This week the Herald is quizzing small businesses on what they learned from the first lockdown and their advice for round two.
A positive mindset can mean the difference between survival and failure in times of uncertainty, says an Auckland business owner who is expanding into new export markets despite facing a second lockdown.
Diana Miller, the co-founder of alcohol-free spirits maker Ecology & Co, said there was a significant advantage to being a small operation.
The Devonport-based business hired its first employee during the first round of lockdown and faced uncertainty after all of its hospitality trade orders into bars, restaurants and hotels were cancelled and it found its revenue down 70 per cent.
But it pivoted to focus on supermarket distribution and e-commerce sales, and its product has recently hit supermarket shelves in Malaysian supermarket chain Jaya.
Miller said Ecology & Co had “long conversations” into the night about how it could proceed with different strategies during the first lockdown. This time around, it feels it is in a better position to take the uncertainty in its stride.
READ MORE: • How alcohol-free spirits maker has survived Covid-19
Miller, who formerly worked for consulting firm McKinsey & Co in London, along with three business partners set up one of the world’s first call centres with funding from India’s ICIC Bank, said being small can mean being nimble and able to easily adapt to changes in market conditions.
“Think about what’s changed and how you are going to adapt to changes seen in the market, and what other things you can be doing to have a long term impact on future sales.
“Just because it feels like it’s the end doesn’t mean it is the end – there’s always a way forward and you’ve just got to keep finding those – and just by being positive that’s the best thing you can do.”
The business moved all of its stock into Miller’s house during the first lockdown and she now packs and boxes orders from her home as a way to save costs.
To ensure it thrived during challenging times, Miller said she maintained the perspective that the situation was not forever and tried new things such as putting personalised notes in with orders during that time.
“We got a lot closer to our customers and it was about recognising the good and the bad and that there are some positive things that can come out of [lockdown],” Miller said, adding that she became more hands-on in the business.
Ecology & Co had its biggest month of sales in July despite the initial disruption.
Miller’s advice for Auckland businesses feeling nervous about the return to level 3 lockdown was to reach out to other business owners for support – and to look at your business model and product offering and change it if it was not fit for purpose in the current climate.
She also recommended that businesses proceed with any plans that were already in place if the risk was manageable. “Weigh up every opportunity and see what the risk of failure is. What we took as this opportunity for Malaysia, we thought ‘If it doesn’t work, it’s only going to be this amount of money and we can afford to take that loss’.”
So far it had sent two pallets of product worth more than $10,000 to Malaysia.
Not fixating on one goal or idea was also important for good mental wellbeing, she said, and think of operating remotely as an opportunity or positive challenge.
“Be really flexible and don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Always have a plan B and be prepared to not hold onto your ideas,” she said.
“There are going to be massive opportunities that weren’t here a few months ago because of Covid.”
• Be flexible and have multiple game plans to fall back on
• Keep your mind healthy by not fixating on all or nothing on a single idea
• See the pandemic and economic uncertainty as an opportunity not challenge.
• Know what your core skills are