How To Grow Your Business During The Pandemic, According To Creative Entrepreneurs

Go see my BLOG POST FOR AllBright EDIT, out today.

If you’re struggling to make it in the marketplace, you’re far from alone. We spoke to three creative entrepreneurs in London to learn how they’ve adapted during the pandemic, the impact of sisterhood on their journeys and their tips for fellow female founders.

This year has been one of change and of challenge – particularly for small businesses. According to research by McKinsey, 70% of small and medium-size businesses in Europe reported a fall in revenues, caused by the pandemic. More than half worry they may not survive another year.

Across the pond, the number of small businesses in America plunged 22% from February to April – the largest drop on record, disproportionately affecting BAME and female-owned companies.

The COVID-19 crisis has triggered lasting consequences for small businesses worldwide. But there is hope on the horizon.

Entrepreneurs including interiors artist Simone Brewster, illustrator Sakina Saïdi and fashion designer Edeline Lee have not only adapted their enterprises, but also paved paths to success during this challenging year. We learned how.

Simone Brewster, Artist And Designer

With an eye for beauty and a powerful message embedded in each piece she creates, craft entrepreneur Simone Brewster designs statement jewellery and furniture.

When the pandemic hit, Simone reacted swiftly, finding opportunity in a sea of uncertainty: “I’ve used lockdowns to create new work and make connections with people that I hadn’t before,” she tells AllBright.

“Coronavirus hasn’t stopped me. It’s forced me to adapt, which I think everyone should look to do. I used time away from my studio to start painting – something I only thought I would have time for during my retirement,” she adds.

“We should diversify and look at how skills we already have, but don’t necessarily use, can become secondary sources of income.”

Simone Brewster, Artist And Designer

Simone also shared her advice for female founders struggling to grow their businesses right now: “Any creative has probably acquired a whole number of skills, just to do their business. I’ve learned to use software programs, give presentations, public speaking – the list goes on.

“We should diversify and look at how skills we already have, but don’t necessarily use, can become secondary sources of income. Another way is to become extremely niche. By becoming niche, we can target and talk to our audiences in a very clear and precise way,” she advises.

While it’s tempting to crouch down and weather the storm during a crisis, for Simone, relying on her network opened her up to growth: “Reaching out to your community is integral when you’re an independent creative running a business… There are so many talented female creatives. I’ve learned by connecting with them, and from other people’s mistakes.”

She also describes the value of female connection throughout the pandemic: “I’ve had a crazy year with an amazing outpouring of support from women. I’ve been checked on by so many creatives. Especially during the pandemic, there is definitely a sisterhood.”

Sakina Saïdi
, Digital Illustrator

Drawing curved edges with splashes of colour and the occasional inspirational word, digital illustrator and freelancer-turned-entrepreneur, Sakina Saïdi, depicts themes of growth and womanhood in her work.

Describing the initial uncertainty of the pandemic, Sakina says: “In the beginning, I closed my shop for a month. I took time to think and see how the situation was evolving. When I came back, I was pleased to see people were still buying from me and sending [my products] to loved ones.”

However, although she trades mainly online, Sakina wasn’t immune to the pandemic. “I had planned to get a studio and expand my range to do more wholesale,” she explains. “Obviously it didn’t happen, so this year took me in a different direction. I want to continue to do commissioned work for causes that matter to me and independent, sustainable and ethical businesses, in parallel with my shop.”

“Be open. Look in directions you might have not considered before. This has been a year of adaptation and resilience – be prepared to change your plans and adapt to new, challenging circumstances.”

Sakina Saïdi, Digital Illustrator

Offering guidance for entrepreneurs afflicted by the pandemic, Sakina says: “It’s a crazy time. We feel more vulnerable, but our lives have also changed a lot. Now is the perfect time to try new things.

“Be open. Look in directions you might have not considered before. This has been a year of adaptation and resilience – be prepared to change your plans and adapt to new, challenging circumstances.”

Reflecting on the value of sisterhood, Sakina adds: “I’ve met some wonderful women since starting to work for myself. I was pleasantly surprised by the warm community feeling I got from both in-person and online interactions.

“I’ve also connected with many lovely people on Instagram. It can be a temperamental tool, but I’ve found a lot of support and a real feeling of sisterhood.”

Edeline Lee, Fashion Designer

Credit: Matt Walsh

For fashion designer Edeline Lee, each garment she creates is specially made for what she calls the ‘Future Lady’ – clothes that are edgy and modern with practicality, timelessness and sustainability at their heart.

