For the past few weeks, we've been out in the small business community speaking with founders and entrepreneurs who've adapted their businesses virtually overnight to continue doing what they love doing and serve their customers.
It’s been humbling to see these passionate, creative founders find new ways of delivering their products and services.
What shines through is that each of our brave business owners has such strength in business purpose and a commitment to their customers, their students, their community… and this is what is powering them through these toughest of times – just as, at Farillio, we're energised by doing all we can to support and inspire small businesses.
Stories are powerful agents of change, so we hope that, in continuing to bring you these stories, other businesses may get inspiration and hope for new ways of doing things.
It’s in this spirit we bring to you the next in our Covid-19 #SmallBizHeroes stories, speaking with 2 small business owners from a sector that's been greatly impacted by Covid-19.
We caught up with Nicola Burt who runs her own interior design business and Chris Snook, an interiors photographer.
Nicola and Chris are big fans of each others’ work and they’ve both been busy adapting their businesses and plans. Luckily for us, they were both happy to take a breather and let us ask them a few questions about what they’ve been experiencing and the decisions they’ve taken as a result.
Farillio: So, the wonderful world of interior design. We're BIG on interior design at Farillio. Tell us what you both do and how you set your businesses up.
Nicola: I’m an interior designer with my own studio. I work mainly on residential projects in and around London, but also further afield and abroad. We put our house up for sale in 2004 and it was 'Buy of the Week' in the Evening Standard at the time, so I took this as a sign that interior design was what I was meant to do! It was always something I loved, so I went back to study, qualified and changed career and set up my business.
Chris: I’m a photographer in the design industry, based in London, and I travel all over the UK, and sometimes abroad. I work with architects, magazines and interior designers like Nicola, capturing unique designs for portfolio and publications.
Farillio: How was the design industry before Covid-19? How were your respective businesses going?
Nicola: In the last couple of years, the industry had definitely been impacted by the uncertainty around Brexit, but it was picking up and getting busier from the second half of 2019. I had lots of plans in the pipeline, including the launch of a series of interior design workshops, and I had three new interior design projects about to start. All of these have been impacted by Covid-19.
Chris: I was booked up with photoshoots for a month in advance and working around 4–5 days a week on shoots. Even up until the lockdown, I was busy and was only having to postpone those shoots where people were self-isolating. I had shoots booked all of April, and then also into May, with discussions about projects over the summer. The future was looking great!
Farillio: What's so devastating is that so many of our small business community have shared similar stories with us. Almost all of them were thriving right up until the point that lockdown was formally announced. When did it hit home that you'd need to start adapting and changing how you both worked?
Nicola: About a week before the lockdown was announced, I did a site visit to one of my new projects, the redesign of a gym at a hotel in central London. My client told me out of the 250 rooms in the hotel, at that time only 20 were occupied, as their guests are mostly American and Chinese. This was unheard of for that time of year. It was then that I realised we were heading for a lockdown. And I knew I needed to think quickly about how to keep my business going without any of the face-to-face contact and all of the other things we can no longer do for the moment, such as site visits, furniture orders and deliveries, sourcing items, visiting and negotiating with suppliers.
I had to evaluate what elements of my consultations and projects I could immediately move online, and how I could remodel my whole design process to be able to fit around these new circumstances. How do you keep the design process going doing in lockdown? There was so much to think about!
Chris: At the start of March, with different areas of the world going into lockdown, it was obvious that it was a matter of when, not if, my work was going to stop.
I had to look at different ways I could gain revenue as soon as possible so that I could survive through the lockdown period.
I started contacting clients to rearrange shoots. Then I rearranged my image library to see what case studies I could resell to magazine and brands alike. This took a while, but it was not only a good client touchpoint, but it helped me to diversify my business using the assets I already had.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Snook, who owns the copyright in it)
Social media has always been a big part of my business, so I started exploring ways to harness its power a bit more and become more visible. I arranged Instagram live chats with designers and architectural platforms - something I would not have considered doing before.
Farillio: You both make it sound easy… but we all know it’s not. To have to change your entire model so rapidly is an extraordinary feat. Changing a business model is something that many businesses never need to consider, but to change it all practically overnight, when this kind of mammoth undertaking would normally be something researched, planned, tested and transitioned into in normal times, is honestly incredible. What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
Nicola: For me, site visits to clients are central to what I do, so I had to think how I would continue to do this to be able to discuss jobs with clients. I set up virtual meetings with each of my clients to explore how we could continue to work on projects remotely. Whilst we can only plan at this stage, we can still plan, price and make a lot of decisions so that when this eases up, we are ready to hit the ground running.
Chris: I had to get releases for images, consent from clients, and also needed to team up with journalists to help pitch the case studies to magazines. This helped bridge the gap between myself and editors, and also meant that I could help someone else in this time, where a lot of people are struggling, so it was great to be able to collaborate and support other freelancers.
Farillio: We love this Chris – we always say at Farillio that little boats are mighty when they come together! So how is this different way of working playing out for both your businesses?
Nicola: The great thing is that we can actually do a lot of planning – as everyone is at home. It’s a welcome distraction from everything that is going on and something positive to focus on.
As we don’t really know still what the future holds in terms of movement, I will be offering virtual online consultations for the foreseeable future and also building more virtual consultations into my practice for the long term.
The push to go remote has made me realise so much of what I can do can be carried on virtually and will not only mean we generally operate more efficiently, but that we can also expand our customer base internationally.
Chris: I’m now working with more journalists, editors and PR companies. I’m also looking at stock companies, as new way of generating revenue. I’ve had some success and managed to secure some coverage for a few case studies. This is work I wouldn’t usually have the time to do, and has made me realise, that I can adapt when needed. It also means I can secure my current customers media coverage which keeps them visible.
Farillio: It’s great to see how even in spite of the massive disruption and financial difficulty that Covid-19 has brought, the situation has also led to a lot of small businesses realising efficiencies and discovering new revenue streams that will stand them in good stead for the long term.
What advice do you have to other small businesses who are looking to adapt right now?
Nicola: Think about what your business community and the local community around you needs right now, and how you can adapt to get your product to market in a different way.
We are really seeing the power of both local and online communities banding together to support each other through this crisis. And social media being used as a force for good is lovely to see.
I’m involved with @designhavensforheroes, an initiative offering room makeovers to NHS Key workers who have been working on the front line during the Covid-19 crisis. I’m also doing a series of IGTV Live chats every Friday with another interior designer where we discuss a topic of interest to our audience.
(One of Nicola's Design Havens for Heroes interiors. Photo courtesy of Nicola Burt, who owns the copyright in it)
Chris: The current situation is an opportunity for a business to sit back and take stock of its assets, and the ways it can use those, and then to think about how it can evolve.
Reaching out to current clients and keeping an open dialect with them is a good way to reassure them, and to let them know you are thinking of them in these difficult times.
Farillio: That’s great advice, thank you! Any final words of wisdom for the small business community to ensure we #LeaveNoSMEBehind?
Nicola: Try to see this as an opportunity, not a disaster. We are all in this together, and everyone will be affected in some way. Try to stay positive and take one day at a time. There are many positives that will come out of this, it will challenge us to find new ways of working to adapt and survive. Which we will.
Chris: Use the time to work on all those things you never normally have time to do. So when this crisis is over, you will be stronger, and ready to go!
Farillio: Nicola, Chris, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about how you are navigating all these challenges. We hope with people spending more time at home there might be a real upswing on investment in interiors and that both your businesses will continue to fly after lockdown eases.
If you'd like to check out Nicola’s beautiful interior works and Chris’ awesome photography, hop on over to their websites and social media: