Here, seven female entrepreneurs share their stories of the various challenges they faced and subsequently overcame to achieve incredible success over the pandemic year. Just over one year ago today, it was announced that the British people "must stay at home".
Lockdown legally forced non-essential shops and other premises like libraries, gyms, playgrounds and churches to close. All social events like weddings were cancelled. Family members couldn't see each other. Children could no longer attend school, and we had to work from home unless it was absolutely unavoidable.
Here, seven female entrepreneurs share their stories of the various challenges they faced and subsequently overcame to achieve incredible success over the pandemic year.
"Nothing is ever as bad as it seems"
Stephanie White, self-confessed word-nerd and founder of By The Way Creative changed her entire life during lockdown. Last March, Hampshire-based Stephanie had just cleared out her savings investing in her fledgling business, and then "the world closed down, and I went into panic mode". She retreated away from her business, even starting to job hunt online before she "found her lady balls" and continued with her expansion plans.
By the end of 2020 Stephanie had launched her first group programme not once, but twice, and had quadrupled her turnover. She reflects that one of the best things to happen was the freedom her business success has offered her husband. "It went from him supporting me to build my dream, to me supporting him. He is now training in areas which interest him and is able to invest in the coaching and support he needs. It's been an incredibly positive learning curve for us as a couple".
However, the journey to marriage wasn't as easy as it could have been. Like many betrothed couples planning to marry in 2020, Stephanie and Josh had to pivot their wedding plans at the last minute. Their venue went bust, and there was no time to rebook elsewhere under the terms of their marriage license. They had to change the date, reorganise everyone, and throw a party together at very short notice. Despite this, Stephanie wouldn't change a thing: "It was one of the most stressful weeks of my life, but the actual wedding was perfect. It taught me that nothing is ever as bad as it seems – if you can hold out hope and keep moving forward, things will work out".
" I was devastated. I was working so hard in my business, to see it almost disappear was heartbreaking"
Amy Crumpton is another who experienced incredible business success following pandemic-provoked failure. Founder of Social Cactus Coaching, Amy is a mindset coach and NLP practitioner who helps female entrepreneurs to reframe their thinking around their limiting beliefs. It was her mindset expertise that Leeds-based Amy had to draw on heavily to help get her through the challenges of the pandemic.
"It was so tough when the first lockdown was brought in. Practically overnight I lost half of my clients, and the business brought in less than £1000 in new sales. Honestly, I was devastated. I have so much passion for my business and was working so hard in it, to see it almost disappear was heartbreaking."
This experience built Amy's resilience and in April 2020, she decided that the pandemic would not break her, or the business she had worked so hard for. "I drew on all my knowledge of mindset and NLP, and used the power of positive words and thinking to retrain my brain. I wrote in my journal daily, "I am going to celebrate a £60k month in May" – May 2020 I celebrated my biggest month to date with £50k in new sales!".
Since then, Social Cactus has gone from strength to strength, with Amy scaling the business to a core team of seven, coaching a number of women who are celebrating their own six-figure years, and establishing a charitable foundation called The Cactus Foundation.
Amy suggests that anyone who is facing similar problems should work on their mindset. "Visualise what you want to happen, write it down, tell yourself it has already happened – because your brain doesn't know the difference between imagination and reality. By believing in yourself, you will take more action, generating bigger results!"
"I suffered from third-degree burns and ended up in hospital, in isolation"
The pandemic has caused global challenges; from health to finances, to job security and more. One such challenge is that of mental health. With small businesses like Amy's up and down the country losing clients overnight, entrepreneurs faced unheard of stresses and challenges.
Rhiannon Bates, PR & business coach and founder of Yorkshire's Garnet PR endured burnout with almost catastrophic consequences. In March of last year, Garnet PR specialised in working with rural tourism businesses and outdoor attractions – one of COVID's worst-affected industries.
