When our bodies and brains are hit by something unexpected, we experience a strong physical as well as emotional response. Exactly one year ago, I believe I was just starting to come out of the jittery, confused brain fog that descended on many of us when we realised we were facing an unprecedented natural disaster.
But, for me, it was what happened next that will ensure the past 12 months remain a unique and humbling life experience for ever more.
Out of chaos, clarity
At the start of 2020, there were 5.94 million small businesses (those with between 0 and 49 employees) making up 99.3% of the total business population of 6 million businesses in the UK.
When lockdown hit, there was a lot of talk of businesses and their owners being all at sea, of people metaphorically capsizing, and of seemingly successful businesses going under. Although we weren’t all in the same boat, to continue this analogy, we were very much in the same stormy waters and I knew instinctively that the only way to survive was to raft up.
I created the Stronger Together community that morning and put out a tentative lifeline to anyone and everyone I knew that ran their own business. It was to be the beginning of something incredible.
We’ve survived, revived and thrived through three lockdowns.
Many of us have lost loved ones; as a nation we celebrated and then mourned the amazing Captain Tom. Lots of us have had covid ourselves but hopefully even more have now started their journey to being fully vaccinated.
Some of us have had to pivot our business beyond recognition after losing our entire turnover overnight.
The business owners I have worked and networked with have shown unprecedented agility, resilience and tenacity. They’ve thought outside of the box and saved their businesses in doing so.
All of us have panicked, cried, laughed, planned, revised, listened and watched but, most importantly, we’ve come out the other side of this nightmare and proved that we are indeed Stronger Together.
Stronger Together is now an online LinkedIn and Facebook community and an offline community which has grown to over 700 members.
We’ve helped 1,200 businesses owners over the past 12 months or so, either directly or indirectly by connecting people, sharing advice and ideas.
We’ve held 3 webinars, 5 special focus groups and 10 Stronger Together Get Together events.
We’ve been supported by a crew of 14 amazing experts and given over 140 top tips to attendees plus shared over 45 videos on YouTube. We’ve given time, gifted services and shared the highs and the lows.
We’ve covered more business topics than I could remember but they include:
- Business Growth strategies
- Digital Marketing
- Making Sense of the Budget
- Ways to use collaboration in business
- Government support and Bounce Back Loans
- How to sell in this changed market
- Having a positive online presence
- How to get creative
- Positive Mindset and attitude
It’s an impressive list but what I really want to celebrate is the immense fortitude shown by people everywhere. This community that have, in some cases, not been the best served by rescue packages, have dug deep and rescued themselves and each other. There are new friendships and collaborations that will far outlast the pandemic and our resilience and tenacity is now strengthened.
We cannot underestimate the importance of this type of support and collaboration. SMEs account for three fifths of the employment and around half of the turnover in the UK private sector. They employ some 61% of the total workforce. We are a critical factor in the economy of this country.
What have we learnt?
I think the past year has taught all of us how precious and fragile life can be. We’ve probably taken less for granted in the last 12 months than ever in our lives before and I, for one, hope that some of this, along with the kindness we’ve seen displayed in business and in the community, becomes covid’s legacy.
My late father used to say “where there’s life there’s hope” and I feel more aligned to this belief now than ever before. I also know that where there’s small businesses and their resilient owners, there’s commitment, support, drive and determination and that makes me so, so proud.
If you’d like to join us in our Stronger Together community, we’d love to have you. The LinkedIn group can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12386531/ and the Facebook community is here https://www.facebook.com/groups/StrongerTogetherCollaborationForBusinessOwners
You can also sign up to receive emails about future events direct to your inbox by clicking here.
It is a free resource. All we ask is that you give as well as take, be positive and supportive always and share what’s helped and inspired you throughout the past year.
What did others think?
As part of my reflections on the past year, I asked some of the main collaborators what they thought of Stronger Together:
“Helping people is the reason I do my job so it was very tough for me this year when I could no longer see clients face to face. Therapeutic massage is not so easy to do via zoom. Stronger together has given me a positive focus and enabled me to still reach out and help others in a practical and useful way. I think this last year has taught us all how important connections are. Stronger together has been a great way to highlight that we can still connect and provide something valuable even as everything around us changes.”
~ Jo Medhurst
“I was very grateful to be asked to be part of Stronger Together. Helping people is core to what I do and this meant I could do even more of that. I’ve helped members to make sense of the ever-changing digital marketing landscape. It’s been refreshing to experience the world finally seeing the need for digital marketing in their businesses. Lockdown means I’ve learned to live a simpler life, not sweat the small stuff and stay focused on my end goal.”
~ Sarah Sangster
“Stronger Together represented, hope, knowledge and a really great meeting place.”
~ Irene Guthrie
“The group has helped keep me focussed on business through demotivating times. It also brought me a great contacts for my business. “
~ Emma Loveheart
“What a warm, welcoming and interesting group of people – I have had some real support through being a part of this group and have managed to find a clearer focus on what I need to do for my business. We’ve had a good few smiles and laughs on the way too and during the past grim year the Stronger Together meetings have been something I have really come to look forward to. Thanks to you all and to Julia for being the cornerstone of this community – onwards and upwards!” “
~ Jim Tatchell