Entrepreneur Holly Tucker recalls ‘risking it all’
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The entrepreneur founded Small Business Britain to help support and champion entrepreneurs across the UK, and revealed that while their mental health took a dive, sales and growth are trending upwards for small businesses. In an economy where small businesses had little to no power, they have been provided an opportunity to overtake their larger competitors as consumers reconsider their spending habits due to lockdown.
Ms Ovens reminisced on the outlook for entrepreneurs at the end of 2019: “It’s hard to put yourself in a place where Brexit was the biggest issue of the day. It is an issue, and we are seeing the result of some of that now, but we thought: ‘That is the worst it can get’ but then COVID came along and we knew nothing.
“There was a lot of uncertainty at the end of 2019, there was a sense of new decade new beginnings. Entrepreneurs are generally positive people but there was really a sense of ‘best foot forward’
“Generally, in the UK, a few small businesses were behind where they needed to be digitally. Which is bizarre because as consumers we are very digital.”
This sense of ‘going digital’ has been a big opportunity or obstacle depending on the outlook of each individual entrepreneur, but all businesses found themselves in a forced shift onto the virtual marketplace during lockdown.
Ms Ovens continued: “There was opportunity for growth to invest in their business, make new strategies and there was just a lot going on so many people put their head down and decided time to move on and focus on their business.
“That lasted two months.”
While all industries and businesses suffered in varying amounts during 2020, entrepreneurs were undeniably some of the hardest hit individuals, as Ms Ovens explained: “It’s hard to really articulate quite what a catastrophe Covid was for small businesses. The first thing was foot traffic dropping, especially for high street businesses and retail. In one week mid-March 2020 it fell off a cliff.
“This was way before any financial aid packages had been announced so there was a real knee-jerk reaction. Nobody knew what the impact was going to be, everyone just kind of stopped in a moment of shock.
“Businesses were forecasting 70 percent drop in their revenues for 2020, people were saying they can’t continue. We ramped up the work we were doing, particularly support services. We would have entrepreneurs and business owners getting in touch saying they are suicidal and they just don’t know what to do.”
These shocking revelations continued for roughly eight weeks, wherein businesses found themselves either calling all hands on deck or writing off employees and costs everywhere they could.
“A lot of small businesses, particularly the ones that are the most resilient, shifted day one. They saw the pandemic hit and they just changed, made new plans and importantly didn’t get attached to new plans in case everything changed again.
“The bulk of businesses took about eight-weeks to change and taking a really forensic look at how businesses are run, what money is spent on, going through bank accounts line by line. A lot of businesses have come out the other side in a better place for any future shocks.
“It has caused a lot of challenges in the small business world, a lot of mental health challenges. We’ve also seen a big entrepreneurial boom. Nature is always a vacuum: where there’s a problem there’s an opportunity.”
This was especially pertinent during the first lockdown: “There were some obvious things: online gifting, stuff for your garden and home, exercise equipment. They still have a bicycle shortage because people were going crazy for them.
“Local businesses really came into their own and got really creative. Our local pub started selling flour because you couldn’t get it at the supermarket.”
Ms Ovens explained that once the disappointment of the pandemic had passed, savvy entrepreneurs were able to seize the opportunities laid bare in front of them and continue to do so.
“Now, a lot of them have two operational models both working which means they have two routes of marketing and carrying on as best they can. One of the things that the pandemic really exposed was the lack of back-up plans, I think we have inadvertently created a lot more robust businesses.”
She added that the rise of an entirely new outlook on the working world is likely to stay, which could benefit both employees, consumers and business owners: “I think a lot of the trends are going to stay like remote working, not to the extent of lockdown but it’s not going to go back to what it was for. There’s too many benefits apart from anything else.
“People have changed their spending patterns as well, they’re going to go back to local businesses because now they’ve noticed that they’re there.
“You’ve got a big chunk of the population who are struggling, and a big chunk who saved money during lockdown and so are willing to spend particularly on businesses that share their values.
“These things are more valued now than they were two years ago, we’ve changed how we approach the world because of COVID and it’s not all bad. It’s made us stop and think and reassess what we value in life. People value people.
“I think the key is to remember the great thing about small businesses is that you can have a relationship with your customer because there’s not 20 layers between them and they big CEO and they know who you are.”
Many consumers have revealed that this is the reasoning behind their preference for local, small businesses instead of larger chains, even if the prices aren’t always in their favour.
“When they buy from a small business we buy from people, we’ve taken a step back from the consumer race both in a sense of our time and our priorities.
“Those changing dynamics between big and small businesses has been a good thing because it’s been a bit one-sided. Small businesses used to have no power in that relationship, but now there’s a lot of data on the high street that says small businesses are in growth and there’s lots of data saying big chains are dying,” she concluded.
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