I’ve spent a lot of time since closing for Christmas thinking about the past 12 months. What I’ve achieved, what I didn’t, the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of being a small business owner in 2020.
Let’s face it, 2020 hasn’t exactly been the best year, we’ve experienced a global pandemic that’s shaken every country on earth and continues to wreak havoc. Though our amazing healthcare staff both health and social as well as our excellent scientists have worked around the clock to care for us and to find a vaccine!
So how has life been for Easterkins? We’ll let’s start at the beginning shall we?
When I started Easterkins on the 4th of November 2019, there were murmurs of a new illness taking hold in China. At the time I, like many others, didn't take a huge amount of notice. Easterkins was so new that my customer base was very small and I was finding my feet. I was able to go on my annual Christmas shopping trip and my cousin’s baby girl was born in late November. Christmas came and went, pretty quietly and uneventful, but as 2020 dawned so did the disruption that would come to be a familiar story. China was struggling under the massive explosion of cases of this new virus, named COVID-19.
In early January I had ordered fabrics that were supposed to arrive early March, but that was going to be the start of total disruption for me. China went into lockdown and the printing of fabric stopped, many raw materials came from China after all. I had made a decision to invest in a new machine that would be with me early April, this decision would end up being both the most stressful but also the most fantastic decision I have made this year.
As cases started popping up all over the world and throughout Europe including here in the U.K. I was beginning to worry. News of those with underlying health issues dying to the virus started to emerge and that was and remains very frightening for me. Both my parents have underlying health conditions that make them a high risk should they become infected. January rolled into February then into March, that’s where things got really serious!
I was a finalist for Welsh ICE’s Start Up of the Year, for businesses that had been setup due to their 8 week 5 to 9 business course. There was meant to be a big event with stalls and lots of fun as well as the award ceremony. Unfortunately, it was decided that under the circumstances of rapidly increasing cases, that it shouldn’t go ahead. However, I’d still have to pitch Easterkins to a panel of judges and would do so virtually!
That pitch was so very scary, as if pitching isn’t stressful enough, when you can get a vibe from the panel, it’s a whole heap worse. It also turned out that none of the judges were parents, so I really had to wing it because I’m ultimately a handmade children’s clothing business! Plus adding to that I’d never pitched virtually and the judges couldn’t hold my items as I’d planned. I didn’t win the award, the fantastically skilled Esme Eros of Duxford Studios did! She’s an amazingly skilled jewellery designer and I highly recommend you check out her website.
The U.K. went into lockdown on the 23rd March 2020, my dog grooming business closed due this and my income went with it! Panic hit, stress levels rose quickly and I needed to find a way of making some money. Thankfully on the 8th of April my new machine arrived. A 6 needle embroidery machine! I was nervous but also excited, unfortunately with my fabric delayed and all fabric shops pretty much closed I had no chance of getting my supplies quickly. I had to pivot, my handmade garments with custom printed fabrics, would have to take a back seat.
I started embroidering personalised birthday t-shirts on organic t-shirt blanks, it was slow really slow. I did get some orders but they again were few and far between. Easterkins was so new that it was hard to get a stable income, I was so scared! I kept going and I did get some orders through for which I will be eternally grateful. Normally Easterkins wouldn’t have been under the pressure it was, my dog grooming was helping pay bills and I wasn’t so reliant on the orders flowing in. However, with that income gone I was struggling financially, mentally and emotionally.
Lockdown Birthday and Business Woes
I also turned 30 on the 30th of April, my family's plans had been ruined. There’d be no surprise weekend away, there’d be no Indian meal at my favourite restaurant. I’d see no one but my parents and Lilly! It sucked, I hated it and I felt so isolated and sad. May turned into another month of lockdown and more struggles on how to make things work. Self doubt kicked in and I really wasn’t looking forward to the decisions I was going to have to make.
Lockdown restrictions started to ease but the risk was still very high, my grooming business was run from home and my parents were still at risk. My customers needed to go elsewhere for their dogs welfare, I couldn’t help them and ultimately Covid took my first business away from me. I couldn’t afford to keep paying the insurances and all the bills associated with a business that wasn’t bringing an income. It utterly broke me, if I’m honest I’m still upset it really hurts, I miss the dogs I groomed and their lovely owners!
