No company has escaped the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic but for small businesses and entrepreneurs, the impact has been great. The pandemic has forced companies to explore how to survive. In their struggle to hold on, small business owners have worked hard to find the best ways to adapt operations amid uncertainty and cope with their “new normal.”
In our latest Chit Chat Tuesday series we interview three small businesses and find out how they have coped during the pandemic and kept their business moving forward.
Scroll down to read some top tips from David Cole, owner of Mythical Canvas, Victoria James from Echo’s Magical Garden and Claudine Brown, owner of boutique store Petite Belle which launched just before the pandemic started.
David Cole – Mythical Canvas
As a child growing up, some of my earliest and best memories are of me being creative. Being exposed to art from a young age by my mum helped my development massively. In school, I was a keen artist but a perfectionist and my inspirational art teacher that encouraged me to be free with my artwork and to remember there are ‘no mistakes in art’. This quote stuck with me and it’s encouraged me to take more risks in life and follow my dreams. Fear of making mistakes can hold us back from pursuing our goals so it is important to encourage children from an early age to ‘just go for it’ and let them know that there are no mistakes, just learning opportunities.
I proudly launched Mythical Canvas on September 29th 2019 after three years of liaising with factories and developing our products. With Mythical Canvas I wish to give children the chance to create something they can be proud of, with the aim of boosting their confidence, inspiring them to follow their dreams. We constantly encourage parents and children Art helped me massively when growing up and I want to give children that same opportunity, promoting the freedom to be creative in a fun way.
How has the pandemic impacted your business? The coronavirus has impacted my business in various ways. For example, I had just arranged to sell our customisable plimsoll packs at quite a few monthly craft markets which were then cancelled due to the national lockdown. I was also in the process of approaching independent stores to stock our packs and then had to be put this on hold. This initial setback had an impact on sales so I had to reflect and make changes.
Just before the national lockdown, we were approached by Dragons’ Den, with the possibility of being on the show to try to secure some financial investment. The national lockdown altered the process of the application and we then only got to the penultimate stage. Although we didn’t get the chance to be on the show, I learnt a lot and the experience gave me, even more, drive to make Mythical Canvas a success.
What were your initial steps when the outbreak started? When the outbreak started, I turned more of my attention to focus on online sales via our website, due to there being no physical markets. I ensured that the website was more user friendly and interactive. I worked on the marketing strategy and concentrated on social media to advertise Mythical Canvas and build the brand. I also approached my local newspaper who featured an article about Mythical Canvas and myself, being a primary school teacher.
What is the biggest challenge in managing a business in pandemic times? The biggest challenge has been the lack of face to face interaction with our customers and getting their feedback. This level of engagement is something I really miss.
How have you adapted your business during the pandemic? I have adapted by making my social media accounts more interactive for our followers, by collaborating with artists and other small businesses. I have also introduced competitions and an art activity sheet for children to download for free and complete whilst at home. The activity sheets are for children to visualise and draw their dreams for the future, and we encourage parents to get involved too.
Mythical Canvas has been involved in various online craft markets, which have been great for boosting our sales and marketing our plimsoll packs. Also, I approached online stores regarding selling via their platform and our products are now sold on ‘Not On The High Street’.
What kind of support have you had that has helped during a pandemic? I have communicated with other small business owners and shared ideas. Also, I had support from the Prince’s Trust with access to courses and mentorship support. Thankfully, we have a lot of supportive customers, who share our brand with others. This has led to us being featured in various magazine articles and blogs, boosting our brand.
What resources have you found helpful? I have found resources such as online workshops within the Prince’s Trust useful. They have delivered workshops ranging from marketing, branding, e-commerce and more. There are free digital workshops too provided via social media platforms and Google. Also, social media platforms such as Instagram have been great for allowing me to find businesses and artists to collaborate with over the course of the pandemic. This has helped lead to the growth of Mythical Canvas
What do you think are the wider impacts of Coronavirus on e-commerce? Coronavirus has made businesses concentrate more of their attention online due to the national lockdown. This will continue in the future and I believe it has changed the way businesses market their products/services to customers.
What advice do you have for other small business owners with regard to starting a business during the pandemic or in economic uncertainty? The main piece of advice I would give to other small business owners is to always be fluid, flexible and able to pivot. This is because we can’t predict what will happen in the future so the key is to know your brand goals and be able to pivot so you can still achieve them.
Also, mentorship support (e.g. Prince’s Trust) is useful to gain advice, bounce ideas and get support on how best to promote your business. Researching trends and being willing to constantly learn is also important. I’d advise collaborating with other small businesses as it is great to support each other. Listening to your customers is vital now more than ever and ensuring they have a positive experience with your brand is key. Finally, remember to enjoy the journey and realise that everything is a learning curve and there will be ups and downs.
Visit the Mythical Canvas website to find out more about the amazing product for your little artists!