"I lost all my clients in the first week of lockdown, and the stress levels were just incredible. I was working all hours, wasn't looking after myself, sleeping really poorly, and not eating. The burnout hit super fast, and I actually ended up passing out in the kitchen, while holding a just-boiled kettle".
Rhiannon suffered from third-degree burns on her legs, and was in hospital, in isolation, at the height of the pandemic for three weeks undergoing skin-graft surgery and recovery. When she was allowed to leave the hospital and begin the slow process of healing, Rhiannon decided that this was not going to be the end of Garnet PR, and she invested in a business coach who helped her with the confidence she needed to rebuild. Rhiannon now has a thriving agency and spends her time helping other women to overcome imposter syndrome, prevent burnout, and get boldly visible.
"I'm not going to lie, it was an extremely difficult, traumatic year. As well as hitting burnout with literal burns as a result, my wedding was postponed, our house sale fell through – twice – and I felt hugely isolated not being able to see my family while all this was going on, it's enough to break even the strongest of people! However, I am a big believer in the power of mindset work, the law of attraction and positive thinking, and by employing these techniques and having an incredible partner, I came out of the other side, not just surviving but thriving, and following my passion to help other women to never suffer what I did."
" Suffering a miscarriage in the middle of a pandemic is one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced"
With 1 in 3 businesses now owned by women and over 780k new businesses formed in the UK in 2020, lockdown gave rise to a new generation of entrepreneurs. One woman who gave up a corporate career to run her own business full time was Lucy Wheeler, practicing lawyer and founder of legal templates website www.lucylegal.co.uk.
Hertfordshire-based Lucy says that the best thing that happened during the year was taking the leap to work for herself: "For years I had the idea about what it would be like running my own business full-time but I always worried about things like my pension and annual leave. I now realise how silly those concerns were. Firstly, they are really easy to put into place, and also they shouldn't be a barrier to creating a life that you love."
It was when Lucy experienced her first miscarriage in March 2020, at the start of lockdown, that she began to reassess her priorities. When she lost her second pregnancy three months later, it was the lack of support from her employers that drove her to hand in her notice and commit full-time to her own business.
"It is hard to explain how lonely it feels suffering a miscarriage. I've done a lot of challenging things in my life (climbing Kilimanjaro, trekking across the Arctic Circle, running 250km in 5 days in the desert) and with each challenge my confidence grew. But suffering a miscarriage in the middle of a pandemic is one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced – we had to get paracetamol on prescription and faced going through a miscarriage without something as simple as toilet roll because of the unnecessary panic buying! On top of that, it was so disappointing not to get the support I needed from my employers and I think there is a lot that society can do to improve the conversations on this so that people don't suffer in silence and feel more confident asking for the help they need."
Lucy now runs a successful business helping entrepreneurs across the UK to legally protect their businesses, giving them the confidence and freedom to focus on what they love to do. She is also expecting her first child next month.
"As a healthcare professional, I really struggled with not being able to see my patients, some of whom I had been treating for 30 years"
East Midlands medical technology provider Cell Regeneration / MBST UK were able to stay open for most of the lockdown and enjoyed a successful year. The first fortnight posed a real emotional challenge though. Ann Clare, the owner of Ann Clare Physiotherapy, MBST UK's flagship clinic really struggled with not being able to see her patients – some of whom she had treated for 30 years.
Elisabeth Clare, MD of Cell Regeneration / MBST UK says: "We used the opportunity of the enforced slow-down to manage changes within the business. Though our capacity was reduced, after two weeks we were able to treat patients again as the MBST devices don't involve human contact."
"One of the main hurdles we faced was the restriction on lending, so our health professionals struggled to purchase the MBST devices from us. The travel restrictions also created delays on device import."
As a business that relies on the import of medical devices from Germany for growth, Brexit posed another difficulty for Cell Regeneration during the pandemic, adding to the expense, delays, and red tape.
