Continuing on our mission to showcase and learn from Covid-19’s #SmallBizHeroes, we’ve been out and about (virtually, of course!) speaking with many more determined small business owners who’ve rapidly adapted their businesses to be able to keep doing what they love and serve their customers.
Many of these small businesses rapidly harnessed the power of online and were able to switch aspects of, if not all their business, to a virtual model.
From running yoga classes online to hosting virtual craft fairs, to conducting interior design consultations via facetime, we’ve spoken with lots of founders who have discovered the power of Zoom and social media and are starting to find success operating this way.
Many say that online and virtual will now be part of their strategy for the long term.
But what happens when this isn't possible?
When your business is manual and requires your workforce and team to be present in your workshop on a daily basis?
When you need specialist machine operators to produce what you sell?
...How can you operate a model like this remotely?
The truth is, many small businesses can’t.
Plenty of us haven’t been able to do the classic 'online pivot'.
So, we’ve been making a point throughout Covid-19 of talking with businesses who’ve not had this option and who’ve instead been faced with the toughest decisions about their business models, cashflow positions and workforce.
Some continue to struggle to find their place in this new order and, for them, the immediate future looks a lot bleaker unless they can dig deep into their creativity and their network supporters to find short term – maybe even longer-term – solutions.
Our #LeaveNoSMEBehind vow and the #3hrPledge campaign are laser focused on these businesses.
We were all, collectively, worth £2.2trn to the UK economy last year. And the government’s made clear that it can’t save us all. So we need to come together to help each other, inspire, learn, buy from and collaborate with each other.
We’ve been deeply affected by these #SmallBizHeroes during our conversations, and it’s in this spirit that we bring you the next in our series with Good Empire, a laser cutting business who are now using their expertise to produce essential PPE for key workers.
Farillio: Hi Joely. So, tell us a bit about Good Empire; what you do and what you produce?
Joely: Good Empire provide creative laser cutting, engraving and waterjet cutting services. So, for example, if you have an idea for signage, need something prototyped or customised, we’ll bring that to life through design and manufacture from our South London workshop. We work across London, the UK and abroad. We’ve also expanded into fabrication, build and installation services in the last few years and provide design and build work for events and in commercial spaces, such as hospitality, offices and shop windows displays.
Farillio: It’s a whole new world to us! We've been checking out some examples of what you do on www.goodempire.com and love what you make. And we can see you’ve made quite a leap recently. Tell us how was business before Covid-19 hit? What plans did you have in the pipeline?
Joely: Business was expanding and the workshop was busy. We had taken on some more staff over the last year and we were about to invest in new equipment. We were working on lots of exciting event design projects.
When the pandemic hit, we had to hold off purchasing the new equipment and of course, the event jobs were either cancelled or postponed.
Farillio: This has hit so many so hard, but the live events scene in particular has been devastated, and that’s fundamentally affected everyone who supplies that industry too.
It’s really hard to hear about this happening and to think about what the next year might look like.
When did you realise there was a need to start adapting and changing what you do at Good Empire?
Joely: The writing was on the wall in early March, when we started to see jobs getting cancelled or postponed. We could feel the rising panic in the events industry. People’s attitudes and confidence towards purchasing was changing.
So as early as March, before lockdown had been announced, we were thinking about what we would do if this continued, and trying to put plans in place.
Farillio: Working out what to do with your workshop when social distancing measures were announced must have been especially challenging. Can you tell us about the obstacles you faced and how you handled them?
Joely: We’re still facing obstacles every day. Nearly 90% of our work has been put on hold as our two major industries are Hospitality and Events – both of which have been crushed as a result of Covid-19.
With production stopping almost entirely on our core business, we had to make the difficult decision to furlough the team.
As a small business where we all work so closely together and know each other personally as well as professionally, this was one of the hardest decisions and it took a lot to do it.
But we had to keep the bigger picture in mind and hope we can return to working together soon. We will be doing all we can to ensure that happens.
With our core business no longer feasible, we decided to work out how we use our skills in the most useful way we can for the current situation.
So we are working together with some groups to cut PPE masks at cost price to help with the lack of PPE equipment. We are part way through working with 3DCrowd to produce 3500 plastic face shields to go on 3D printed headbands.
We are crowdfunding to raise further funds to purchase plastics so we can then produce our own entirely laser-cut version.
