From survive to thrive – female entrepreneurs fight back with lockdown start-ups

Lockdown has been a disastrous time for many businesses, with the repercussions yet to be seen for countless others. While some closed for several months, others ceased operation altogether.

Women’s Business Station had been operating for just four months when lockdown hit, turning the dreams of countless entrepreneurial women into jeopardy. Could they still launch their business as planned? Would their client base crumble?  Would their supply chain be affected? The future was very unclear.  However, for four women who have been through the Women’s Business Station training programmes, their resilience and ability to diversify is slowly reaping rewards.

We Love Platters

Events organiser Carrie Shannon, Founder of the Dundee Gin Festival, had eight events planned this year, all of which were cancelled at the start of lockdown.

Having completed Women’s Business Station’s FasTRACK course and then Elevator’s Accelerator course, I was feeling optimistic about the year ahead. The Gin Festival was planned, alongside beer festivals, the ‘Free from’ festival and a wellbeing event.  However, a couple of weeks into March, it became clear these events were not going to happen.  My income stream had essentially dried up overnight.”

With no events planned until Spring 2021 and Carrie ineligible for Government funding, the outlook was bleak. However, she soon saw an opportunity and ‘We Love Platters’ was born!  Delivered directly to customers’ doors, the boxes are packed with a range of locally sourced produce including speciality cheeses, cured meats, antipasti, locally baked bread, chutneys, fruits and sweet treats, adding a real ‘wow’ factor to any gathering, big or small.

Carrie said, “People could no longer go out to bars and restaurants to socialise or celebrate events like birthdays, hen nights or graduation celebrations and many of us are continuing to socialise in small groups at home.  Takeaways aren’t always the best or healthiest option so lockdown was a real opportunity for me to think out of the box.”

Carrie also teamed up with Dundee-based Aitken Wines so she could provide wine with the platters and now has her own drinks licence. Looking ahead, Carrie is already being approached by offices seeking catering options for meetings when their staff return and has a number of events confirmed for 2021 including a wedding breakfast.

Gathering Guild

Lockdown also created the motivation and impetus for Jenny Alexander to pursue her business dream.

Having freelanced for around 20 years as a prop buyer, set decorator and art director including a spell with BBC’s Eastenders earlier this year, Jenny’s career had taken her all over the country. However, looking to spend more time at home and re-focus on life’s priorities, Jenny chose lockdown as the time to grasp the mettle and go it alone.

Jenny explained, “I had wanted to leave the film and tv businesses for a while, everything involves so much travel. With around 20 years of experience behind me, I’ll be specialising in dressing and styling events, providing the inspiration, props and themes to transform and personalise everything from weddings and hen parties to conferences and milestone family occasions, both inside and out. There’s a wealth of talent in this area and I’m very much looking forward to working with other local businesses, suppliers and community groups to help people mark occasions in style, creating the atmosphere, look and feel they’re after.”

Having recently completed a short course through Women’s Business Station, Jenny is also applying for Elevator’s Accelerator course in Perth.  With her branding and website plans underway, she hopes to officially launch Gathering Guild within the next two months.

Renew Your Body / Art in the Attic

Running a business is one thing but to launch a second during lockdown was quite an achievement for Donata Kick from Perth. Donata is a biomechanics expert at Renew Your Body, where she ‘untangles’ clients’ skeletal structure, helping with mobility, posture and pain relief.

Launching in early 2018, Donata embarked on Women’s Business Station’s week-long FasTRACK course the following year.

“I’m an expert in my field but wasn’t an expert in running a business, so the course appealed to me greatly. As well as providing me with some important business skills, I became part of a really warm and supportive business community.”

Immediately following FasTRACK, Donata opened brand new premises in Perth, tripling her revenue over the next six months. Then lockdown struck and the clinic was forced to shut overnight.  Despite serious concerns for her business, Donata went into recovery mode, embracing the many training and networking opportunities Women’s Business Station was offering.

“I probably took part in around 80% of Women’s Business Station’s activities during lockdown. The learning and personal development journey I have been on is just amazing, with literally hundreds of hours of Zoom calls. They’ve been the ideal one-stop resource, sparking lots of synergies between different businesses and supplying all the relevant information we needed to get through lockdown.”

Donata’s link with Women’s Business Station also proved a catalyst in launching a side business. Having enjoyed making unique and beautiful artwork from found objects and repurposed materials as a hobby, Donata embarked on the organisation’s new online ‘Exploring Your Vision’ course. In a matter of weeks ‘Art in the Attic’ was born.

“Lockdown was the perfect time to launch Art in the Attic as it gave me the push to make it work. I’d always enjoyed making gifts for birthdays and Christmas but I would never have considered launching this as a business before. The situation we were in and Women’s Business Station’s support made it happen, and now I’m starting to tap into a higher-end market.

In the meantime, Donata’s clinic will welcome patients back in September.

 

AMS Accounting

If there’s one area of business where we all sought guidance during lockdown, it was finance!

That’s where Andrea of AMS Accounting comes in. Having worked in the accounting sector for nearly 20 years, completing her ACCA exams at the end of 2018, Andrea’s business has really taken off since completing Women’s Business Station’s FasTRACK course in October 2019.

“At that point, I was running a small book-keeping business with a few tax return clients but, for various reasons, had to ramp it up a bit.  I thought I had a good grasp on business but I’ve learned so much. It’s really changed my life, inspired me and given me so much confidence to just go for it. That week was pivotal to me, allowed me to find my feet and get going.”

Then lockdown hit.  Despite initial concerns by a drop in book-keeping work, compounded by shielding with two young children, Andrea’s business continued to grow, with a surge in demand for accounts production work.  Having grown from five to 40 clients in a few months, she has also taken on her first member of staff.

“I think lockdown really pushed people to get an accountant, with many feeling understandably unsettled about their finances. Others needed support with furloughing or Government support. It’s been so rewarding, reassuring other small businesses and putting systems and structures in place for the future.”

Lockdown also allowed Andrea to grow the business consultancy side of her business, initially preparing resources, blogs, budgets and strategies to survive lockdown, an area she plans to develop longer-term.

“My aim is to employ a Manager, a qualified accountant, allowing me to focus on the business consultancy side. Ultimately, I plan to recruit more staff and open premises where clients can pop in to discuss their accounting in an approachable and flexible environment – that’s my vision!”

Chief executive Angie De Vos said: “Starting up a new business is a tough enough challenge at the best of times. To continue on that mission during a pandemic, followed by the inevitable downturn, is something else altogether.

“Women’s Business Station went into crisis mode when lockdown started but our commitment to the women we support remained at the forefront of everything we do.

“It soon emerged that these entrepreneurs-in-the-making needed more support than ever before to stay focused, communicate with their customers and access financial support.

“In some ways this has been the perfect time for start-ups to make the most of their time and develop skills.

“We have seen a shift from survive to thrive with 85% of the women we support continuing to launch a business despite monumental challenges ahead.”

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