Edeline sprang into action when coronavirus hit. “As soon as the virus reached the UK, I closed the studio for lockdown,” she tells AllBright. “I designed a mask and we prepared kits for hundreds of volunteers to make masks at home, which we collected and donated to frontline workers. It was a small way of contributing.”

Despite wading through the uncertainty, Edeline captured the mood shift in her fashion collection. “A lot of us want to dress up more on the infrequent occasions we go out now, and I responded to that. My designs for the spring season are a mixture of fluid, easy-to-wear pieces as well as bold statement pieces for the events we know we will get to go to again.”

“We each have power within us. Do whatever feels like play to you – it’s there that you will find the greatest expression of your personal power.”

Edeline Lee, Fashion Designer

Offering her guidance for women business owners, Edeline says: “We each have power within us. Do whatever feels like play to you – it’s there that you will find the greatest expression of your personal power.”

Contemplating the impact of sisterhood on her work, she adds: “A lot of the women who wear my clothes are friends, and it gives me the greatest joy to see them living their lives in my designs.

“My autumn-winter 2019 collection was inspired by Professor Mary Beard’s seminal text Women & Power. I was lucky to have Mary open the presentation, for which we gathered a group of 35 prominent women from a range of professions and viewpoints. It was a wonderful moment and really encapsulated the spirit of the brand.”

It’s clear to see that, despite the pandemic, there is hope for small businesses to survive and even thrive. For entrepreneurs like Simone, Sakina, and Edeline, embodying the values of nimbleness, resilience and sisterhood have truly made all the difference.

you are enough

6 mindfulness tips for the busy Londoner

Check out my blog post for The Collective:

The rush of a fast-paced city like London is whirlwind – until it leaves you winded. An important part of keeping the balance between work, socialising, relationships and fitness is mental health – and too often, we let it slip to the wayside. This winter at The Collective, we’re hosting Self-Care Sundays, a weekly reminder to treat ourselves to reflection, attention and love. This weekend, we’re experiencing mental maintenance with Self Space, a contemporary mental health service based in Shoreditch that are on a mission to revolutionise the way we access, think and feel about mental health support. Leading up to our workshop, lead practitioner Chance Marshall shares the importance of mental maintenance, and gives us six mindfulness tips for the busy Londoner.

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In a world which can sometimes be challenging, frightening, overwhelming, complex and hard to navigate, it’s not surprising that sometimes we don’t feel okay. Everyday mental maintenance is an essential part of surviving.

– Chance Marshall, Self Space

1. Connect with (all of) your emotions

Normal, natural emotions are too often seen as good or bad. And being positive has become a new form of moral correctness. A natural response to painful experiences is to avoid thinking about them, but research tells us that when feelings and emotions are ignored, they amplify. The only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves. Allow yourself to feel without judgement and without rushing to your emotional exits.

2. Connect with your body

As we tend to avoid difficult emotions, they can later manifest as physical problems. Emotions like anger and stress can cause clenching of the jaw, so release your jaw, massage your face muscles and try yawning. Worry or anxiety can cause you to knit your brow without realising, so release your forehead by raising and lowering your eyebrows 2-4 times while inhaling/exhaling deeply. To release tension in the shoulders, inhale and lift your shoulders to your ears. As you exhale, draw your shoulders down and back, guiding the shoulder blades towards each other and downwards. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing experiences of the past and of the present, while actively steering us in the right direction for self-care.

3. Connect with nature

47% of London is green space. Seek it out and rest in it. It is not about spending hours outdoors or wandering in wilderness. It’s as simple as a walk in the park, or noticing that tree. Virtually any form of connection to the natural world heightens our overall well-being. When we extend ourselves beyond focusing primarily on our own needs, worries, regrets or desires for the future, we become less anxious and more present in the moment.

4. Connect with your breath

Slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. Try this simple breathing exercise. It will help you relax, feel grounded, reduce tension and alleviate anxiety.
Step 1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
Step 2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
Step 3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
Step 4. Breathe out through your mouth. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
Step 5. Repeat this 5-10 times, notice how you feel after.

5. Connect with others

More than 9 million people in the UK – almost 20% of the population – say they are always or often lonely (British Red Cross and Co-Op, 2016). The thing about loneliness is that it makes us feel as if no one else feels like we do, when in reality, millions of other people around us are feeling the same. Almost all of us have felt lonely at one point or another. Reach out to others, reach friends, reach out to family and stay connected. If you can, call or meet up instead of texting, be curious about others, let go of expectations and don’t isolate yourself.

