When I was first asked to write a light-hearted but informative article on the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on the UK economy I was full of hope and optimism. Last week was one of panic buying hyped by social media; schools were rumoured to close and the travel industry was clearly in trouble. But logic had overcome hysteria for me and my cupboards were filled with food and not a years supply of toilet paper. There was enough reason to think e-commerce would simply take the high street footfall as people avoided crowds. I predicted self-isolating meant increased time on mobiles phones and that social media advertising would yield strong results.
The panic had shifted to Businesses where a bad week rings alarm bells. My phone was ringing constantly from clients past and present, desperate for expert advice in unprecedented times. They feared the writing was on the wall as sports gatherings were cancelled and the stock market crashed. I tried to turn it into a positive for a Wedding Rings company, explained that weekends would see couples together, with nowhere for the men to hide from wedding planning. I figured the home improvement sector would see an increase in business with self-isolation and staycations with holiday funds to spend on the house instead. I was honest with the travel & hospitality sector and events management, who were in danger. Anywhere with large gatherings of people, but I did not think the world would just stop. I also thought I was pretty safe in Digital Marketing seeing as the worst thing you can do as a company is cut all advertising as a knee-jerk reaction. Marketing spend is an investment when done right, not a cost.
Then this week happened and we saw the worst results in history. Not only that but I was self-isolating with two young children. I was stunned by performance across the board. Accounts that were performing 20x return dropped to 0.8. Office furniture was probably the only necessary spend other than home essentials. And my optimism disappeared quicker than pasta off a supermarket shelf. Consumer focus was purely on stocking up on essentials for the duration, forced into it by the initial panic buying of others. Industries such as the theatre and airlines cut all staff with no pay. And the economy simply collapsed. One week of consumer miss-direction was all it took. One week of bad sales and fear became a pandemic too. Self-isolation was the other big driver; companies invoked working from home contingencies, school closures were confirmed to create more loss of earnings. You couldn’t get through to the banks, insurances companies, or travel agents. It was clear where everyone’s focus was. Self-preservation.
It won’t last long before people will be bored of being indoors and looking to spend again. A week in self-isolation makes people beg for normality and to go out and spend. The Government are also putting a lot of money back into circulation with grants and loans. I predict at most 4-6 weeks, which sadly is too long for most businesses. I am hoping it comes sooner for their sakes. Luxury goods I feel might struggle the most to return to previous sales volumes.
I respect my clients and get on well with all of them. So it was not with a heavy heart that I contacted them and offered a payment break, especially I was facing working from home with two kids so needed to cut back to a support role anyway. I was speaking to them daily and knew their business and the impact of their current results. I owed it to them to be truthful and honest about the best marketing strategy for them, their survival more important than my own needs. It doesn’t sit well with me to get paid if I am not bringing a return anyway. I’ll be keeping a close eye on all their stats to see the peaks when they happen.
So there is an irony of submitting a piece about impacts on small businesses on the day I effectively lost every client and potentially my business. I’m self-employed so as it stands I am getting no financial help from the Government, but it’s more of a career break anyway. I do take pleasure to see their list of key workers though, as they are forced to admit who the real driving force of this country is. I await with bated breath for the pay imbalance to be addressed.
In business, you have to adapt and survive. I’m increasing my focus on training people to run their own marketing, wanting to give back. I’ve also started to see Covid 19 in a different light today. One that brings change. Coronavirus has had a bigger positive impact on the Climate than Greta Thunberg, with the noticeable reversal caused by less air-travel and pollution and the difference we can make. Perhaps global Governments can see the improvements and realise it’s not too late, part of me hopes the self-isolation lasts all year. The world needed a break, and so do I. My plan is the business equivalent of going to the Winchester for a beer and waiting for it to all blow over. And it will. I believe the strong will survive and need to plan their marketing strategy now for when normality resumes. In the meantime, I have some children I need to reconnect with.