Surviving lockdowns: founders' advice for keeping going
This week marks a year since the Prime Minister put the country into lockdown, changing all our lives beyond recognition. In a new report, called Dealing With The Strain, Harper James Solicitors has investigated the impact the past 12 months have had on those trying to keep businesses afloat. PR Manager Nick Owens summarises some of the inspirational stories of how many of those businesses came through the other side.
Toby Harper, CEO of Harper James Solicitors, says: “I felt two main emotions in the early days. Fear and an overwhelming sense of sadness. Sadness that all the hard work and all the success we’d had was at risk. And sadness for all the other businesses, particularly those we were working with, who were suddenly facing such a tough time.
“But in many other ways the pandemic has created opportunities in many different areas. And we’ve been able to benefit by providing the legal support many other companies have needed to grow in unprecedented times. But I feel so much sympathy for businesses who have had to spend much of the past year shutdown and unable to trade. It is important to have people around you with whom you can share any concerns you might have. When you do, you often see you are not the only one going through it.”
Rob Kniaz, one of the UK’s most prominent technology investors, says: “I try to take regular walks where possible. Taking calls while walking or at least blocking out part of the day is essential to have some fresh air and time to think. It's harder for parents, especially in London, when schools are shut. Interestingly, in the US, the impact seems to be a bit less negative - parents have more space often to dedicate to a home office and schools are open in some locations. Plus people can pop in their car and go more places whereas here there's no place to drive that's even warm.
"My advice would be to find friends and schedule regular time to just catch up even without an agenda. Share the trials and tribulations; it's nice to hear from others going through the same problems themselves. For founders, all they can do is keep the business going and hope the economy rebounds well."
Leah Totton, the former winner of BBC show The Apprentice, who runs her own chain of health clinics, says: “I worked from home quite a lot doing online consultations. My staff were furloughed but I worked remotely throughout the entire first lockdown. And I did quite a lot of running, so that’s quite helpful I think.
"But the challenge for someone who owns a business, is different to the challenge of a person employed within a business. I was able to find work to do for my business, whether we were open or closed. It’s my whole life, it’s my creation, it’s a different thing. I think it is important to bear this in mind when you try to measure the impact it has on people. As a society we need to be mindful that long after this virus has gone many people may still be struggling to cope with the impact it has had. They must be given proper care and support."
Award-winning start-up Founder Jess Heagreen, who runs That Works For Me, a business bringing together small to medium companies, says: “I understand pressure. But nobody could have predicted how this year has gone. Every time we got going, another lockdown came.
“Like everyone, I have good days and bad days. On the bad days, I have had to find new coping mechanisms. Previously I could run, walk, meet a friend for coffee, whatever it was I wanted to do. The point was that I had time on my own to deal with things.
“Business-wise, I try to plan my weeks using a to-do list at half the length I would have normally had, so I’m not feeling like a failure before I’ve even started. I spread my meetings out making sure I speak to outsiders every day. I use the limits on my phone to avoid social media. The only content I really read is work related. I make sure I always have a good book on the go. Audio books are my go-to. My resilience has taken a real hit over the last year. But, moving forward, things are looking promising. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and am dreaming of the things we will do when things return to ‘normal’.”
Barry Searle, the Owner of business training provider Intqual-Pro, says: “I have managed to remain relatively balanced through the pandemic through awareness of my own mindset. And I have been taking opportunities to release stress and vary my daily routine as much as possible. I've found that being able to separate work and maintain a separate personal life has been key. I see too many people over-focusing on work as there is little else to do and this leads to finding, or often creating problems, that would not exist pre-pandemic. As the country looks to rebuild economically, addressing mental health will be a key issue."
Alastair MacGregor, the Chief Operating Officer for Doit.life, an organisation which helps organisations and their people to support their local communities, says: “The hardest moments for us came over the summer when there were cash constraints. To combat this we focused on the emerging opportunities and were able to raise funds on the back of that with our supportive investors.
"On a more practical level I also tried to use mindful activities - meditation, Pilates, walking and other exercise. Getting outside as much as possible was vital. If you’re not already doing it, my advice to others would be to use the crisis to embark on a journey of self observation. It’s always needed and the crisis has just highlighted the need for it. The benefits will then be felt over the rest of your life, and in all aspects of it.”