It feels like we’re entering a new phase in Covid-19 world right now...
Plans are in place for schools to return.
Many non-essential shops are open.
It’s possible to buy toilet paper and flour again.
We’re starting to see glimmers of what life completely out of lockdown might be like.
The shock of this situation is slowly being replaced with other emotions, though grief and bitterness still weave through many of the thoughts and decisions, that as business owners and managers, we’ve had to make.
And as Tracey Gray told us in her phenomenal interview on being a manager during Covid-19, that’s ok. (We just need to follow her advice in handling these emotions and ‘getting back above the line’.)
Our brave small business community has taken a huge hit, and we may well be diminished, but it seems we are no less determined as we look to the longer term and our forecasting for the rest of the year.
All around us, in almost every conversation we have, we’re seeing new levels of courage and steeliness as everyone prepares for what lies ahead.
Fellow businesses, as always, we stand with you and our little boat sails alongside yours. It is that Dunkirk spirit, which we see alive and in so much evidence, that makes being a small business so special.
And while we’re on the topic of people doing special things, it’s been a real pleasure to catch up (virtually, of course!) with some friends over at Newspaper Club and talk to them about how they’ve managed their business through lockdown and, of course, how they’re now planning for a new future.
Farillio: Hey Anne, tell us first a bit about Newspaper Club and what you guys do.
Anne: Newspaper Club is a print-on-demand newspaper business. We print newspapers for customers all over the world and our clients have included the Guardian, the BBC and Facebook. We can print one copy or thousands and we have a flexible service that makes it easier to print your own newspaper, whether it’s a one-off job or a regular publication.
We started in London in 2009 and we’re now a team of 12, based mostly in Glasgow.
Farillio: Tell us a bit about how business was before Covid-19 – that time we all yearn for right now! How was everything going? What were you planning for?
Anne: Business was going really well. We had a really good start to the year. We had expanded and had hired a couple of new employees who were settling in well to the team. We felt all set for a positive 2020.
Farillio: Especially hard to have just taken on new members of the team before this. When did it become clear that you’d probably have to start adapting and changing?
Anne: By early/mid-March, it was clear that the situation was serious and was going to cause major disruption. We started to hear from customers whose events were being cancelled. Projects were being pulled due to all the uncertainty. We could feel the dramatic change in customer confidence.
Farillio: Sensing that change in customer confidence and demand is so disheartening. How did you handle it?
Anne: It was an immensely stressful situation in a variety of different ways! What I remember was the situation was moving so quickly, and there was a lot of information to take in, but no real certainty about what was going on, or what might happen next.
Because our business suddenly got quieter, at least it gave us the opportunity to sort out the critical issues for our team - making sure that everyone was well and safe, and able to work from home where possible. Thankfully we were already used to remote working to some extent, so moving to home-working for lockdown was relatively straightforward.
We also had to decide whether to close or to stay open.
At the start, there seemed to be a public pressure for ‘non-essential’ businesses to close, even though that wasn’t what the government communications said. We didn’t want to put any staff at risk; but after talking to everyone, the feeling was everyone wanted to stay open if that was permitted. Fortunately, we worked out a way to remain operational while complying with the government guidelines. This involved the print team, working individually or in teams of 2 (which didn’t overlap with other production teams), increased cleaning and hand sanitation. Fortunately, we have a large production space, so social distancing was relatively easy to do.
Farillio: It’s great that you were able to work out a way to remain in operation. So many small businesses we’ve been chatting to couldn't do this. But we expect that was just the tip of the iceberg in trying to navigate your way through this, right?
Anne: Absolutely. Once that was done, the next step was to face the full horror of the situation in the long term, business-wise.
We quickly looked for any costs we could cut and drew up an emergency forecast for the rest of the year. This gave us an idea of how far our cash would go in different scenarios. We also watched carefully for the government schemes to open and took advantage of the business grants and furlough scheme when available.
Deciding who to furlough was perhaps the most difficult part of this - I felt awful, both for the people who would be furloughed and those who weren’t. Thankfully we have a great team and everyone has been brilliant about it. We’ve managed to keep the business running and make sure that all staff are safe and well, both physically and mentally.
