Being an entrepreneur means being creative, especially when something stops you in your tracks. Lockdown hasn’t been easy but some businesses have found a way to pivot and carry on trading. Here, we showcase Starling customers who have developed new business models, upped their online game, created new products and figured out new ways to reach their customers.

Change your distribution model: Milly Foley, Test Kitchen

Together with her boyfriend John O’Connor, Milly Foley runs the gourmet food truck Test Kitchen in Windsor. "The truck usually runs May to September and then we park it for the Winter and run Supper Clubs," she says. When social distancing started, they knew that their business could be in trouble. But they also knew the value of their customer loyalty.

"None of our customers asked us to refund their deposits, everyone was happy for bookings to be put on hold," she says. "That allowed us to carry on."

Milly Foley and John O’Connor run Test Kitchen

Takeaways became their solution to keep putting food on the table, both for their family and their customers. The kitchen in their house already had a food and hygiene licence so all they needed were ingredients, a menu and a social media strategy. "We wanted people to know early on we were reacting," she says.

"We’re doing takeaways Monday to Friday, 5.30pm to 8.30pm with 15 minute slots for pickup so it’s all socially distanced and there isn’t a queue of people." There’s a different dish every night and everyone has to book before midday, the same day.

On Saturdays, they do an online interactive cook-along using Zoom. "We really look forward to it," she says. "We do a different dish every week and deliver recipe kits for two people. Last week, we also organised cocktails." Customers book by text and receive a Zoom link back.

Explore online routes to market: Mary McDougall, Tayport Distillery

Tayport Distillery, run by the McDougall family, used to make almost all of its sales through bars, shops, events and distillery tours. "When coronavirus hit, all our main routes to market got shut down," says Mary, who runs the business with her mum Kecia. "We had to rethink: do we sit it out or figure it out?"

They decided to keep going. And launch a gin, a more familiar spirit than their unusual fruit spirit, known as Eau de Vie. They often found that customers wanted to learn about and taste the Eau de Vie before buying it. With gin, customers knew what to expect.

Tayport launched a new product and developed their online marketing

They launched their Wild Rose Gin over Instagram Live and have continued to stream videos every Friday night, showing their customers how to make different cocktails. "Lots of people buy the gin as a gift for friends and family and then everyone joins us for the Live and they have a little party afterwards," says Mary. Tayport Distillery also does a monthly giveaway for a key worker, nominated by a customer.

All sales have come through Instagram, Facebook or their website. "We dug deep into social media, Google ads and SEO to improve our website and sales journey." In the last month, clicks through to their website have increased by 1200%. How? Redirecting the events budget into digital marketing, refining keywords for search engines and researching target audience. Mary has taught herself digital marketing through books and Google Skillshop. "Specifying ’married’ (as a keyword) meant sales doubled on the ad. One little adjustment can make a massive difference. Always have something you can compare back to and give it time."

Specialise your service: Flynn Blackie, MOD Digital

Over in Edinburgh, Flynn Blackie has pivoted his marketing and web design business MOD Digital to support small businesses through the crisis. "I am building websites for businesses and turning them around in as little as seven days so that they can stay connected to their customers. In some cases, I am adding member-only chat rooms and forums to the websites," he says.

For other businesses, Flynn adds an online shop so that the owner can keep selling their products when a physical shopfront isn’t possible. He can also run Facebook and Google ads to drive traffic to the websites. "Business owners schedule a call with me and then we work together to find the perfect solution for their business."

So far, he’s updated several websites of existing clients and started working with several new businesses. "My aim is to prevent small businesses from crashing and burning due to these unforeseen circumstances," he says. "It is heartbreaking for people’s hard work and livelihoods to be shattered and undone like this. I want to motivate businesses and people in general to keep positive, be resilient and come back stronger."

Adapt your product and blend your skills: Aina Gomez, Family Memento

Photographer Aina Gomez started her business in 2017 after her partner passed away. Channeling her grief into creativity, she set up Family Memento to help other families capture those moments spent together. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, she had a jam-packed summer ahead. "I felt like my business was finally taking off," she says. "And then everything was cancelled."

After two weeks of settling her six-year-old into lockdown and processing cancellations, she came up with a way to pivot her business. "I decided to blend my skills. I have a lot of experience teaching so I created photography workshops. It was already on the backburner, but this forced me to do it."

Through Facebook, Aina is offering free tips on how to take better photos using a mobile phone, and a paid course on the same subject. She’s also doing one-on-one photography tutorials for people with professional DSLR cameras. "Lots of people never switch their DSLR from auto mode. I want to help them get more from their camera," she says. She’s also supplementing her income by teaching Spanish to a primary school class through video calls.

When she’s not teaching or creating content, she spends her time documenting lockdown on her daily walks. "It’s a historical moment," she says. "We hear about the bigger picture of numbers of people in hospital but I think it’s important to document the street level too. Seeing how people are coping is inspiring."

Aina documents moments from lockdown on her camera

Communicating with your customers, improving your online marketing and focusing on products with high demand are key when it comes to pivoting your business. Keep supporting other business owners too - check in with them, ask questions, learn from each other.

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