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Business as usual?

Running a business is hard work at the best of times. Keeping one going through Coronavirus is a challenge, the like of which most of us have never known before.

By Helen Bowman

But even as we negotiate unprecedented times, there are some incredible people in our region who are not only keeping on going, they’re starting new businesses in the midst of all this too.

We spoke to three of the North East’s leading experts to find out what our local business support organisations are doing to help businesses in the current climate, and just how new businesses can still receive advice and support, remotely.

Nicola Jayne Little, Mint Business Club

First on the books is Nicola Jayne Little, founder of the business support group, The Mint Business Club. Based in Consett, Nicola helps businesspeople from all over the North East region. The Mint Business Club is a membership group open to sole traders and micro-businesses (up to ten employees) and offers networking, training and general business support. Since the lockdown started, Nicola has ‘pivoted’ (her words) her business to offer all the support, advice, training and networking opportunities she used to deliver, but online.

Nicola, what’s your advice for businesses to survive during lockdown?

In my experience of running a business, everything links together. The planning, marketing, finance, digital, sales, wellbeing, values, branding – everything you need to be doing within your business fits together intimately.

These aren’t distinct activities, a pick and mix of options – they’re all essential parts of a business whether you’re just starting out or have been trading for several years. That’s why learning is essential for running and starting a business. Learn as much as you can – before you start, as you launch – and keep learning as your business grows. Be open to being challenged, stay resilient and be resourceful.

Some of the most amazing businesses I know have had to think deeply about their business model over the past few weeks, in order to survive. But the amazing thing is, not one of them has given up and thrown in the towel – I’ve seen face to face businesses turn online and launch shops, training businesses turn around online workshops within a few days and service businesses add new streams to their businesses to enable them to carry on trading during the lockdown. It’s been incredible and humbling to watch.

Finally, don’t forget your WHY. Why do you want to work for yourself? Why did you start your business in the first place? Keep that motivation in mind and you’ll find the motivation you need to keep going. It could well be the hardest work you’ve done in your life, but it will all be worth it.

As you’re based in Consett, County Durham, could you tell us about the business support that’s available in the south of our region?

There are several support organisations that I’ve personally drawn upon during my time in self-employment. The Do Business Network (DBN) runs in Consett and works closely with the Federation of Small Businesses is a fantastic means of support – they’ve provided us with loads of advice about HR, accounting and general Covid-19 support.

Business Durham is run by our local council and has been offering support for Durham-based businesses for years. They’re providing regular updates on COVID-19 developments and will help businesses find support and advice across the board.

I’d recommend Digital Drive Durham as a source of funded support and training for businesses in the digital field and there’s Pop Up Business School who are offering some incredible advice about adapting to the current climate and surviving with a strong business.

Janice Ross MBE, The Business Factory

Next up is Janice Ross MBE is a business advisor with The Business Factory on North Tyneside. Awarded her MBE for services to businesses in the region, Janice has been working with small businesses for many years.

Where is the best place to find reputable advice for businesses at the moment?

Wherever they are in the region, owners of small businesses and sole traders can keep abreast of the rolling changes regarding Coronavirus via the Government website. I’m finding this is the quickest way to learn what’s happening and how it affects my clients. They are updating it regularly, so if the information isn’t there when you look in the morning, check again every couple of hours. In North Tyneside, it is the support team at North Tyneside Business Forum who are filtering the information through their Business Forum Group. It’s free to join and a great way to keep up the peer support too. Elsewhere in the region, there’s support too so it’s worth speaking to your local council and/or enterprise agency. Start with North East Growth Hub.

 Any advice for anyone looking to start a business?

Now is a great time to plan a new business. If you’re furloughed but have always wanted to work for yourself, you now have the time to draw up a business plan. Again, in North Tyneside there’s great support – hundreds of free resources 24/7 at www.businessfactory.online or during the day from my colleagues, the business advisors at The Business Factory.

If you are thinking of starting a business, ask for support. Don’t isolate yourself from the myriad of people who are able to help online. If you are a member of a club, networking group or organisation, see if they have a Facebook support group where you can ask questions and share your own expertise, or provide a place to offload any frustration or worries. If they don’t, why not suggest it? The National Women’s Network Facebook Group is a safe place for me to share my thoughts and it’s been a great source of advice and reassurance over the years.

Karen Goldfinch, chair of the North Tyneside Business Forum

Finally, Karen Goldfinch recently took over as chair of the North Tyneside Business Forum and is a business owner in her own right. Having run her wedding stationery business, Made To Treasure, for many years, she also offers business consultancy services through her new business, Your Business Pilot. Here’s what Karen had to say:

Businesses are finding this such a tricky time. There is lots of uncertainty and so many businesses are waiting for guidance and financial support from the Government, whilst also trying to keep their businesses afloat. No matter if you’re a large multinational or solo business there’s no doubt COVID-19 has affected all of us. At the North Tyneside Business Forum, we represent all sizes and sectors across our borough and have seen some incredible transformations of business practices.

We’ve seen food suppliers, restaurants and cafes changing to supply meals as deliveries or for takeaways; there’s been traditional face to face trainers adapting online Zoom sessions; retailers with bricks and mortar premises increasing their web presence and selling far and wide. All of these and more are examples of how we can look at our business, try to adapt and change to provide an existing or new service in a different way, opening a business up to a whole new audience.

Many are looking at current practices and using the time to re-evaluate their offering, their services and systems. And there have been lots of positive results. I’m really looking forward to when we’re all able to trade safely with improved systems in place.

But there’s no denying it’s hard out there for lots of businesses too. We’re very aware of that, and by continuing to speak to our members, and encouraging them to ask for help, we’re doing what we can to support them, whether it be by signposting, being a conduit between business and the local authority and the Government, or to listen and support.

Things will be different at the end of this, but we have to remain focused and positive, work together to achieve the best for us all, and most importantly to remain safe and take care of each other.

Editor's note

Back in September 2019, I decided to launch High Life North. I needed a logo, so got in touch with Hollie Ellis Design, who created all of our logos and branding.  

She invited me to an event she was hosting – a new venture she had set up with business coach Lucy Patterson – called Mastery – Business, Branding and Mindset.

The network is for female business owners and entrepreneurs in the North East and provides support and advice on business modelling, branding and mindset.

The Facebook group – Mastery – Business, Branding and Mindset – in particular, is a great safe space to use as a sounding board – I’d recommend it to any females who own their own business and are looking for a female-led support network. 

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