“I started my new business during lockdown.” When non-essential jobs were forced to close in March, the financial impact hit UK workers hard. Whether facing furlough, redundancy or simply a lack of clients, the uniquely strange times of 2020 forced many people to look for new ways to make money.
For three Tandridge entrepreneurs, lockdown gave them the motivation to get creative and launch a new business. We spoke to them and found out how they did it.
Starting from scratch
With schools shut, Lisa Yazdabadi found herself home schooling her older children, aged 7 and 4, while simultaneously entertaining an energetic 2 year old. Finding time for herself in the middle of the hubbub soon became a necessity.
Handing over lunchtime childcare to her home-working husband meant Lisa, who comes from an artistic family, was able to make a daily escape to her pottery studio. It was exactly where she needed to be:
“Concentrating on my pottery is calming; it’s like meditation. It’s my happy place and it’s made coping with lockdown much easier for me.”
Lisa had always wanted to sell her creations but without the structure of regular pottery sessions she had convinced herself she didn’t have time to make enough stock for a viable business. She now found, however, her focused daily session filled her shelves with mugs, bowls, platters and more: in fact, she was so prolific she ended up gifting it to neighbours, friends and family.
Her sister realised the potential that Lisa had for a new cottage industry:
“She said ‘You’re having an Instagram sale tonight!’ and helped me set it up. Nearly every piece sold, which led to me taking commissions. I’m really busy with orders now, but it works well as I can do it at my own pace, around the kids.”
Passing it down
It might one day become a family business, as Lisa says her older children are starting to display talent at the wheel: “They’ve both made their own mugs and cereal bowls. Pottery is great for children: clay is so tactile, and crafting things helps improve their focus.’
Pottery as art therapy is an idea Lisa is contemplating for the future: “Being busy with your hands is therapeutic, so working with children and in care homes is definitely an area I’ll explore. I want to carry on making and selling, and I’m keen to give pottery lessons too. There’s so much to do!”
Lockdown gave Lisa the push she needed to start her business: “It was that mix of ‘I need some time to myself’, along with encouragement and support from my friends and family.’
Lisa and her pottery are on Instagram: @lyazdabadi
Turbocharging an existing project
For some people, losing their day job meant it was the perfect time to shift their side-hustle up a gear.
Freelance sound recordist James Kenning, also of Warlingham, was already working on his business concept: “I suffer badly with razor burn and rashes and about 15 years ago I invented a shaving cream that soothed my skin, something I’d never found before. With a full-time job and a young family I couldn’t get it off the ground back then, but the idea stuck. Ten years on, while filming at Barclays’ ‘Entrepreneurs’ Week’, I heard several speakers say ‘if you’ve got an idea, go for it’, and that was it. I went home and started researching.”
James began testing formulas, with natural ingredients picked specifically for their skin-nourishing properties. He roped in friends to try it out and employed a cosmetic formulation company to help him develop the cream further.
“Then, in March, all the recording work I had lined up was cancelled, almost overnight, due to Covid-19. That meant my pay packet disappeared too.”
Spurred into action
James had to find a new income stream, and taking his Pure Shave brand of unisex, refillable shaving cream to market was the obvious way forward.
“I adapted my shed into a workroom, where I fill the containers and do all the packaging. I found a local web developer, who helps me with marketing and social media too, and I also began developing other products, such as moisturiser and fragrance.”
Although mostly an online enterprise, James is keen to get his eco-friendly range into zero-waste shops as well.
“I’d been moving towards launch, but lockdown really accelerated the whole process. It started off as a nightmare but it has helped me get my business off the ground.”
James’ products are at pureshave.co.uk.
Taking on a new challenge
Established Oxted photographer Stella Scordellis had no problems giving directions to clients from behind her camera but take that away and she struggled with shyness. A desire to share the stories she’d gained from her diverse career encouraged her to look for ways to overcome a fear of speaking in public.
Luckily, her friend Helen Pointer was an accomplished orator and successfully coached Stella until she was ready to show off her new skills. Over a 2019 Burns Night whisky at The Bull pub in Limpsfield, Helen suggested that Stella contacted her own agent and offered her services as a cruise ship speaker, something Helen did regularly.
Stella says: “I filmed a 15-minute video, using an anecdote about my time photographing Formula 1, and sent it to Helen’s agent. From that, they asked me to prepare a 45-minute presentation for a formal interview! Helen, and other friends, helped me refine it and the agency loved it, signing me up immediately.”
After being invited to speak on a cross-Atlantic cruise from Barbados to Cyprus, beginning in March this year, Stella created and practised six lectures. The topics ranged from her Cypriot heritage to the Getty Images Library.
Then the pandemic hit
“After leaving Antigua we discovered the European ports we were heading to had closed, so we travelled back to Southampton. My speaking sessions should have been spaced out over the entire cruise, but I ended up doing 7 consecutive talks on the way home instead!”
Presenting with Poise
Once back in the UK, Stella realised all her upcoming photography shoots would have to be cancelled but, buoyed from the success of her on-board presentations, she approached Helen with a new idea.
“Helen had been such a great help to me, so I suggested we set up a public speaking agency. My photography studio has given me a lot of experience in running a business, so I handle that side of things, while Helen teaches presentation skills.”
They launched The Toucan Agency at the end of July with the strapline ‘A friendly place to learn the art of public speaking’.
“It’s not a corporate environment: our sessions are bespoke, and designed for each client to learn in the way they’re most comfortable with. We’re looking to help them increase their confidence, just as Helen did for me.”
In time, Stella hopes to use her career experiences to expand the agency’s repertoire:
“I’d like us to move into mentoring too. I built my photography business up from nothing, and I can share the skills I’ve acquired from that.”
You can find The Toucan Agency at thetoucanagency.com.