We hear from three small businesses that are back and booming after a tough year. The photo above features Keshia, owner of Caribe’ Restaurant.

Samantha Blake: SJB Hair and Makeup

Since April 2021, Samantha Blake and her team of stylists have worked non-stop. “There’s a definite excitement and buzz in the air,” she says. “People of all ages want to go out and enjoy having their hair and makeup done after such a long time.” The bookings are flooding in.

Samantha, 41, started her business in 2013 and has clients in London, Kent, Surrey and Essex. The growth of her business this year is founded on the work she did on her website during lockdown and the courses she completed. “I created a lot of content for social media, showcasing what I could do. I also did collaborations with photographers and industry suppliers,” she says.

Samantha joined Starling in 2018. “I love it, I’m so glad I made the decision to move to Starling. When a payment comes in I receive a notification and immediately send a receipt out - it makes everything so much easier.”

Samantha Blake, founder of SJB Hair and Makeup

Keshia Sakarah: Caribe’ Restaurant

Since reopening in May, Caribe’ Restaurant has been busier than ever. Founder Keshia Sakarah, 29, has hired a second employee to help the smooth running of her restaurant, which serves food and drinks inspired by countries within the Caribbean. Caribe’, founded in 2018, is part of POP Brixton, a community space for independent local businesses.

During lockdown, when Caribe’ could only offer home deliveries, Keshia turned her attention to food writing and contributing recipes for various publications. “I’ve established myself a lot more in the food world, which has been really positive.”

To reopen this summer, she’s set up digital menus, an unexpected marketing opportunity. “With the QR code, we can link to whatever we want to, including Google reviews. It’s a smart way to connect with customers while they’re at the restaurant.”

Caribe’ has also benefited from the new POP Brixton app to order their food. “Customers can just sit down, look at the trader menus, order and we deliver to their table.”

Keshia, who became a Starling business customer in 2020, accepts contactless payments using Zettle, a card machine and payments system available through the Starling Business Marketplace.

Gabor Tatai: Scot Pro Swim School

Scot Pro Swim School has adapted its service post-lockdown. “We’re currently teaching out of the water,” says founder Gabor Tatai. “The swimmer can be on their own in the pool, or with a parent or guardian. We’re going to keep offering this option in future.” The Academy is a certified Swim Star Swim School, meaning that all procedures meet the highest standards.

Gabor, 31, has been teaching swimming for 12 years. In 2019, he set up Scot Pro Swim School, offering private swimming lessons for children and adults in Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow and Aberdeen. “When we reopened in May this year, we didn’t feel any drop in demand. In fact, we saw an increase.”

Previous customers have returned, excited to begin swimming again, and have spread the word to other families looking for private lessons. The Academy teaches 150 swimmers each week, including children with autism.

“During the first lockdown, I found an organisation that specialises in teaching autistic children to swim. I did the course and was approved and I’m now arranging for all the teachers in the school to complete it.” Gabor has recently hired a fourth teacher and uses the Starling Spaces feature to set money aside for their salaries. He became a Starling customer in 2020.

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