We’ll then be selling them on a buy one, donate one basis. This means we can use some of the funds from sales to produce masks which we donate to key workers.
Farillio: Wow. So inspiring that you’ve plugged into this huge societal need and made this momentary ‘pivot’ a real social enterprise and force for good. What really stood out for us was the fact that you’re a small business, super hard hit financially, and yet in spite of everything, you’re still in action, essentially plugging the PPE gap that the government’s not been able to sort fast enough. We hope there’s an MBE in this somewhere, Joely. This grit, determination and compassion really deserves recognition from our country’s leaders.
Thank you so much for being so values-driven and choosing to use your skills to do this.
Tell us how it’s working out for Good Empire? How has it been received?
Joely: We have had great feedback on our pro bono work and it’s created some really amazing brand awareness and has helped potential new clients find us - so it’s actually been a good lead generation exercise.
It’s also helped us stay visible, in a relevant way, with some existing clients who still require our services despite lockdown, and with whom we have worked out safe ways to continue working.
Currently my team are furloughed, so it has been safe to open the workshop on my own and I live locally, so can travel safely. One staff member has been keen to help volunteer his time on the PPE equipment, so we’ve staggered our workdays so that we aren’t in the workshop together. We have also set up a no-contact collection point outside of the studio, so clients who are local can collect their work without contact.
Farillio: We’re so pleased to hear how this is working out for Good Empire. This will hopefully mean that, as the lockdown restrictions start to ease, you’ll be able to get your team back from furlough and be able to power back up in time.
Do you see yourself continuing to do some PPE work going forward? We know lots of businesses are planning to keep aspects of what they’ve launched over the past few months.
Joely: There are regulations and certifications that we will need to achieve in order to supply them on an ongoing basis, which is something we are working on, because we do see this forming part of our business model from now on.
We have been in discussions with some local NHS trusts about becoming a supplier for them, as they are moving away from relying on PPE from overseas. I think there has been a big shift since the pandemic when it comes to the importance of local manufacturing, and a lot of businesses and organisations are looking to source in the UK.
We are also getting requests for customised pieces such as "sneeze guards" and screens/guards for taxis, so yes, we will be moving into making other protection equipment for the world we find ourselves emerging into.
Farillio: That’s fantastic to hear. The #SmallBizHeroes series is all about sharing the learnings and empowering each other. What words of advice or wisdom do you have for your fellow small businesses, Joely, especially those who’ve found themselves in a similar position to Good Empire?
Joely: Apply for any grants or government assistance that you can and discuss what you can to delay tax payments.
Then try not to dwell on the problems and start to work on what you can towards the future.
Spend your free time learning, assessing and planning, so that you come out of this in a better state mentally, if not financially.
Think of ways to adapt and connect with your customers and clients – think about offering free trials, templates, services, etc. to give you the opportunity for people to see what you can offer, and hopefully turn into paying customers soon.
Farillio: We love that advice, Joely and it echoes so much of what our community and experts say in the resources that we publish on Farillio.
Most of all, we love your determination and grit at Good Empire and everyone here wishes you the very best of luck over these coming months with your production of such essential equipment and, of course, in getting your core business back up and running.
To other small businesses who have seen so much drop away so steeply, we want to send our support and strength to find a way through. For advice and support on grants and government assistance for small businesses, hop on over to the Farillio blog.
And to end on a favourite quote at Farillio:
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I'll try again tomorrow.”
Here’s to all #SmallBizHeroes embracing new ways of doing things and making difficult decisions daily.
Let’s power through this together, sharing the learnings, giving help, in whatever form it takes.
Even when individual challenges may seem overwhelming, this is not the time to leave any one of us behind.
Good Empire are part of our #3hrPledge movement and have claimed 3 hours of free legal advice from one of our generous legal pledgers to help with a legal disclaimer for their new products.
If you’re a small business who would like free support right now on any aspect of your business from sales and marketing, to funding and finance to legal, HR or just general business growth or coaching advice, drop us a line and we’ll matchmake you with one of our incredible UK-wide community of experts – all are passionate about ensuring that we #LeaveNoSMEBehind... and none of them can normally be worked with for free! Grab the opportunity and claim your free support today sending Farillio on Twitter a DM with info around what you need.