• Nyree Fiddes

Coronavirus as a small business owner

Coronavirus has been a shocker business wise. My business took a nose dive into the ground at a speed that even an optimistic kamaze pilot could not have anticipated. As a small business owner, it’s been frightening to see clients disappear and work dry up as people try and consolidate and reduce as many expenses as possible to ride out the financial storm. As I’ve learnt since starting my business six years ago, one of the first costs that gets cut when businesses need to reduce expenditure is work with external consultants.

In the past seven months, I’ve tried everything I could think of to encourage and boost business. I’ve sent out newsletters to my subscribers, I’ve offered discounts on existing products, I’ve started (almost) daily posting on social media platforms, I’ve contacted past clients directly suggesting now is the perfect opportunity to get started on long imagined HR projects while business is quiet, I’ve discounted my hourly rate, I’ve partnered with other businesses to offer my products and services at discounted rates just for their members, I’ve redesigned my website and I’ve asked for referrals. Additionally, I’ve advertised. Oh have I advertised. I’ve spent money on Google Ads and Facebook Ads. I’ve utilised the inbuilt advertising functions supplied as part of my annual website subscription. I’ve also swallowed my pride and called friends and asked for their help in boosting social media traffic by inviting them to like my pages & posts. Short of asking friends to actually give me work, I’ve tried everything I can think of and it has produced few results.

It is scary being a small business owner during a pandemic. It’s scary when you’re working your arse off and you have nothing to show for it. It’s scary to realise that the almost all the money coming into your bank account is being given to you by the government, and that that funding will reduce and then stop in the near future even if your business hasn’t recovered in line with all the projections forecast by government economists. It’s scary to think that during this stressful time, people who really need the suport of an experienced HR practitioner aren’t asking for help because in their work environment HR is classed as a discretionary expense and right now they have to do without it.

During this time, It’s been important for me to remember that many many businesses are doing it tough and are in a similar position to me. There have been times when it’s been hard to fight the fear that this pandemic has brought to small business owners. So I’ve tried hard to be kind to myself so I have the headspace to be able to think how I can do things differently to attract more work. I’ve done this by sitting in the sun when I have lunch, promoting my Employee Engagement Manager Sir Spotsalot to Head of Employee Engagement (because it made me laugh), by taking out my Head of Employee Engagement for a one hour walk every day as it helps me to relax and breath, by remembering that failure is only bad if you learn nothing from it.

I’ve always said that it’s important for managers to listen to their staff if they wants to be a good boss. In the past seven months I’ve taken that advice on board for myself and turned it inward in regards to my relationshp with clients. If I want to run a good HR business, I need to listen to what my clients and subscribers are saying to me. One of the things that came up as feedback was a disconnect between my profession and my website. While the website looked nice, it didn’t make visitors think of human resources when they landed on it. This meant they had to spend more time looking into what I offered, rather than immediately identifying with my offering.

Another thing I knew as no longer working were my “HR Packs”. Years ago I’d created three different HR packs for Organisations that want to have legally compliant HR Policies and Procedures, and highly detailed employment contracts, position descriptions and performance review templates without having to write these documents themselves. These packs are formated as mail merge tempates so all the buyer needs to do is add in their logo, fill in the mail merge fields as applicable to their business and they are good to go. However the feedback in the past 12 months has been that the HR Packs were too expensive and included items that people didn’t want to pay that amount of money for. Turns out that not everyone wants to choose 15 highly detailed HR policies from a list of 25 when they’re stuggling to get their head around the policies they must have to be legally compliant. Also turns out that lots of people coundn’t connect with the phrase “HR Pack”. It just didn’t mean anything to them.

So I re-worked my products. I still have packs, but now call them HR Toolboxes. In Australia, the phrase toolbox is familiar to many in regards to workplace health and safety, and as a concept of a centralised place that people look for commonplace work tools and documents. I also decided to make all the policies and employment contracts available for individual purchase. I’d had people tell me in the past they only needed 1 document. When this happened I’d negotiate an individual price dependant on the product and invoiced the buyer for the product. So I’ve taken that double handling away and buyers can access these documents via digital download via the store at any time of day. I’ve also streamlined the pricing, so matter which product you buy the price for all contracts or all policy is the same (bargain if you’re buying a really highly detailed and long policy like Grievance or WH&S!).

I’ve created some fun things to my store for free download, like COVID Bingo! and the HR Managers Alphabet, so if you visit the shop and decide that you don’t want to purchase a product, maybe you’ll still download one of the free items and remember The Fiddes Group next time you need help with HR. After all, it’s important to try and have a fun at work when you can.

Will any of this work? Who knows. I’m trying different things, listening to lots of business podcasts and watching lots of Webinars to try and identify new and different ways to get my business out there and noticed. I’m determined to stay positive and I hope that things will come good eventually. We all have to get used to operating in a recession and finding a new ways to generate income and attract clients.

Nyree Fiddes

MD: The Fiddes Group