It is personal, it is (my) business.
I would like to start by rewinding the clock by just three short weeks. I was visiting the North of Scotland with my family and a couple of friends, enjoying month 4 of my maternity leave. I was drinking red wine, discussing my growth plans for YOURgb and the pride I felt in my wonderful team. They have not only rallied during my maternity leave, but they have actually strengthened the business whilst I was away. I even commented that perhaps I should go on maternity leave more often if this was the result!
Then cameth Corona.
A world event of biblical proportions, that is likely to change the landscape of the events industry for quite sometime, forever most likely. It is epic. Feature film worthy even. As I was on my one-walk-of-the-day today, I actually felt a strange whiff of familiarity from films such as Shaun of the Dead (zombie infected killers) and Tangled (who knew that Disney’s quarantined girl was held captive in a town called Corona?!).
I think it’s safe to say it shook me to my core.
My initial business reaction was to tackle the immediate challenges – our scheduled live events. Following the announcement that COVID-19 had hit the UK, came the bizarre situation of an unspoken competition of ‘who can hold their nerve the longest’, in terms of actually pulling the plug on the events that were about to go live. In an industry that is quite stringent about Ts&Cs, there was obvious apprehension and the humanity of the situation was initially sparse. The uncomfortable feelings of wanting to protect my team from it all began to circle. But then, like a flicked light switch, the reality set in and with it, the realisation:
People’s health and lives were at risk.
Here comes the sun. The majority of us became human again. The T&Cs faded, and rationale prevailed. Our amazing clients supported us, we supported our brilliant suppliers and the great venues became flexible. Wherever possible we managed to recoup and get creative about future plans, ROI salvaging, and general problem solving. We approached challenges positively and proactively, and I fairly quickly deemed that the immediate complications were nippy, but manageable. I gave myself a metaphorical hug and thought ‘we have a healthy business, we can get through a couple of months of postponed events – we offer lots outside of our live events which will keep us going – life must go on.’
Then came the dominos. After the initial firefighting I realised the first domino had already been pushed over, and I had to scramble to keep up with the ones that followed. I began to catch up with the tumble chain and started to realise the potential knock-on effect of this pandemic, not only for us – but for our clients, and their clients, and so on. I looked more closely at what was happening to our friends in China and Italy (does anyone else now hear Trump saying the word China whenever they read it?). I stared at the Dow Jones stats, compared the outbreak timelines, and I remember thinking ‘how are we going to handle this, the economy could be brought to its knees?!’. My contingency planning then changed from dealing with the immediate challenges over the next two to three months, to planning for a possible long-term negative business impact.
I then cried. And here is why.
We take so, so very much for granted in our business life. Like so many we put our heads down, work hard, strive for the best, we support and love our teams, we take the knocks, we nurture our clients, we create lasting friendships, we educate, innovate and reinvent, and we push on, and on and on. But COVID-19 made me stop in my tracks in a way that I have never done before. For the first time in my 9 years of business I had to think about what I would do if the impossible happened, what if the events industry stopped.
I know many other business owners will have had to explore some sobering thoughts of their own recently. I am sure lots of other business professionals and freelancers will have cried too (the Government will release support plans for the self-employed soon I am sure).
Sadly this made me realise, I was not alone.
So why did I cry? I cried thinking about when, and why, I started YOURgb. I actually founded YOURgb in my Grandma’s spare room when I was living with her 9 years ago. I was remembering writing down a list on her shopping pad of areas I wanted to change about event ‘agency’ life and the industry culture. I remembered how I would have to wear ear plugs whilst at my laptop because she liked to watch EastEnders at volume 78. Most importantly, I remembered her handing me a check for £3,000 to help me with my start-up costs all those years ago, and then I pictured the poem she wrote out in the last card she ever gave me.
So, I wiped my tears, cleared my throat, got practical and got ‘to it’. I know the events will come back, it’s just a matter of when. Push on I thought.
On Thursday 12th March, long before the Government had even hinted about providing any support, I created two different business models for YOURgb to ensure we had time to weather this storm, and time to build back up and thrive. One model involved a redundancy plan, and the other model functioned on a plan of collectively reducing our working hours. The latter requiring a mammoth team effort.
On Monday 16th March (still before the Government had announced any support plans) I took the YOURgb team, my extended family in my eyes, through my fairly lengthy presentation. My aim was to explain how I was viewing the situation and what our company of event and marketing professionals (9 full time and 5 contractors), was about to dive into. And I explained that no-one really knows what’s going to happen, or when. I repeated several times that my simple and only objective was to come out of this together, as a team, and that we were going to be the ones to hit the ground running as soon as we were set free from the Corona shackles.
I presented my proposal of collectively reducing our working hours. We consulted, we agreed, and the team response was breathtaking. They were understanding, strong, supportive and overwhelmingly positive – and we came away united under one aim:
Together we will fight Corona, and together we WILL win!
I cried again (happy tears this time).
Right now, we are working closely with our incredible clients to adjust their immediate marketing and comms plans, and we are postponing all live events. Where possible we are working with them to translate their time sensitive live events onto secure online platforms, keeping them accessible, slick and as fun as possible for their teams, clients or customers.
We have also prioritised taking care of each other. I think that is the biggest positive I can take from this crisis on the whole – people are really supporting each other in ways I have never seen before. My own team camaraderie is a pleasure to see and hear, but the camaraderie in the business community on the whole is also a beautiful thing. I am endlessly grateful for anyone who has reached out to me with business support. I am also here to support anyone who needs it.
During times like this, we have to all be here for each other.
As it currently stands, YOURgb are fortunate enough to be able to keep together as a team, something I will never take for granted again. Alongside businesses of every size, the freelancers, the on-trade – we will leverage support, and we will continue the fight.
Courage is contagious.
I am being practical about my business whilst focussing my line of sight on the positives, the wonderful stories of support, the humanity, the team love, the bravery of those that are providing services to keep this nation going, and the medical teams on the front line. I am taking this as an opportunity to also remember what really matters in life – our health, our families and work families, and our friends.
Please everyone keep safe, and to all those we are so heavily relying on to keep us fed, informed and healthy during this extraordinary time, thank you from the bottom of our YOURgb hearts.
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But she with a chuckle replied,
That “maybe it couldn’t,”
but she would be one,
Who wouldn’t say no ’till she tried.
So she buckled right in,
with a trace of a grin,
On her face if she worried she hid it.
She started to sing as she tackled the thing,
That couldn’t be done,
and she did it!
Grandma’s version of the poem ‘It Couldn’t Be Done’ by Edgar A Guest