The first national UK lockdown was announced one year ago on 23rd March, bringing with it social-distancing restrictions that required physical office and store closures across the UK, changing the course of thousands of small businesses.
However, the UK small business landscape did not grind to a halt. In fact, entrepreneurs continued to launch businesses throughout the pandemic, with the British Business Bank’s government-backed Start Up Loans programme issuing over £122m of its low-interest loans to 10,135 people from April 2020 to February 2021. July 2020 even saw the programme’s busiest month since the scheme was founded in 2012.
All businesses faced unprecedented challenges throughout 2020, especially small business owners looking to enter the disrupted operating landscape for the first time. Cancelled launch events, last-minute changes to marketing programmes and delays in initiating trading are just some of the hurdles these businesses had to face.
Richard Bearman, Managing Director of Start Up Loans, said: “The last twelve months have been a tumultuous time for the UK start-up landscape, none more so than for those entrepreneurs who prepared to launch businesses just as Covid-19 restrictions hit. It is incredible to hear of those entrepreneurs who have weathered the storm and how the support and guidance from Start Up Loans has helped them, which I believe is testament to the tenacity of the British entrepreneurs.”
From launching e-commerce sites, to digital-first marketing plans and expanding their business’ traditional offering, the below Start Up Loans recipients reflect on starting a business as lockdown struck:
Focus on building brand loyalty: The Nail and Beauty Nerd
Emma Andralojc took out a loan in 2019 to launch The Nail and Beauty Nerd, a beauty salon based in Harrogate. The business was just getting off the ground when lockdown was announced, and it was forced to close its doors.
Determined to replicate the personal touches her salon had prided itself on and maintain her existing clients, Emma launched ‘Facial Fridays’ for her clients – an at-home facial experience including an online tutorial. Later in the year, when restrictions allowed the salon to open but not to serve drinks, Emma partnered with a local café to ensure her clients could still have hot drinks following their treatments.
As a result of this focus on brand loyalty, when the business was able to reopen briefly for part of December 2020, Emma managed to increase her revenue by 50% on the previous year.
“As a new business owner, you feel like you have to do everything all at once, especially when a crisis like the pandemic hits. Looking back on the past year, I’m pleased I didn’t let that pressure get to me, took time to make decisions and focused on what was important to me – my clients.”
The best businesses start in the hardest circumstances: Paterson and Hill
Flavia Paterson and Arabella Hill took out two loans of £25,000 in January 2020 and £10,000 in June 2020 to set up Paterson and Hill, a clothing brand based in London, for the growing demographic of women working in outdoor and skilled manual jobs such as farming, gardening and engineering.
The announcement of lockdown created huge challenges for the pair, who had to deal with supplier delays, switch the country their product was produced in, and attempt to fit their clothes on models over Zoom – all resulting in a delayed launch date.
Despite these setbacks, Flavia remains resolute and positive in anticipation of their launch next month. The pair have spent the last year investing in an e-commerce business model, following the shift to online clothes shopping, and used Flavia’s background in communications to develop a digital marketing strategy.
“While many of the outdoor events and markets we’d planned to attend have been cancelled, I am optimistic that our online marketing will help make up for that lost promotional activity. The mentor Start Up Loans provided us with is a marketing expert and has been a fantastic source of support and ideas during this difficult time. They say the best businesses start in the hardest circumstances, and we’re hopeful that we are one of them.”