I’m sure many of you would agree that starting a new business during a pandemic is barking mad. Or is it? In my defence, I’d already decided to do this, and had no idea that a pandemic was going to come trotting along. Even once the pandemic was here, I had no idea what shape it might take, or how long it would last. And if we’re completely honest, we’re still not sure. Vaccines, remedies, lockdowns and the weather; all these could change the shape of things to come. I never make plans based on a bunch of complete unknowns. So why would I change plans I’ve already made based on complete unknowns? It didn’t make sense. And so I decided to plough on. And now I realise it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Here’s why. Starting a business is a very isolating experience. So what better time to start than when we have to isolate? For the first few months, I was designing, defining and refining my product ranges, streamlining my products, designing a website, making jewellery, and learning, learning, learning about setting up a business. Not one of these activities requires company. In fact, most of them are best done alone. So I think I started my business at the best possible time because I wasn’t missing out on anything. There was nothing to miss out on.
My business was always going to be online anyway. I never had any plans to have a physical presence in a retail space. I had no desire to create that much stock, or schlep around with boxes of jewellery to deliver to shops or markets. Pivot has become a fashionable word these days. Bricks and mortar businesses are constantly being told to pivot, and start focusing more on online sales. I didn’t have to pivot. I was already pointing in the right direction.
I wasn’t ready for lots of orders. The economy went through the floor, and for many businesses, sales plummeted. Now I wouldn’t want our economy, or any economy for that matter, to suffer. I want all those who want to work to be able to find work, get a decent education, be in good health and have a good standard of living.
But I’ve only just reached a position where I’m able to cope with multiple orders at once. There’s so much more that goes into an order than making the jewellery. Packaging, emails, posting items, thank you notes, checking and rechecking; each of these little activities takes time. Lots of orders when I was still working out the processes would have drowned me.
Now I’m in a better state because I’ve started creating consistent, albeit manual, processes so I don’t sit and think “what next?” as I work through each order.
It was the perfect environment for learning. For someone like me, who comes from a totally different work background, every new activity is a potential pitfall, and therefore has the potential to lose customers. I’m talking about things like learning to blog, send marketing emails, pricing, and creating sales or discount offers to name a few.
Even doing a simple thing like designing a correspondence card is a learning experience. That’s what the photo in this post is, by the way. Do you like it? It’s a watercolour image of my favourite enamel set.
All these activities are new to me. All could gain me customers if done well, and lose me customers if done badly. But done at a time where gaining customers is difficult anyway, what I’m doing is getting the benefit of all the learning, without as big a risk of losing as I would have under normal circumstances. And if we're talking about financial hardship, no serious product business expects mega profits in its first year. Most consider themselves lucky if they break even.
And then there’s Christmas. We’re so politically incorrect in the UK. The Americans wisely call it the Holiday season. Either way, this time of year has the potential to make the most sales, and is the most lucrative for retail businesses. It’s also the time when the most mistakes are likely to be made. Mixing up orders and delivery addresses; getting my last order dates wrong; suddenly finding myself short of a tiny but crucial item; all these things are real possibilities.
And it doesn’t just happen to newbies like me. I remember doing all my Christmas food shopping online one year, because I was snowed under at work. I don’t like to name names, but it was from one of our best supermarkets. And what did they do? They were obviously so overwhelmed that they left out important items, broke my bottle of Marsala wine during delivery, and generally caused so much confusion that I had to rush to the supermarket anyway. (“Marsala crucial at Christmas?” I hear you say. I was doing Nigella’s Italian themed Christmas that year, so Marsala was a must.)
This year, who knows what it’s going to be like, but with unemployment high, gatherings limited and the Christmas spirit turning into a right old bah humbug, the mistakes that I might have made as a fledgling business are unlikely to happen, because the volume of orders is likely to be lower. And by next year, I'll know what I can cope with without being overwhelmed.
So you can see why I say that this may not be the worst of times to start a business. All this isn’t to say that I’m glad we have a pandemic, or that I would ever wish a pandemic upon us.
Of course not. Personally, the pandemic has cost us dearly.
We lost our closest friend to Covid-19. More like a brother than a friend, I would gladly lose a hundred business opportunities to have him back at our Christmas table this year, laughing, joking and squabbling, just as we always have. But that isn’t to be. Ours will be one of the thousands of homes where there’s an empty seat at the table.
I pride myself on being a glass half full person. So in writing this post, I’m forcing myself look at the bright side of starting my business during a cruel pandemic that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon us.
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