Victoria James – Echo’s Magical Garden
I started Echo’s Magical Garden (named after my son) as I wanted to spend more time with him, giving up my job as a senior retail buyer. Our business started in 2015 and initially, I just made a few t-shirts to see how they sold. However, over the last year (and due to losing my additional income due to the pandemic) as a family, we wanted to focus on building the business and increased our offering. So, Echo’s Magical Garden is still in its early stages, but we have big plans.
Our brand of children’s clothing aims to excite the imagination of child and parent alike. Echo’s Magical garden is about playfulness, adventure and fantasy. Using a mix of consciously-sourced fabric we hand make our items or ethically source finished garments that we handprint. Echo’s Magical Garden means no mass production and far less waste, which we all know is much better for our planet!
How has the pandemic impacted your business? Things have definitely been slower for me during this latest lockdown. Our stockists are ordering less since lockdown and web sales are also slower at the moment.
What were your initial steps when the outbreak started? Initially nothing! It wasn’t until things started to get more serious and we realised that this wasn’t just going to last a few months, which was wishful thinking!
What is the biggest challenge in managing a business in pandemic times? Homeschooling. My son is at an age where I can’t really leave him to just get on with it on his own. So, I have struggled (and am still struggling) to find the time to dedicate to running the business, whilst helping him. Things have definitely slowed down in that regard – lots of ideas but struggling to find the time to bring them to life!
How have you adapted? With difficulty!
What kind of support have you had that has helped during a pandemic? We are lucky, in that being such a small business, we don’t employ any staff, so we haven’t had to worry about that. Other than that, it’s been great to follow lots of like-minded people on social media to keep your spirits up!
What do you think are the wider impacts of Coronavirus on eCommerce? I am hoping that there will be a positive outcome. People are relying more on online shopping, so I think there are a lot of opportunities for online retailers. And with the sad decline of the high street, there has to be more opportunities for small business to get noticed once things start to open up again.
What advice do you have for other small business owners with regard to starting a business during the pandemic or in economic uncertainty? I’m not sure I can offer much advice as we are still quite new as a business!! I’d say, don’t expect to make your millions overnight, but most of all, try to enjoy it! The ups and downs are worth it when you receive each and every sale.
Visit Echo’s Magical Garden website to view the latest collection of goodies in store.
Claudine Brown – Petite Belle
I’m originally from Malaysia and moved to the UK when I was twenty. I used to be a Web Developer back in the 90s when the World Wide Web first came about. Websites were coded from scratch in Windows Notepad back then. Fast forward another 20 years, I’m now a mother of two beautiful children.
Petite Belle is an award-winning online children’s clothing boutique, and it was born from a true love of children’s fashion at the end of January 2020. This passion was kindled by dressing my eldest in the clothes I bought from small independent makers and retailers. Continuing this I’ve created a specially curated selection of clothes from all over the world.
How has the effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic impacted your business?
When the virus hit and lockdown happened in March 2020,
– Poor sales. We went a couple of weeks and more without a single sale. Didn’t sell any swimwear or special occasion clothes at all.
– Our orders from the brands were severely delayed, incomplete or cancelled.
– Forced to drop a lot of brands after the first season that were not selling, including some well as the more well-known ones.
What were your initial steps when the outbreak started?
– To run a business normally! And grow the brands on our site.
– To breakeven at least in our first year of business.
– To continue bringing in new brands to the UK, but everything has to be placed on hold because of the pandemic.
What is the biggest challenge in managing a business in pandemic times?
– Childcare! It’s tough juggling between running a business and time with my two children. Homeschooling isn’t for the weak!
– Staying sane.
How have you adapted?
– Constantly advertising the business on social media and relevant ad spaces.
– Working with social media influencers in getting our name out there.
– Constant engagement with my followers on social media.
– Decided to have brand reps to represent the shop and promote us.
– Better time management with work and children – morning – children, afternoon work.
What kind of support have you had that has helped during a pandemic?
– Bounce Back Loan Scheme from the government.
– An amazing team of brand reps who have endlessly supported me and the shop up till this very day – Joni Kelly, Stefania Brunetti, Iza Korszak & Alessandra Aguilar.
– Support from a community of small businesses owners.
– Moral support from my family.
What do you think are the wider impacts of the pandemic on eCommerce? I think it’s been beneficial for the most part as people turn to online shopping due to non-essential shops being shut. Although, can’t say the same for the fashion industry. Brexit has a bigger impact on small businesses like us though.
What advice do you have for other small business owners with regard to starting a business during the pandemic or in economic uncertainty?
– Always start small.
– Pay attention to your customer’s needs and be as flexible as you can to meet them.
– Do your market research.
– Have a clear budget plan.
– Don’t give up and don’t lose hope!
Visit Petite Belle to view the new collections for Spring/Summer 20201.
View more Chit Chat Tuesday Interviews on the blog HERE.
Chit Chat Tuesday: Navigating Business in Times of COVID-19 Photography supplied by David Cole, Victoria James and Claudine Brown – All rights reserved.
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