Few people have emerged from the coronavirus crisis unscathed. There are now 8.9 million workers who have been furloughed by their employers and millions more freelancers and small business owners whose income has been vastly reduced.
A report published by the Federation of Small Businesses, a trade body, found that 8pc of small companies have launched new products during the pandemic while 5pc have expanded the services they offer.
Many more have started a new business entirely. Oliver Loveday, 39, was working as a freelancer in the travel industry and was left without any income when the country went into lockdown.
“I was doing Kilimanjaro walks, school trips, the Three Peaks,” he said. “It’s very seasonal work and we were just through the low period and about to hit the start of the season at Easter. But virtually everything got cancelled. It was pretty scary.”
Mr Loveday, of Chelwood Gate, Sussex, started working for supermarket Asda on a temporary basis as a driver and this move helped spark the idea for his own business delivering organic fruit and vegetable boxes.
“I had a couple of friends who were self-isolating in London and couldn’t get to the shops or get any delivery slots from the supermarkets,” he said.
“I live near a couple of farm shops and one friend asked if I could run some supplies up to them. I asked a few other people and got half a dozen people looking for a food delivery.”
Within three weeks, word of mouth had spread and Mr Loveday was arranging 40 deliveries per week. That figure has now risen to 70 and he has launched his own website for his Ashdown Organics brand.
“It was a very low-risk business idea,” he said. “I get pre-orders, so I haven’t had to take any credit from anyone, and I don’t have a huge amount of wastage.”
Rachel Mullett, 61, is another who has used lockdown to launch a new business idea. For the past eight years she has sold souvenirs wholesale to shops, galleries and cafes in Pembrokeshire, Wales. However, that business quickly dried up when the country went into lockdown.
“The tourist industry has completely crashed in Wales,” she said. “But I saw lockdown as an opportunity to reevaluate and take some training.”
Mrs Mullett has launched photography workshops under the Pembrokeshire Moments banner. She offers courses online using video calls and is taking bookings for a photography tour of the area once restrictions are eased.
“Lockdown has brought out either the negative or positive in people,” she said. “Some shops are doing takeaway orders but other businesses have shut their doors and haven’t even used the time to redecorate.
“As soon as I knew lockdown was happening I knew I would be able to come out of it stronger than I went in.”
However, Mrs Mullet said that many women of her age lacked the confidence to launch a business.
Moira Doherty is a business coach for older women and runs a Facebook group called Life Begins At 45. She said many women like Mrs Mullet needed to have faith in their business ideas.
“People can learn fast and on the hoof,” she said. “But there is often a lack of confidence among older women.”
Ms Doherty advised people of all ages to pursue passion projects and to ensure their businesses are built for the digital age, using social media and websites to attract new customers.
“If you love what you’re doing it’s not hard work,” she said. “Turn a negative situation into a positive.”
Both Mrs Mullet and Mr Loveday plan on continuing their businesses once lockdown is eased. What advice do they have for others?
Mrs Mullet said: “You need to look at the skills you have rather than those you haven’t. I have a huge knowledge of Permbrokeshire and a passion for the local area which I’ve tapped into.”
Mr Loveday added: “It’s hard work to start a business, and I never envisaged doing this, but I feel like I’ve found my groove.”