'You fall, you learn, and you get back up stronger - that’s what being a business owner is all about'

It's sink or swim time for many companies after the Covid-19 pandemic stopped us all in our tracks. We speak to female business owners about adapting to survive in the current economy, and the importance of the power within.


“I’ve always been a big believer that we can get through anything if we draw from the power within ourselves," explains Louisa Meehan, mum to two young boys and owner of Woodview HRM. "A lot of it comes from past experiences, you are drawing from all you have been through – the good, the bad, as well as the in-between. Right now we just need to pause to appreciate how resilient we are."

We are all learning from this curveball. We've all gained new skills.

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As President of Network Ireland this year, Louisa says that women supporting each other through such challenging times is key.

"I obviously didn’t anticipate we’d have such a unique opportunity to draw on our theme of the Power Within, but what I have seen is that women are incredibly resilient and very capable and with the huge amount of support and collaboration happening, we are all pulling together. We are all learning from this curveball. We've all gained new skills."

Reinvention

 

Becci Harrison, another member of Network Ireland, runs a department store and café in Co Wicklow. It is a family business and one that has just celebrated its 40th year trading. She says the past few months have been seriously challenging for Fishers of Newtownmountkennedy. “By the time we reopen, our revenue will have been shut for four months.

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“We took the decision to close on the 13th of March on health grounds. We all agreed that it was the right thing to do. The support from the government has been fantastic but a third of our year is gone in terms of revenue. It can’t be made back. Our plan is to get over this non-trading period, and find new ways to reinvent ourselves.”

Becci decided to embrace the opportunity that the pandemic brought. Her team surveyed 1000 of its customers to find a better way of connecting with them in the future. “We didn’t want to just wait and see. We wanted to reach out to our customers and ask them what they’d like to see change. Obviously, we will have all the safety measures and social distancing as per the Government’s advice, but we saw this as a time to get even better.

The only thing we are waiting for now is guidance on trying on clothes.

“We asked our customers if they only wanted an online experience, or if they’d prefer a private room with a stylist who could brings you items from the store. We wanted to see if they wanted virtual consultation or if they would browse in-store in a specific department – clothes, homeware, gifts, etc.

“The results showed that the appetite was for a little of both. 81% said they’d like general access to store (in limited numbers) by the end of the summer. 49% seemed to embrace the virtual ways of shopping and 20% seemed keen on private shopping or by appointment.

“There were some other great comments that helped us greatly with feedback about our approach going forward; sanitisers on every table in our café, click and collect service, take-away afternoon teas. The only thing we are waiting for now is guidance on trying on clothes.”

Overall though, Becci is optimistic about the future. “We are great as a nation of small business owners of reinventing ourselves in a different way, that also makes sure our teams are safe. We are ready.”

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Adapt to survive

We saw our business wiped out completely from March

Rosanna Fiorenza set up her language company, Travelling Languages in 2011. Her business focuses on learning through interaction in real-life situations. Overnight, her business, which relies on international students coming to Ireland, was decimated. “It’s been a tough time. We saw our business wiped out completely from March.

“It was cancellation after cancellation, even groups of students had to cut short programmes they were already here for before the flights were stopped. It hasn’t been easy but you have to adapt.”

We need to fall, learn from our fall and be ready to stand back up again even stronger

Rosanna moved her company towards the online world and has created a series of virtual summer camps that are proving successful. She too is determined to use the opportunity to make things even better. “It is really important that we are still creating a very unique kind of experience for our clients even though it is in a different way. We’ve had some great feedback already.

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“You fall and you learn and you get back up. That’s what being a business owner is all about. And that’s what life is about too. It can happen in any situation We need to fall, learn from our fall and be ready to stand back up again even stronger.”

Fighting spirit

The rug was pulled completely from under me.

Galway-based Dorothy Scarry set up her business just a short time ago. Her company, Next Step Forward teaches workshops about transition, specifically preparing sixth class and sixth years for the next phase of their lives in education and the wider world.

Now she finds herself in a transition of her own. “I was so worried at the beginning when all the emails started coming in. The rug was pulled completely from under me. But I quickly, and with the help of Network Ireland, moved it all online.”

Dorothy says after a lot of reinvention, she now has back to back Zoom events and webinars from schools. “There have been long hours. It's been a huge learning curve. I practised with my kids in other rooms at first, sound testing and then I roped in a few colleagues to give me some constructive feedback.

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“It is different from face to face, you can’t gauge the room in the same way. But overall the transition is working well.”

Dorothy agrees that bounceback-ability is crucial. “I think women, in particular, have that power within, a fighting spirit to cope with situations that arise. My back was to the wall. I had to come out fighting.”

Images via interiewees

Read more: Life-changing stories: 'I'll never forget her face at the window. I couldn't save her'

Read more: Never too late: Meet the women who started businesses in their 40s

Read more: Busineses stepping up: 'Our world is upsidedown but our frontline workers are keeping us upright'

 

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