It’s been a tough year for economies all around the world as coronavirus has taken lives, hit markets and forced long-standing businesses to close down for good.
But the events of 2020 have also prompted many entrepreneurs to build in resilience at the core of their businesses, whether that has meant completely pivoting their business proposition, product or service or how it’s delivered, or offering hybrid working options to adhere to social restrictions.
This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week, which was launched in 2007 and is usually marked by networking events and international competitions across 180 countries.
39-year-old Tim Rundle-Wood from London opened his first store for Twoodle Co this year
Emma Jones, founder of small business support network Enterprise Nation, said: ‘Global Entrepreneurship Week has been celebrating the trend towards entrepreneurship that we’ve been seeing since the last recession.
‘While the pandemic has not dampened the entrepreneurial spirit at all, what we are seeing is a trend for baked-in resilience. Entrepreneurs are keeping their options open and they are selling in new ways.’
‘Food brands are side-stepping the market stall and pro-actively selling directly online via their own website and via more powerful markets like Amazon or Uber Eats to find broad exposure to customers,’ she said.
‘They are experimenting because no size fits all. The use of technology coupled with powerful global marketplaces gives firms the best chance of thriving and puts them in a much better position to be able to continue to trade into the future.’
To celebrate during a year that has been particularly testing, This is Money spoke to three people who didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of launching or expanding their business.
‘Lockdown was a blessing in disguise’
Twoodle Co sells natural alternatives to candles, diffusers, soaps and more
Tim Rundle-Wood, 39 and from London, runs Twoodle Co, which creates and sells natural alternatives to candles, diffusers, soaps and more.
He became interested in this after a personal tragedy, when his dog suffered toxic shock after sniffing a reed diffuser, which turned out to be full of toxic synthetic chemicals that can be fatal to children and pets.
This August, he turned what was initially an online business from his spare room into a bricks and mortar proposition – ironically the opposite of what many business owners have been forced to do during the pandemic.
‘I’d been working out of my spare room for about four years when last Christmas, I decided the time was right to move into a workshop,’ he said. ‘My team and I spent months trying to find the right place and eventually found somewhere.
‘We were all ready to move in on 1 April and then lockdown happened and everything got put on hold.’
By June, when things started opening up again, Tim found the space had been given to someone else so had to start his search again.
But he said this ended up being a blessing in disguise as shop spaces in attractive areas were coming up and at better pricing.
He added: ‘I saw my opportunity and took it and the response has been overwhelming. The locals have been so welcoming and supportive, as have other local businesses in the Brick Lane area.
‘Having a physical shop brings you opportunities you just can’t get operating an online-only business and shows that omni-channel retail is the future. We also sell on Amazon and Etsy which accounts for a quarter of our turnover.’
‘The rise in remote working was my calling’
Jessica Heagren had been working on her business idea for some time but it was only when the pandemic struck and more people were working from home that she found the prime time to launch.
Along with best friend and former colleague Nicola Good, Jessica runs That Works for Me, a network which connects small businesses with the skills they need via a marketplace of thousands of experienced professionals.
This ranges from social media managers to lawyers, and is largely made up of mums seeking flexible and remote work – like Jessica herself needed after leaving her full-time senior job in the City after having her second child.
That’s when it became apparent to her there was still a disconnect between the real lives of highly skilled parents and the world of work.
Jessica Heagren runs That Works for Me, a network which connects small businesses with the skills they need via a marketplace of thousands of experienced professionals
She said: ‘In the corporate world of work, I knew where I was going, I had a career path. This vanished after having children.
‘Sadly, even in 2020, the options for work are much more limited when you’re a parent, especially if you want to be around to watch your children grow up.
‘I frequently saw highly-qualified and experienced people taking jobs well below their pay grade and ability. I met more talented people at baby sensory classes than I had in the board room.
‘At the same time, I saw small firms limiting themselves from accessing the expert help they needed to grow.’
Jessica realised during the pandemic, people needed flexibility more than ever and the nationwide realisation that remote working can work was the perfect opportunity to launch.
‘Small businesses need all the help they can get right now and people need work. In many ways it’s the ideal time to introduce them,’ she said.
‘Our plan is simply to grow. We still need to nail our sales pipeline and build some consistency, but otherwise we just want to be in front of more businesses that we can help.
‘The more people we can help find work that uses their “pre-children” skill-sets the better – it’s our mission to stop hard earned skills going to waste.’
That Works for Me now has 3,000 members, including more than 300 businesses, and a 90 per cent success rate at matching SMEs with talent.
‘The uncertainty of the situation was my biggest fear’
42-year-old Dominique Woolf of The Woolf’s Kitchen had spent years working in market research and other ‘less-than-inspiring’ jobs before she decided she wanted to do something for herself.
She took a course at Leith’s Cookery School run by celebrity chef Prue Leith and developed her sauces before experimenting with consumers and selling them at markets at the end of last year.
She was ready to launch in April this year but then lockdown struck. Rather than delaying the launch, she had to quickly think of ways to get the business running in a new unknown world.
Dominique Woolf was due to launch her homemade sauces in April but the plan was postponed due to the nationwide lockdown
‘The sauces had already been made by my manufacturer and were sitting in their warehouse,’ recalls Dominique.
‘So I set up my own e-commerce website and started selling on Amazon as a way to reach more people and put some welly behind sales.
‘I also found some local independent retailers to stock the brand, and by June, they were seeing an increase in demand. Then my local pub contacted me to ask if they could sell it, and it only grew from there.’
This experience has taught Dominique to ‘network like crazy’ and that LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to start.
She added: ‘There are so many free resources available. Enterprise Nation has hundreds of fantastic and informative videos and webinars available.
‘The uncertainty of the situation was my biggest fear. I had major brain fog for the first couple of months of lockdown and the idea of launching a business wasn’t even on my radar.
‘I’m so glad I found my motivation and came back fully inspired and raring to go.’
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