Being able to feel safe with other people is one of the single most important aspects of maintaining good mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.

6. Disconnect from tech

Disconnecting from tech will not only help you to achieve all of the above, but a digital detox goes a long way in allowing us the time to return to ourselves. Setting boundaries around screen time can really help sustain us; try turning of notifications for any work email accounts post-working hours. Researchers have found that unplugging after work can make a huge difference in your quality of life, mental health, and happiness. They found that when people disconnected from work related tasks, such as checking their work email after hours, they reported feeling fresher and better recharged when beginning work the following day. As an added challenge, try committing to not look at your phone for the first hour of the morning or the last hour before sleep. Time away from social media can help disrupt patterns of comparing yourself to others, help you sleep and curb your FOMO.

Chance Marshall and Self Space will deliver their workshop, ‘Self-Care Sundays: Mental Maintenance’, this weekend at 2pm, Sunday 17th February at The Collective Old Oak. Members can head to the app to sign up. 

girl sleeps on pillow

7 tips to improve your sleep

Check out my blog post for The Collective:

Feeling sluggish, restless and just generally blah? Winter is in full swing, and it’s known to have a detrimental effect on your sleep. Due to the cold weather and shorter days with less sunshine that the blustery season always brings, it’s no surprise that your sleep suffers as a consequence. And when you’re not well rested, you’re not at your best. If you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep nightly, you’re at a higher risk for damage to your mental and physical health. This week at The Collective, we’re hearing about the importance of sleep and tools for healthy shuteye from wellbeing support organisation CiC. Here, they share their top 7 tips to improve your sleep.

Start your day with a healthy breakfast. It’s important to eat breakfast within 30-45 minutes of waking, to jumpstart your metabolism with a burst of energy. Eating soon after waking, even something small and nutritious like a banana with low-fat yoghurt, signals to your brain that you’re nourished and it’s time to get the day rolling. Eating early can have a positive impact on your night’s sleep.

Hydrate throughout the day. Not only does it hydrate you, but drinking water also flushes out toxins and waste. Your sleep will become more refreshing and you’ll wake up more energetic and alert – and find yourself relying less on that snooze button. Try drinking 1 litre per day for three weeks to start, and then work your way up to 2 and then 3 litres daily.

Unplug before bed. Come down from the Cloud and shut off all your electronic devices an hour before bedtime. Stimulation from your mobile phone, laptop or tablet, including the blue light from your screens, can disrupt your wind down process, making it difficult to let your brain know it’s time for bed. Light can also prevent your melatonin levels from rising, which you need to fall asleep and reach deep, restorative rest. Switch off your devices so you can switch off your mind too.

Don’t check the time. It’s that annoying moment when you wake suddenly in the middle of the night – you check the time on your phone, which leads to checking your texts, social media, emails and next thing you know, you’re wide awake. Resist the urge to wake up your mind and instead, close your eyes and try deep breathing to ease yourself back to sleep.

Try white noise. Some sensitive sleepers swear by whale sounds, rainforest tracks or other types of white noise. It can drown out smaller sounds that may cause you to stir, and the rhythmic sounds of a fan can be soothing for fussy sleepers. Try the White Noise app, free to use on both Android and iOS.

Avoid stimulants. You’ve heard it before – that cosy evening tea could be keeping you up at night. Stay away from caffeine, nicotine and refined sugars after 5pm to avoid poor sleep and a fatigue cycle, and allow your body to detox before bed for a restful night’s sleep.

Move more. Exercise and movement during the day leads to better sleep. Physical activity causes the body to produce adenosine, which helps curb the adrenaline that could be keeping you awake. Plus, exercise is a great way to work off that buzzing energy keeping you up at night and even boost overall health. Win-win-win.

CiC will give their talk, ‘Sleep your way to wellness’, at 8pm, Thursday 7th February at The Collective Old Oak. Members, head to the app to sign up.

Unreported London

Through my Master’s in International Journalism at City, University of London, my classmates and I put together a magazine called Unreported London, to highlight the lesser known stories around the city that go under the radar.

Heavy Metal Pete Photo by Huw Poraj-Wilczynski

I’m proud of my contributions – an investigative piece covering sexual harassment on the London Overground headlined, ‘Assault on London’s Transport System: Reported but Unresolved’ and a fun round-up spotlighting London’s buskers, and a sidebar on famous musicians that got their start performing in London.

Busker Freddy
Photo by Huw Poraj-Wilczynski