During and following lockdown, many business owners chose to diversify the products or services they provided. For some, this meant pivoting their business model. Here, we talk to three Starling business customers about how they changed their business models to strengthen their offering.

Bricks and clicks: Cronkshaw Fold Farm

Since taking over Cronkshaw Fold Farm from her mother in 2016, Dot McCarthy has added multiple sources of income to grow the farm into a sustainable business: educational trips, weddings, accommodation booked through Airbnb and yoga classes hosted in a barn alongside several goats. When lockdown made many of these additional income streams impossible, she adapted her business model from bricks and mortar to bricks and clicks, a term for businesses that combine in-person and online services.

Dot McCarthy, Cronkshaw Fold Farm

“We started virtual activity videos with our local community,” says Dot, 31. One activity involved communicating through mirrors and flashes of sunlight to spell out letters of the alphabet. “We taught local kids to mirror signal the word PIES - we love pies in Lancashire - and as we’re up on a hill overlooking the valley, we were able to watch all their mirror signals from people’s houses. These sessions were super popular locally and got picked up by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who posted about them on her Instagram.”

Cronkshaw Fold Farm also received unexpected publicity from Dot’s second digital offering: charging £5 to book a goat to join a Zoom call. “This started as a joke,” she says. “I came up with the idea, told my employee Emma and we agreed it was completely wacky and we should prioritise other money making ideas. I put it on the website that evening anyway along with Emma’s email address for bookings. When I woke up, I had loads of missed calls from Emma saying she’d been inundated with emails and couldn’t keep up with the demand for goat calls!”

The success of Dot’s venture has led to newspaper articles, podcast features and an interview on ITV’s This Morning. “We’ve had everyone from the European management team of Facebook, to NHS staff in need of a cheer up, to virtual church services - the vicars always seem to choose Mary the goat,” she says.

“We’ve made more than £26k in less than six weeks between the two of us and our goat yoga teacher, Beth, whom I hired as an additional goat zoomer while the other regular yoga classes were cancelled.” As a Starling business customer, Dot could easily keep track of income and pay Emma and Beth for their time straight from the app.

When Dot wasn’t busy doing Facebook lives and Goat Zoom calls, she was hard at work bagging up manure to sell to local people growing their own fruit and vegetables. “We made more than £1,000 in just a few delivery runs and our part-time farm school teacher picked up lost work hours doing manure admin instead.” She also ramped up production of her own fruit and vegetables by turning the barn usually used for weddings into a plant nursery.

Subscription service and retailer: TreasureTress

“Lockdown was a real learning curve,” says Jamelia Donaldson, founder of the subscription box TreasureTress. Each month, customers receive hair products from a different brand, all designed for afro and curly hair. “With shops no longer open, we experienced a huge surge in demand. Within three days, we reached capacity for subscribers and had 1500 people on a waiting list.”

Her solution? Expanding from a subscription-only business model, to subscription plus retail of individual products. “We often received questions from customers asking where they could buy a certain product,” says Jamelia, 29. These questions from customers led to TreasureTress’ decision to add an offering of alternative one time products, in addition to their current subscription offer, which had reached full capacity.

Jamelia says: “From a logistics perspective, we were nervous about selling individual products ourselves... (the new retail offering) solved a problem both for the consumer and for us.”

Starling is among the tools she’s used to make the business changes as frictionless as possible. “During this transition period, I’ve been able to manage my business on the go,” she says. “I like the transparency and simplicity of Starling. I can send an invoice and immediately see when it’s been paid.”

Jamelia Donaldson, Treasure Tress

Starting with a subscription service has many benefits: repeat business, more consistent cash flow and access to specific customer feedback. For example, if a customer cancels their subscription, the business can ask them why and make adjustments, if necessary.

Jamelia says: “Subscriptions kind of automate your revenue but that doesn’t negate the fact that you have to overdeliver on value. You need to make sure that they are 100% satisfied or you won’t have them as customers next month and they won’t tell their friends and family.”

Her advice for subscription-based businesses is to focus on communication and community. “Overcommunicate on everything - expected delivery dates, shipping confirmation, product information, all the big and little things,” she says. “And listen to your customers.”

Much of her success has come from engaging with Black women on Instagram, the platform she used to launch her business in 2015. “It’s not really about hair,” she says. “Hair is the way of bringing women together, it’s what we do once we’re there that really matters.”

Through in-person and online events covering everything from starting a business to breast cancer awareness, TreasureTress has become a space for those with curly or afro hair to be themselves, celebrate their identity and learn from each other’s experiences.

Pre-orders, takeaways and deliveries: En Root

Like many food businesses, En Root has pivoted from weddings, festivals and markets to takeaways, deliveries and food boxes. “When bars and restaurants were told to close just before lockdown, we immediately put together fruit and veg boxes,” says co-founder Nish Modasia. “We’re a plant-based business and customers were always intrigued by our ingredients. We include all sorts - passion fruit, baby bananas, papaya - we want people to be playful and have a bit of fun in the kitchen.”

Only a few days after lockdown began, he set to work on offering boxes of essentials, containing plant-based staples such as tins of chickpeas, lentils and oat milk. “We also added soap and toilet roll, as well as a turmeric and ginger immune booster. We’ve delivered more than 1000 of these care boxes to people across South London,” he says.

Both types of boxes are sold through En Root’s website, which now enables multiple revenue streams. Nish, 28, also updated the website to offer ready meals of dhal and rice, pre-orders for Thursday-Saturday takeaways and, most recently, places on a Monday Supper Club. “We’ve always had multiple avenues but we’re now less dependent on certain factors. For example, if a market is cancelled because of the rain, I don’t have as much stress because I know things are coming in from the website,” he says.

Nish Modasia, En Root

Upfront payments and pre-orders for products and deliveries mark a huge change from the upfront costs of festival pitch fees or customers paying for their meal after eating at the restaurant. “People paying in advance really helped with cash flow. It was nice to have the money beforehand rather than waiting for the customer to come into the restaurant,” he says. “It also helped balance out losses from the summer from cancelled festivals and weddings.”

On top of everything Nish and his team made and delivered, they still found time to develop and launch two new sauces, sold through the website and various London shops and stores. “Lockdown proved fruitful - it felt good to act and adapt.”

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