Four New Zealand business owners share how they’ve looked after their own wellbeing during the tougher moments of COVID-19, and how they’re preparing to recover and thrive.
If you asked someone six months ago about the key skill required to be a successful small business owner, they might have said something like creativity, perseverance or resourcefulness. While all three of those answers are correct, in 2020, there’s another skill that’s risen to the top of the list: resilience.
That’s both business resilience – being able to respond to the ebbs and flows of an unstable market – as well as personal resilience.
The retail sector in New Zealand was struck a devastating blow during the initial shutdown period. But Toni Church, owner of Renew Designer Recycle Boutique in Remuera, says it was actually the days preceding it that were the most frightening.
“Sales had really dropped off. People weren’t spending, no one knew what to expect,” she says.
When the store closed with just 48 hours’ notice, Church went into productivity overdrive.
“I cleaned all my stock and the store, got everything completely up-to-date, doubled my presence on social media and reduced the volume of stock by only selecting the best quality on offer. It was something I’d never have done if it weren’t for lockdown,” she says.
Church also remembered the advice of her mother who has been in small business her whole life.
“She’s always said that, when things are down, you have to look like things are up. Make people feel good so when they are in your space, they feel excited.”
Kirsty Ferguson is an author and motivator, and founder of Pinstripe Solutions, a consultancy that helps those in the aviation industry to find work. When COVID-19 first hit, she lost 95% of her work.
“I had to lay off all my people and go back to being a one-woman band after 20 years,” she says.
To cope, Ferguson looked within. “I’ve always felt a sense of purpose and wellbeing when I help other people, and I’d been fielding daily calls from people who’d lost their jobs. I decided to contact all the aviation unions and ask how we can promote mental health services to members.”
With the help of the unions, Ferguson’s website now hosts a comprehensive list of available mental health resources.
“In New Zealand, many people are feeling desperate. I advise them to use what they’ve got and not to reinvent the wheel. My niche was [assisting job seekers in] aviation and when I realised it was going to be in downturn for up to three years, I had to diversify into different markets, like mums re-entering the workforce and older women,” she says.
“Now is the time to upskill, retrain, reinvent, think outside what you do and imagine the possibilities.”
Kinesiology is a hands-on business, so when COVID-19 hit, Coastal Kinesiology in Whangarei shut down completely with Level 4 lockdown. But owner Jeannine de Vere Hunt was surprisingly unphased.
“I actually didn’t mind. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my belief systems around money and what I could do better overall,” she says.
The extra time also allowed her to catch up on the latest products and therapies in her field, and even add lipid therapy to her future service offering.
For other business owners who might be struggling right now, she advises going with your gut and changing the way you do things, adding that one of her favourite sayings is, “the last seven words of a dying organisation are ‘we’ve never done it that way before’.”
Look for the silver lining
Simon Liu, owner of Add Value Renovations in Auckland, had a number of big jobs lined up just before the March shutdown.
“We were ready to go but then everyone started wanting to put things on hold and then they decided not to go ahead at all. It had quite an impact on me,” he says.
“The first week of lockdown I was quite nervous but then I thought, ‘There’s nothing I can do. It’s happening to every business.’ I read a lot about Grant Cardone [US author and entrepreneur] who started his business in a recession and never gave up. When every other business was retreating, he took the opportunity to stand up and prove himself.”
While other people were cutting their advertising budgets, Liu put together a marketing plan with the help of a friend.
“Marketing is a way to go out and say [to customers] this is why we’re good and this is why you should choose us. There’s always an opportunity if you look hard enough.”
And investing in online marketing has paid off for Liu. “We doubled our monthly sales in August after lockdown. I now have new jobs booked in each week.”