Confessions of a small business owner

Find out how 2020 was for other business owners and what those businesses are planning for 2021.

The year 2020 was a challenging one for small businesses (some might say unprecedented), but 2021 is here! You don’t need to hear another person tell you “it’s been tough but we’re getting by”. Instead we’re bringing you real stories from real businesses – the highs, the lows and everything in between – in a series of anonymous confessions from small business owners across the UK. Welcome to #SmallBizConfessions

"We've realised just how valuable it is having a group of people in an office."

The most significant impact from our side has been our ability to innovate at speed. We traditionally best solve problems by getting in a room, spending a few hours with a whiteboard and working together – you just can't do that in the same way via Zoom.

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If I could go back to March 2020, I’d tell myself to not go into panic mode. Knowing now that our business will survive, I wish I’d enjoyed lockdown more, being able to spend more time with our children. Once I got past being frozen, I really rolled my sleeves up and got on with it – it made a real difference to how I coped!

When the pandemic kicked in, a lot of my clients were entirely focused on surviving the year, and investing in career coaching, for them, felt like an unnecessary expense. I felt that I had to respect their decisions and give them the space they needed, but at the same time, I didn’t want to disconnect from them entirely as relationships are so important in what I do.

If we’d known in March what we know now, we’d have stayed open in some capacity. We closed for almost two months, even though we could have continued trading, because it was all new and scary and we didn’t want to be a hub for spreading Covid-19. With hindsight, we should have done takeaway with social distancing, or turned ourselves into a delivery service.

When the pandemic struck, things did go quiet for a couple of weeks as people tried to navigate the uncertainty, but it’s been non-stop since the Government announced construction could recommence. I’m glad I specialise in domestic design as this was less affected than other areas of the sector.

You’d never believe it, but Covid-19 was probably one of the best things to happen to our business’ productivity! Like many others in our industry, we had a drop in orders in March 2020 and needed to furlough the majority of our staff. That was really difficult, sending people home with no certainty of when they might come back to work.

This year has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced before – I could never have imagined that we’d end up closing the salon for months on end. Despite that, I’ve been really busy the whole year through.

Back in March, we had £100,000 in the bank. In 30–40 days that disappeared and a team of 16 faced pay cuts or redundancy. Furlough was the light in the dark, and we used it for all our employees – although, with hindsight, furloughing everyone wasn’t the best idea.

Oddly, lockdown was what my business needed. It forced me to take a step back and look at areas I’d been neglecting, like commercial processes. Our technical operations were running at 100 miles per hour, yet our commercial processes hadn’t even left the starting blocks, so lockdown allowed me to reflect on that.

After it was made clear the construction industry was expected to go back to work, we got the business back up and running safely with 50% of the workforce – pretty impressive agility from an industry known to be a bit stuck in its ways at times.