My story of pivoting through a pandemic, managing crashes of confidence and questioning your right to be in business..
"In a couple of weeks this will all blow over, it's all going to be ok"
Before I give you lowdown, I just want to start by caveating it all by saying how deeply grateful I am to have not have experienced the loss of anyone close to me nor was I impacted by the pandemic health wise.
My business pre-March 2020, pandemic + lockdown
With that said, let me set the scene - it does however require me to take you back to March 2020, kicking and screaming no doubt and I apologise for that..!
By March 2020, I had been in business just coming up to 2 years. I'd created an agency-style events company with a focus on supporting brands in reaching their objectives through real-life experiences, a blended approach of business development, community building and curated events, sounds great right?! .. and it was.
The business was doing super well, I'd started building out a team with 1x full time freelance support and 1x part-time freelance support plus 5 or 6 external suppliers who were semi-reliant on a consistent stream of work filtered through the business.
I'd just created an investment pitch which contained around 10 brand new event ideas for different cities in the UK, a 5-year plan with forecasting, roadmaps, employee on-boarding plans, strategies etc. and I was close - SUPER CLOSE - to having the investment needed to make that vision of a big team working across multiple projects, the office in London, an international office in Spain... It was all starting to feel a little less of a pipe dream and a little more of my potential reality.
My diary was pretty booked for the rest of the year with various different projects and my forecasted finances were solid, I'd started sleeping well, dreaming big, celebrating myself.. and then... well you know right?!
Business plans - from hero to zero
Over the period of a week, I had lost ALL of my booked business. I kid you not. It was an absolute disaster, beyond the control of myself or my clients.
Some clients had their investment pulled pretty immediately or were told to terminate/pause all external contracts and a few smaller ones who were forced to close their doors for good, knowing they wouldn't be able to weather the storm.
It was like a domino effect and I dreaded every call and email. They all ended the same - with us reassuring each other that this would blow over in a couple of weeks and everything was going to be ok.. But deep down, I knew in my gut that shit had well and truly hit the fan.
Anxiety, adrenaline + saying goodbye to suppliers
For that first week or so I was running purely on anxiety and adrenaline but when the emails and calls hastily stopped, it hit me like a ton of bricks. At this point I had to let all the people who worked with me know that I couldn't continue with them. That was really fucking hard, even though they were freelance and they knew the situation, I felt so responsible for them.
I managed to see them through for another month and then they were gone too. A stack of now unused work laptops and phones sat on my desk staring at me like a bad omen. The hardest part at this point was being so used to everything being 100 miles per hour iwith emails flying around all over the place, delegating daily to literally....nothing. I was stuck in this limbo grey place of getting up every morning ready to go and then quickly realising there was nothing to do or no deadlines to meet.
The impact on mental health
Summer drifted by in a haze of days in the garden, filled with BBQ's, Zoom quizzes, queuing for shopping, reassuring Ruby, family and friends etc. You know the drill.
At this point my savings pot was running out fast and try as I might to "show up" (an ick of a term!), think up new concepts, look at ways to make new revenue... I just couldn't. It was like my brain wasn't interested, the only thing it seemed interested in was checking the news every 5 minutes, doom-scrolling and keeping me up at night with worse-case scenarios playing over and over in my head.
My mental health was at an all time low that's for sure, I'm sure all of you who can relate to some degree or another.
Where was the help of our government for limited companies?
Then came the blow to end all blows... zero government support for me as a director of a LTD company and no support for the events industry as a whole!
I was entitled to nothing, no grants, no nothing.
At this point I had gone through my entire savings of around £20k to keep myself and the business afloat. In hindsight, I probably could have been savvier with my money to begin with by not buying loads of garden stuff etc. But I needed to keep my young daughter Ruby stimulated, entertained and grounded in place of the school and friends routine. Plus, it's only going to be a few more weeks, right?!
Fortunately, towards the end of 2020, I was offered a bounce back loan and had a couple of successful virtual events which, when combined, kept me going over Christmas and paid a hefty corporate tax bill (due to a successful previous year, typical!).
But I was at this point considering employment offerings until I went through an interview process and immediately remembered why I'd left in the first place.. not to say that I wouldn't have taken it if I really really needed to just to get by but I did a cashflow analysis and pulled my strings super tight.