Farillio: The furlough scheme has been a huge support for businesses but, even so, furloughing people (or worse, having to let good people go altogether), is awful for every business owner who's people-driven and has a loyal and hardworking team. Making those calls can be extremely difficult and it’s really hard to keep emotions out of it.
Anne: Yes, and the hardest part for me was trying to manage so many different angles at once - the operational side, and the people side, while also dealing with my own family situation and the general calamity of the events. It was just horrendous.
Farillio: It helps, actually, to hear that nobody is finding this easy. Even where you know there’s financially no choice and you have to prioritise preserving your business so there's something to come back to, there’s an impact to these staffing decisions that goes far beyond putting someone on furlough leave.
We get incredible energy and reassurance from speaking with business owners such as yourself and seeing your passion for guiding your business and your people through these challenges.
Can you tell us how the changes you made have played out? We’re really hoping you’ve found success!
Anne: With hindsight, I’m really glad that we did find a way to keep going. Our customers were absolutely fantastic. We got so many supportive emails. The feedback we got was that customers were really pleased we kept going, as it helped them to keep their businesses going too.
Farillio: We love this strength in collaboration and community support. It really is what helps us all through: working with amazing teams and customers who are generous with their support.
Has anything changed since you've changed the way the business is operating?
Anne: Many businesses are totally disrupted at the moment, so it’s certainly not business-as-usual and that will be the case for a while yet.
There has been a really creative response to the crisis, with an increase in quarantine zines – magazines made on our mini-sized newspapers – and print-based social isolation projects. Lockdown gives some people a chance to finish projects they’ve had on the backburner for a while, or to find inventive ways to keep in touch with family, friends and clients.
Farillio: We've seen so many creative isolation projects – fascinating accounts in years to come as people review this moment in history. So, with the increased activity and creativity that you mention, does that mean your customer base has changed a bit during this period too?
Anne: Our customer base has certainly changed temporarily. So many events have been cancelled and public spaces closed, that there isn’t the same demand for certain types of newspapers.
However, we’re seeing that some businesses, like food delivery companies and subscription services, are thriving and need a way to keep in touch with their customers that cuts through all the digital noise, so they are becoming a new customer base for us.
Farillio: It’s rather cool to see that digital and online doesn't have all the answers after all! I think we all want to feel that sense of something different, refreshing, tangible and, of course, positive, given everything else that we’re experiencing as individuals, as well as business owners.
In years to come, recipients of your customers’ newspapers will have quite incredible keepsakes because of you; pieces of history that you helped to create and record.
You’ve been so courageous in finding your way through this, keeping your business operating, and now planning for a different future. What advice or words of wisdom can you share with other small businesses who are trying to find their own way through all this?
Anne: Be kind. Focus on making sure that your team is ok, both mentally and operationally. We also checked in on our partners and suppliers to make sure they were ok.
Be generous to your customers.
Remember it’s temporary – it feels like it will be like this forever at the moment, but all things must pass!
Accept that lots of things are outside your control, and deal with the things you can change.
Finally, look after yourself and make sure you get what you need, whether it’s time away from the news and social media, working on creative projects, exercise or time outside, or catching up with friends and family in whatever way possible.
Farillio: That’s a great set of advice, thank you, Anne. We love the fact that you emphasise ‘kindness’ as the starting point. We believe that acts of kindness cause a ripple effect and are transformative. And if you look after your people, your team and customers, this will most often lead to a better place.
We wish the Newspaper Club the very best of luck in the future. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.
Farillio Community, check out what these guys do. Maybe after reading this you’re considering starting your own print newspaper to engage with your customers? Could that email newsletter be a print one and if so, what could it look like? You can visit The Newspaper Club’s website on www.newspaperclub.com, or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest to find out more.
Remember that we rise together. Every purchase, every collaboration, every gesture of support for a small business makes us stronger. And by coming together and supporting each other, we can get many steps closer to ensuring that in fighting our ways through what Covid-19 has dealt us, we #LeaveNoSMEBehind.
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