us a sense of perspective, some new-found values, and a better way of balancing our lives for the good of one and all. Oh yes, and I’ve been able to grow a Lockdown beard …. very fetching 😂

 


 

These interviews were conducted over an email Q&A – a big thank you to everyone who participated. If your business needs help dealing with the current situation, check out our coronavirus support hub

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Huw Moxon is the Digital Marketing Manager for Informi. 

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