“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.”