Rebranding: from Well Defined Limited to Chelsea Cox Limited
I decided to rebrand in November 2020 once I came to conclusion that, for the foreseeable, the agency-style set-up wasn't going to work for me. If I was going to make a real go of things in a pivoted way, it was better to be recognisable at this point. So I became Chelsea Cox LTD with a complete focus on solely the business development and strategy side of things.
I created a plan over a couple of weeks that meant I would hit the ground running in January and see this timeframe as the great rebuild, come back with a bang, rise from the ashes, ermmmm... cue an announcement of 4 more months of homeschooling and lockdown, shit times.
Dealing with the frustration and anxiety of online learning for Ruby over this time-frame was HORRIFIC and felt like such overkill for her age. I ended up putting my foot down and opting out of online learning about half way through those 4 months. Instead, with her teacher's support, we were sent work to do in our own time which was much better to manage.
I would rather go through a million board-level pitches, difficult client conversations and event crisis plans before ever choosing to homeschool again.
By this point, I had adapted my plan to allow for the homeschooling element, with slow baby steps which wasn't the pace I'd originally planned but ya know, we were all learning and adapting and it was better than it had been.
Banishing the self-doubt to rebuild my confidence
When April 2021 came, the schools reopened which felt amazing but the extra time on my hands and the research I was putting into my new focus meant I ended up down a black hole of 10k month shoutouts, the narratives, the comparison, instagram... leading to thoughts like, how can I be a solid business consultant when my own business crashed because of a pandemic and what if I've forgotten how to help people with their businesses?
The following few months were that of a rebuild of a different nature, a rebuild of confidence, a remembrance of who I was and what I'd achieved, how I could help people with my knowledge, expertise and approach. I eased my way back in and by September 2021 found my pace again, I felt mentally good, ready to really go at it, in a way more aligned way with a different set of priorities.
A phoenix preparing to rise from the ashes
That was 8 months ago, but in equal measures it feels feels like yesterday but also somehow like it years ago too. I feel like I'm not quite the phoenix just yet but I've moved pretty far from those ashes - my wings will come soon!
There's probably so many more details and pieces missing from this brief overview because I genuinely think I checked out for some of it mentally. Before all of this I'd never really experienced issues with my mental health, or maybe I did and it was the stillness that made me address it face on.
I'm grateful to my past self for being on top of her money and having the foresight to put money into savings without which I would have most certainly gone back to employment, in terms of finances, I'm nearly back on track, I have a hefty bounce back loan to repay but I can deal with that, I'm slowly rebuilding my savings and I'm finally back in a position where my cashflow is being checked weekly rather than daily.
A shift in vision + priorities
As for the initial big vision agency + investment plans, my priorities and success markers have changed for now, my focus is on building a business that supports the life I want to live. I'm not bothered about the big office, the 5 year plan, the need for constant growth, right now I am content with a stabilised financial and mental health situation that I can enjoy with the people closest to me whilst doing business on my terms and working with wonderful people.
Who knows maybe one day that part of me will resurface but for now the priority is life.
A personal share to encourage transparency in the industry
Why share this now? Good question!
I could have buried this part of my business journey, not shared it, made it disappear, pretend that I've never experienced hard times on this path of building a business and becoming a business owner.... But that wouldn't be helpful - not to you and not to me either.
Because actually what we all need is more transparency, more conversation, more experiences to pull inspiration from, less comparison, less feeling alone, less feeling like everyone has their shit together and you don't.
It's also part of my story, the story that makes me really good at what I do (that confidence has been re-found!). The story that allows me to pull on my own learnings to best support my clients, to see without being told when someone is struggling, to cut through the noise, to ignore the narratives, to support businesses through the toughest of times because I've been there and when you are in that place the last thing you need is someone ramming their £10k month or 'hustle harder' narrative down your throat.
What you need is to see that pivoting or rebuilding is possible, that other people go through the same shit as you and that you're not alone babe.
Let me know how you're doing babe.
Phew, this feels like a weight off! And I'm really glad I took the time to write and acknowledge this. If you're struggling with your business, post-pandemic and want to chat, share your experiences or just offload - please don't hesitate to contact me. For a safe conversation, free of judgement, you can: