How I started a business during a global pandemic

Holly Davies

As Yorkshire Brand Stories reaches it’s first major milestone (our first birthday!) I thought it was about time I documented the journey so far and how I started my business during a global pandemic. Here is my story and what I’ve learnt so far…

After 14 years of a fast paced, goal driven, whirlwind string of careers I decided to leave the corporate world. My CV boasted a list of enviable roles from managing Disney contracts to running a global toiletries business. I had some amazing experiences under my belt, travelled the world and met some inspiring people.

But towards the end of this time I’d had a rough few years personally. I felt exhausted, spent and I seriously needed to stop spinning all the plates…

So I stopped.

I really stopped. Then I stood back and took stock of everything that mattered to me. I realised that what I truly wanted to do more than anything was to be better connected to my home city and work with some of our amazing local brands.

Where to go next?

So my first port of call was to connect with a lady I’d admired since the birth of my son. A business woman who’s mission it was to ensure all families in York felt supported and informed. Emily Pickard from York Mumbler had created an amazing community in her Facebook group and her website is the fountain of all knowledge for parents in York. My first step to connecting back to the city and the opportunity to give something back presented itself when I reached out to Emily.

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing projects with Emily including the Community Goblin Trail at Rowntree’s park, setting up the Mumbler Pinterest account, creating free downloadable worksheets and games and reviewing afternoon teas and theatre performances.

Building Brand Awareness

Starting a business under any circumstances is tough. But during a global pandemic puts a whole different spin on things. Normal ways of doing business are thrown out the window and clients are either furloughing staff or so rushed off their feet with orders they don’t have time to stop. So I had to get creative. Since face to face networking was off the cards I had to try my hand at virtual networking!

So I signed myself up to several groups and had a go. My favourite one I have to say was the MPWR bunch. A really lovely group of ladies who formed a support group around each other. After just a couple of sessions I had managed to position myself as the ‘Brand’ expert and was asked to take part in the MPWR B2B Expo to host a workshop in September.

Days before the event I felt sick to my stomach, had a huge case of imposter syndrome and had convinced myself that no-one would want to sign up to my session. After years of confidently presenting to major retailers and global organisations I’d completely lost my nerve. Thankfully I managed to give myself a bit of a talking to and delivered my presentation ‘Holly style’. I was on a major high for days after, over half the expo attendees visited my workshop and I was overwhelmed by the feedback I received. It was a huge boost to my confidence and really pushed me forwards.

Following the event I got some of my very first paying clients! They are still with me today and I have made some great friends along the way.

Artist Collaboration Project

In October I launched an artist collaboration project. I have always had a passion for local art and wanted to use my skills in licensing to help local artists connect with local manufacturers. By combining original artworks with locally manufactured products you can create something that adds huge value for the consumer and allows manufacturers to offer something a bit different and set themselves apart from competitors. I am hoping that once the homeschooling comes to an end we can really focus on reaching out to local businesses and create some exciting products!

My first big client in York!

In November I started to work for another inspiring business woman, Sophie Jewett at York Cocoa House. As a child growing up in York across the river from Terry’s Chocolate factory, I was used to wafts of cocoa that once flooded the air in Fulford. It’s no wonder I wanted to be a chocolate bar designer when I was a child. So I knew when starting my business that this was a brand I really wanted to work with.

York Cocoa Works source cocoa beans from farms around the world and import them directly to their manufactory on Castlegate, York. They process the cocoa from bean to bar and use them in their range of hand crafted chocolates. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at York Cocoa House so far and am looking forward to helping them connect with other local businesses to grow the brand in 2021.

The start of 2021 once again presented new challenges. Homeschooling and juggling clients has been a challenge to say the least but the end is in sight and I am ready to tackle some new projects at the beginning of March…along with some afternoon naps perhaps!

For now enjoy our birthday celebrations this week, check out my social media pages for more information.

My top 5 tips for starting up a new business:

  1. Keep it Yorkshire

    Don’t spend money if you don’t have it. Use free trials and resources where available. I’ve written a blog on how to save costs and great free resources here. Make friends with local businesses! 9 times out of 10 fellow business owners are more than happy to catch up, share their pearls of wisdom and you never know, might be able to help you out with something or connect you to someone useful.
  2. Don’t go it alone

    Find a fellow business pal to catch up with on a regular basis. It’s tough setting up your own business and talking things through with someone in the same boat will boost your confidence, help you set and stick to realistic goals and keep you sane! The help you will give each other will be invaluable, you can trade skills and be a sounding board for each other.
  3. Do things for the love, not the money

    If you are jumping from a world where everyone knows your name to a brand new planet you will need connections, and fast! Try networking, offer your services to worthy causes and offer to run workshops and your time to those in need. It’s a great way to meet people and make contacts, build your confidence and test out your services. Try and be strategic and get involved with things in the area you want to do business in.
  4. Be kind to yourself

    It’s important to give yourself structure and set out a plan of attack, but don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as you thought they would. Take time to reflect on the things you have achieved rather than focusing on the things you haven’t. Celebrate the small and the big wins. I certainly popped a bottle of prosecco when I finally worked out how to build my website, that was a real love / hate relationship! It takes time to build a business and get clients, it won’t happen over night. So use the time you have in the early days to set things up properly, write a business plan, work out how you are going to tell your brand story, listen to feedback and be prepared to shift course if needs be.
  5. Spend your budget wisely

    If you are going to spend money on something, spend it wisely and find time to make it work hard for you. Engage with the people you are working with and collaborate. When I first set the business up I decided to invest in a Visit York membership. As well as really helping with my SEO and getting my name on the list of trusted suppliers I have been offered guest blogs, to host workshops, business support and taken part in monthly social events which have connected me to new clients. Not only has it benefitted my business but also the businesses I consult for as the friends I have made at Visit York know I am keen to know about the latest initiatives and campaigns. If you are going to invest in something like your logo or professional photography take the time to set a proper brief and think about what you really want to get from it. Cheapest isn’t always best, by spending a little more you will come away with something you are really happy with that will last you a lot longer.

I am so incredibly lucky to have a partner that believes in me and supports me and I really couldn’t have done all of this with out him. So I dedicate this blog to Chris, you make me laugh and smile and you pick me up when I fall down into a crumpled heap.

The next step…

What does the future hold? Well after a year like this I feel anything is possible. I’d like to try my hand at lots of different things in the future. Meet some more inspiring business owners and continue to try and spread the word about our amazing Yorkshire brands and their stories.

Holly x