• rachaeleevans85

Starting a new business in a global pandemic

Is it a good idea to start a new business in the midst of a global pandemic?

Starting a new business at any time is challenging and I always had it in mind that it may take a couple of years for the business to take off anyway, regardless of the situation globally. I did not think the pandemic would have much of a detrimental effect on the planning industry at the "grass roots level" and knew that my initial focus would need to be on gaining new business and promoting the fact that I was now ‘going it alone’ as ABL Planning and Development.

A typical day used to be with the commute to the office but working from home has, thankfully, become the norm which, I feel, has been a godsend to small business owners. No longer are we required to be in an anonymous office between core hours of 9am – 5pm, and the flexibility that online meetings has brought has certainly reaped its rewards for me and the business.

Being unable to meet face to face has saved both time and travelling costs and even now, as the world slowly returns to ‘normal’, I structure my working day with no meetings or site visits before 10am. This gives me the chance to check and respond to urgent emails. I manage a significant workload without it encroaching too much into family time. Again, the flexibility of working for myself has enabled me to start a family during the pandemic and yet still continue to provide my clients with an exceptional service.

In terms of starting a new business, I knew it was going to take time to build my reputation and client base again. However, the business has exceeded all my expectations and it has built up far quicker than I had expected. The pandemic probably helped with this as it became the norm to hold online meetings rather than face to face. This, in turn, gave me a new client base – even from as far as Hong Kong and the USA.

An owner managed business can be a lonely place, but I have been lucky to have a strong support network around me. I am a member of an Independent Planners Network and a Chartered Member of the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) – both of whom provide support from other planning professionals.

Non-planning support has come from connections through the Business Network Chester – a great group of people who have continued to meet online throughout the pandemic for monthly networking and to discuss our pain points! Thankfully, we are now able to meet again face to face but I can’t thank the group enough for their support during the first couple of years of managing my own business.

It goes without saying that there were issues due to the pandemic. Nobody has come through it entirely unscathed! I found that liaison with local planning authorities and the planning inspectorate impacted on the time I had allowed when quoting for new projects. However, I quickly realised that as long as the clients were kept up to date at all times, they understood that everything was taking longer than normal. Honesty has always underpinned my work ethic, even from when I first qualified as a Planner, so this comes naturally to me – and it has continued to stand me in good stead through the first two years in business.

I am pragmatic in my approach to business and I feel that being IT literate has certainly helped me in terms of adapting to the online world more readily through the pandemic. Not all planning work requires regular meetings but I am very pleased that face to face meetings and on-site visits are almost back to normal now! It’s great to be back out in the big wide world meeting clients and contacts again.

Ultimately, the pandemic has encouraged everyone to work more flexibly which fits well with my work/life balance and the ability to work more effectively across different time zones with clients all over the world.

The pandemic has not changed me as a person but I will forever be grateful that I started my new business at a time when the world as a whole was adapting and evolving.

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