"We have two regular weekly orders coming from Germany. Overnight, the costs increased by £20,000. Additionally, we were unable to have our new MBST machines shipped over before Christmas due to the border chaos. We were waiting for four new medical devices and actually had certain border control staff be obstructive, implying ‘we made our bed, lie in it'. We now have the devices but have had to pay an additional 150% on freight; this could be enough to break some businesses."
Cell Regeneration / MBST UK has gone from strength to strength despite the pandemic, growing their turnover by 100% and achieving record numbers of device orders. The team has spent the year developing new plans and solutions, and Elisabeth says: "The experience has made me far more reactive and I have learned to control the panic when things don't go as planned. We can always find a solution, and it's how we react to the unexpected and move forward that makes us successful in business."
"Perhaps the stark warning that life can be short has empowered people to make dreams become their reality"
Maggie Colette, owner of coaching business Think Like A Boss has had a truly exceptional and fulfilling year, supporting countless women in launching and running their own businesses.
"I think we were all uncertain about what would happen when the first national lockdown was announced in March 2020," Cheshire-based Maggie said, "however, I've actually seen a real explosion in women wanting to follow their dreams and do what they love, which meant my business has grown faster than I could have ever anticipated! Perhaps the stark warning that life can be short and unpredictable, given the ferocity of the Covid-19 virus, has empowered people to seek purpose and to make their dreams become their reality."
"So many women have become self-employed, or are turning their ‘side-hustle' into their main work and I've been so fortunate in supporting thousands of women over the last year. Whether that's through redundancy, furlough allowing them the freedom to actually step back and decide what they truly want from life, or simply an empowered choice to escape the rat race, being a business coach and helping women to monetise their businesses online over the last year has been the most fulfilling thing I've ever done."
"If anyone is considering going for it and leaving the 9-5 behind in search of a life more fulfilled and free, I would 100% say go for it. Online businesses are increasing rapidly and as the last year has shown us, we don't need to stick to the ‘norms' – commute, desk, 9-5, commute, home, repeat – we can create and shape a work-life balance that puts the emphasis on life and gives us the freedom and flexibility we've all craved more than ever during months spent at home."
"I became a keyworker after I lost my job in PR overnight, now I run my own successful agency"
Kayleigh Johnstone went from losing her job with no notice and making ends meet working as a supermarket keyworker, to tripling her income and working with dream clients as she launched her own agency. Cheshire-based Kayleigh was working in travel PR when the pandemic struck, and was one of the estimated 174 million working in the travel industry who suffered the loss of their jobs. Kayleigh reflects on the moment she received her email termination on the Saturday before lockdown began: "It actually came as a complete shock. I went from working 25 hours a week to nothing within the space of a few days. I'm not ashamed to say that it hit me really hard and I went into a complete panic. We had also just found out that we were being plunged into lockdown and that children would not be attending school – with a 5 and 7-year-old at the time, it felt like my options were limited".
As many mums of young children had to do last year, Kayleigh was able to look at other opportunities with the help of her family and friends. "I spent a weekend considering all my options but realised pretty quickly that if I was going to do what I loved and make it work around my family commitments, I would have to start my own business. That is when COZ PR www.cozpr.com came into being".
Kayleigh launched her agency at the end of March last year, focusing on using her public relations and business strategy skills to support small PR agencies. "It wasn't easy. There was a lot I had to learn, I had no start-up funding, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I actually suffered from imposter syndrome so strongly that at one point, I took a keyworker job at a supermarket and worked nights – at least I had guaranteed income!"
However, with a return towards normality at the end of summer, Kayleigh soon found herself fully booked, increasing her rates, and taking on freelancers to help with the workload. She is now expanding the business further to offer training and mentoring to VA's who want to develop PR skills.
"It's been an incredible journey, and I wouldn't change a thing. I have been extremely lucky, but I have also worked really hard for this, and now I get to work with clients I love, doing a job I love every day. And I'm not on minimum wage anymore! I've learned that there is always a path through adversity, even if it isn't the one you had planned to take."