On the 8th of March, I was giggling with a girlfriend who was visiting from interstate about toilet paper hoarders and wearing masks in public. We knew that Covid-19 was serious, but as we talked it over and laughed while visiting an Adelaide Hills winery and sipping on wine in the sunshine, I nor most others were prepared for how things would change, and so quickly.
My business is nearly four years old; it's been equal parts exciting and thrilling to run my own business. But it's also a lot of hard work, long days, weekend work, sleepless nights and putting yourself out there mentally, physically and emotionally.
If you love what you do, if you believe in it, you throw yourself headfirst, crashingly into your business venture. For me, that meant leaving a full-time job and starting from scratch. From the bottom.
If you think you work hard in a job for someone else, start a business, and you will learn about hard work.
Running a business is already a bit of a daily battle at times, the work can be drowning and overwhelming if you look at the day to day.
And sometimes it can be hard to remember your end goal and all that you have accomplished when you look at it from the daily grind.
Getting clients is a courtship process, that takes time, investment, and putting yourself out there. And that's only where the work starts, you then need to keep them.
Simply put, you need to put in the work each and every day. There are no off days, no slack days, no sick days. Every day you do the work to build your business. You build from the moment you get out of bed in the morning to the moment your head hits the pillow.
Every client contract signed is a MASSIVE win, and you can never rest on your laurels because you need to work hard to keep it.
You wear different hats daily. You do all the un-glamorous jobs as a boss which can range from client work, to accounting, to having to make the ‘boss’ calls, HR paperwork, to putting out spot fires, to fixing mistakes.
If anyone tells you that running a company is glamorous they would be lying, and it's a massive leveller for the ego; when you think things are sailing along happily, you can be dealt a challenge that knocks the wind out of your sails and brings you back to earth. But you've just got to keep getting up.
You learn that lawyers and a good accountant are like gold and for the first year when your business starts making money you cry your eyes out every quarter when you get your BAS bills and when you lodge your EOFY returns.
But you evolve, you grow, you learn to lead, and you get stronger. What seemed like significant sums of money when you worked for someone else like 10K becomes just another invoice to pay.
And you love it; you love it with such a passion that often you can't wait to get into work in the morning. You have an insane amount of pride when you succeed, and when you look at what you've achieved.
Most of our clients are hospitality and tourism businesses. It's an industry that I know well as I started out in hospitality at the tender age of 16 in my first job, and it's an industry that I have so much passion for. It’s in my blood, I guess.
Most of my career has been built around bringing people together. And when the actual reality of the Covid-19 crisis and its effects on businesses became apparent, one of the first blows came for the hospitality industry with strict social distancing rules.
We scrambled with our clients to help them adapt. That first week was long… we pivoted, and we moved as quickly as possible to try and save the livelihoods of our clients, many of who have become friends.
If I thought the first week was exhausting, I wasn't prepared for the carnage that became the second week when venues would have to close.
In that week, every time the phone rang or my email chimed it was another tough conversation; another job pulled, another contract cancelled. 70% of our work went out the door in 48hours.
And the first blow of the heartbreak happened.
That second week my heart broke into a million pieces. It broke at the swiftness of closures. It broke especially for our clients who were in a world of pain, and it broke my heart as I watched my business crumble around me.
It became very real, very fast, and the flow-on effects were massive. No amount of financial planning for your business can prepare you for a global pandemic. Not only were we facing a health crisis but a massive and swift economic one which we were caught square in the middle of.
On the third week brought the changes to non-essential travel which brought about further calls and cancellations of contracts from tourism businesses who had to close their doors. I started dreading every time the phone rang because it was rarely good news.
As time has gone on since then, I have struggled to put my finger on these feelings and how I was feeling about this whole mess. I’ve been through a few extreme challenges in my life, but this blow was swift and harsh. I’m usually good at looking for the opportunity in things, but I was struggling most days to see any bright side.
I swayed between it’s going to be Ok on the other side to looking at my finances with my accountant and wondering how long I could hang on for...
I felt that kind of demotivation you have when you have a crappy boss.
I struggled with the day to day tasks, burst into tears at the drop of a hat, the snack cupboard was getting raided a bit more than usual, and I was waking up in the middle of the night with more questions than answers… and well... just feeling heartbroken.
Just like with a relationship people are swift to try and make you feel better, they say things like “There will be massive opportunity on the other side” to “It will all come back just as it was before” but that’s not a real validation of how I felt at the time. You know they are just trying to make you feel better, but it felt hollow, and the whole thing felt unfair.
A business is like an extension of yourself. It takes so long to land each client, to develop relationships and that's in good economic times, let alone challenging ones. Every bit of blood, sweat and tears that you pour into starting a company from the ground up takes a bit of you that you can never get back.
Of course, you can rebuild, of course, there is opportunity, and yes it will be ok, but you need to be able to have the energy to do it all again, and I feel like every small business owner who is dealing with this situation, at this time is feeling that.
Do I have the energy and the passion to do it all over again?
I feel for my own business and the people it employs now and into the future, but I also feel deeply for my clients, some of who may not make it on the other side. I feel for my friends in the arts, and events industry which is all intertwined with mine.
Healing from heartbreak.
But I also know that like all heartbreak there will be light on the other side, the cracks in my heart will allow me to let more light in and love again and to rebuild in the new normal.
I am grateful for the clients who have been able to maintain current relationships and contracts at the moment, which is helping keep us afloat and keep my head above water and to keep some sense of normality.
I know that we will love again, harder and more mindfully on the other side and what falls apart can be rebuilt better and stronger.
I hope that we love and appreciate our small businesses that give so much to our communities that much more on the other side.
That we become more locavore in nature and shop local with small producers, suppliers and cafes and restaurants. That we engage local contractors and work with small business, and we strive to work as a collective instead of everyone out for themselves.
I hope that we learn to love again but with a new invigoration.
n.b not my normal blog, but these are not normal times.
Stay safe and stay strong.
Kate Bickford MD & Owner - BK AGENCY: