UK lockdown: how 3 people moved their businesses online

The UK lockdown has forced a lot of small firms to change how they operate. Lily Canter speaks to three business owners about how they moved their services online.

In some cases, moving a retail shop to an online one might not be the greatest leap, but what do you do when your business is built on face-to-face interaction?

This is the dilemma facing thousands of small firms and self-employed people in the UK who have had to physically close their doors to the public.

Fortunately, modern technology means it is relatively easy to set up video sessions online if you already own a laptop or smartphone.

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‘I show people how to bake bread online’

Rhiannon Abbott, who runs The Epsom Bakehouse, would normally host six-hour workshops in person and teach clients how to make a range of breads for £95 per person.

But she recently switched to live one hour online classes for £7.99, held via Zoom, which enables clients to bake along with her and ask questions.

These are also available as a recorded session if people cannot attend the live class.

"I was getting lots of enquiries from people who were baking bread for the first time,” said Abbott.

“When I decided to set up the first live class, I got 20 bookings within 24 hours.

“I have had people [booking] from Australia and even Nairobi."

Can you cook dinner for £1 per person?

Rhiannon Abbott. (Image: Rhiannon Abbott)

The classes are scheduled around the week in the middle of the day, so they are relatively accessible to people in different time zones, and those working from home.

The only additional cost for Abbott has been a Zoom Pro account for £11.99 per month as she already had a laptop and microphone.

But she said the switchover has only been successful because she already had an established audience online.

"I have a big online community around my business,” said Abbott.

“My Facebook group has 2,000 members and I was already creating videos on social media and putting resources online.

“If you are looking to sell online for the first time, you need to start with growing your audience."

And although the online classes are popular, she has still seen a loss in income and will be applying for self-employed Government support.

"I am trying to make it as accessible as possible and I see this as a way of developing and I am hoping the online classes will be another part of my business from now on,” added Abbott.

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‘I host Pilates sessions’

Moving her Pilates classes online overnight in early March ensured Louise Humphreys was ahead of the game and helped her retain many clients.

She usually holds her Studio 44 Pilates classes in halls in and around Market Harborough, Leicestershire, with clients between the ages of 30 to 95.

"Classes were starting to get quiet and I thought I need to get online now,” said Humphreys.

“I didn't want to have to refund people partway through my course and I thought it was important I continued for the community and my clients were able to finish their course online.

“So, one evening I did a video on how to use Zoom and the next day my classes were online, and 80% of people finished the course."

Her courses usually run in six to seven-week blocks to fit around school holidays.

But she decided to keep running courses through the Easter holiday and for four weeks at a time due to uncertainty over when the lockdown will be lifted.

Louise Humphreys. (Image: Louise Humphreys)

Clients still pay the same rate (£8 a class) but now they can come to as many online sessions as they like using a laptop, tablet or smartphone positioned on the floor.

"I have not got as many people, so I am running a reduced timetable, but I haven't got the overheads of hiring a hall, so it is enough to keep going,” commented Humphreys.

To ensure she had strong Wi-Fi reception, Humphreys cleared out her spare bedroom to use as a studio, instead of her usual space above the garage.

"I didn't have to get anything because I already had a tripod with an external camera,” said Humphreys.

To build new clients and promote her business, she is also running a free 10 minute Pilates session, live, via YouTube, at 8.45am weekdays straight before the popular Body Coach Joe Wicks session.

"I think in the future, I will do more live sessions as people have got into that, maybe on YouTube once a week, but the biggest thing for me is the interaction and I want to continue doing the sessions in person after lockdown."

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‘I offer virtual consultations’

Offering a 'pay what you can' service for online consultations is keeping dietician Sophie Medlin afloat in these testing times.

Before the lockdown, Medlin was running private face-to-face consultations and group support meetings from her clinic in London.

She also conducted wellness sessions for employers and earned half her income from public speaking.

"I lost all of my public speaking within 48 hours and lost a huge chunk of money,” said Medlin.

“I was terrified and didn't know what to do."

Her consultancy work also took a hit during the first few weeks of March.

"I specialise in bowel conditions. We are talking about something so personal that you need to establish rapport with patients,” commented Medlin.

“You can do it online, but it is a difficult transition. I started getting no enquiries and I usually get 10 new patients a week."

Sophie Medlin. Image: Sophie Medlin)

After deciding she needed to take drastic action to bring patients online, she decided to start a pay as you can service for her initial consultations, which normally cost £150.

"I thought even if people pay a little bit then I can still help people and try to make some money,” commented Medlin.

"I suggested £30 to £40 as a minimum but also paying nothing is okay.

“Most people have paid the full price and so far, no-one hasn't paid anything."

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Medlin also moved her corporate wellness work to webinars and offers sessions to employees, discussing eating in isolation and the impact of stress and boredom on eating behaviour.

"I reached out to current clients that had sessions booked and people realised there was still a need,” said Medlin.

“I also created digital flyers and sent them to HR teams. I have four sessions booked for this week."

All of this work can be done from a laptop and all Medlin had to do was quickly learn how to produce webinars.

"My outgoings are low and fortunately I don't have to pay for the clinic when I am not there.

“I am paid in dividends so I don't qualify for any Government support at the moment but I have volunteered to go back to the NHS so I will have more money coming in that way," added Medlin.

Although worried at first, she said the experience has been a positive challenge.

"I am quite good when my back is against the wall.

“My quality of life comes from helping people and I still have enough patients to make doing the consultations online worthwhile."

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