Updated: Nov 11, 2020
As we enter another lockdown, business owners who had survived the first lockdown and were starting to turn the corner again, are now bearing the brunt of the fallout. It is hard to remain positive and have an optimistic outlook at times like this.
We have actually done quite well during lockdown because we are in the right business, but I remember when a single event almost decimated our business at the time. In 2005, I opened a second high-end optometrist in Floral Street, Covent Garden. Floral Street is full of designer shops including Paul Smith and is a destination shopping centre. In 2005, internet shopping was in its infancy and the retail business was dependent on footfall and advertising.
I remember the excitement of opening day with our wonderful IT people putting together tables and chairs because we were running out of time. Everyone involved shared the same enthusiasm for our vision and truly believed that it would be a huge success. We made quite a stir both in the area and in the optical press.
We had a soft opening with the launch party on Friday 8th July. We had local press, celebrities and magazine editors coming. We were providing a buffet dinner with the champagne flowing.
Then 7/7 happened!
London was shell shocked. The city looked like a ghost town not dissimilar to the scenes during lockdown. People stopped coming into London and the only positive was being able to get a seat on the train. If you were Asian, like me, and carried a backpack, like me, people actually got up and left the carriage which meant I had a choice of seats. The only people left in London were the people who worked in London or tourists who weren’t due to leave the city for a little while
Of course, no one except the caterers turned up on the 8th. It was too late to cancel the food and they made sure they delivered it. I know there were a lot of surprised but grateful tourists who were welcomed in and fed that night and some of them became friends.
One of the worst things that can happen to a new business is lack of customers. Your working capital dwindles away and any sparkle or hype you have created with being the new kid in town disappears. The worst thing for a business owner is losing your mojo or enthusiasm for your life’s work. When circumstances are out of your control, it is completely demoralising to realise that you can’t control the narrative or the direction that you are travelling. Everything you do makes very little difference, and your energy starts to fade.
We did turn around the opticians and were making a profit, but that first year made me resent the business instead of being passionate about it. At the same time, I had a 2 year old who need a kidney transplant and her father was the donor. The emotional weight of both my personal and business problems made what was once my dream a huge burden. I felt like there was a cloud over my head even though I was constantly smiling and trying to inspire the people working for me. I was working 7 days a week trying to muster some enthusiasm for what was becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.
I wonder how much of that sounds familiar to business owners today in the midst of a pandemic that has caused the world to stop and have such a huge impact on the people in our lives. How many of you have lost loved ones and had to deal with that while keeping your businesses and life’s work going? How many are not sure what pieces there will be to pick up after the dust has settled? How many no longer even care?
It is at times like this that we need some hope and sometimes a way out. I could have used a non- judgmental fresh pair of eyes to help me through or just someone who understood and could help me see things more clearly. In the end, we sold the practice because another retailer wanted that unit on Floral Street. It was the best decision at that time even though my dream practice would no longer exist. It lightened the weight and allowed me to focus my energies on our other practice, but it did leave me feeling embarrassed that I hadn’t managed to make a huge success of my business.
If any of this resonates, contact me. It can help just to talk through the various ways I may be able to help find your way through the mire of despair. Sometimes, it is just good to talk with someone who has been there. If I can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel, then I will consider it a privilege.