Big Changes and Stress
2020 wasn’t done throwing curve balls at me yet though, oh no! On July 6th Lilly my Labrador went back out with her dog walker for the first time since lockdown. Lilly had been going with this dog walker since 2013. On a weekly basis and she loved going so I never stopped her when I became self employed. I was sewing when I received a text from the dog walker saying Lilly had hurt her leg and that they were a couple of minutes away.
I immediately downed tools and went to wait on the door for them, when Lilly got out of the van it was obvious that she really had hurt her back left leg. It wasn’t the dog walkers fault! Lilly has always been walked off lead as she has excellent recall, her dog walker said that she was playing and then the next minute yelped and started limping. She immediately checked her over but couldn’t see any wounds but Lilly wouldn’t use the leg.
Now many of you may wonder what has Lilly got to do with Easterkins and the business? Well Lilly is my whole world, baby and she is the reason I even get out of bed in the morning. So she is such an important part of my life she motivates me to work and without her I don’t think we’d even be having this conversation.
It turned out that her injury was bad, I was lucky enough to have worked at a vets prior to setting up the dog grooming business. Where I was a nurse, so thankfully I have some fantastic friends that are vets. I recorded a video of Lilly walking, because she wasn’t an emergency case and the vets were only seeing urgent cases. I sent the video to a vet friend who said I should try to get an appointment for the next day. So I called and managed to get an appointment for the next day, I knew it wasn’t going to be good news though, I had that feeling.
I was right and the vet we saw confirmed my suspicions and that of my vet friend that Lilly had likely ruptured her cruciate ligament. It would need surgery by an orthopaedic vet, the two local ones were on annual leave. So I asked my vet friends again and they recommended a vet in Bristol. He had a waiting list but I sent the video of Lilly to him and he immediately asked for us to be placed on his cancellation list as Lilly wasn’t weight bearing and a 30+ kg dog not weight bearing is a problem!
Lilly’s surgery took place on the 15th of July and I ended up having to stop my focus on Easterkins to care for her. The operation was big! She has metal plates and screws in her leg and I needed to help her around, ensure she didn’t fall, complete physio. This meant I’d spend from the 6th July through to the middle of November sleeping on the sofa as Lilly couldn’t go upstairs.
This was a massive chunk of my year, it also put a lot of financial strain on us. Thankfully Lilly is insured and her surgery was paid for by them minus the excess.
Trying to Survive
I tried to stay active on social media and even entered Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday, to try and get some traction. I tried a fair few times and I wasn’t going to enter on the 23rd of August, until the awesome Kelly Farr of YourNorth encouraged me to enter with a short video. So I rushed to get the video made before the deadline for that weeks entries and I made it in the nick of time. On the 24th of August my phone started going nuts with notifications, it was around 8pm and when I looked, Theo had chosen me as one of that week's winners! I was in total shock, I mean I never expected to be chosen, my entry was done quickly and some of my other entries hadn’t been successful.
I had such mixed emotions, happy that I’d been chosen, but sad that I wasn’t able to do so much work because of ensuring Lilly recovered from her operation.
Lilly’s injury, operation and recovery, meant I couldn’t give the time I wanted to Easterkins, not until the middle of September, when she’d been cleared by the vet to start resuming normal activity.
Christmas is Coming!
When I started creating the Christmas designs, little did I know that what I was making would help me through and give me hope!
I officially launched my Christmas Collection in early September and I started getting orders for personalised gingerbread decorations! Yes the gingies, you loved them and so did I. The gingies are embroidered and personalised and they formed only part of my Christmas collection. You also showed a lot of love for my Christmas stockings which are completely unique and one of my most expensive items. Honestly as you lovely people started ordering, I started to believe. I’m not going to lie financially things remained tough but I worked around Lilly’s care which was still on going.
Through November and early December I often worked late sometimes till midnight and beyond to make sure your orders were made and sent in time for Christmas.
I’m so grateful for each and every order, without your support I have no idea where I’d be right now. As cheesy as it sounds, your choice to support a small handmade business really does make a massive difference. Your decision to choose me to make your personalised gifts really filled me with joy and I was able to cover my business outgoings for September, November and December thanks to you!
December wasn’t done with me though! I was nominated for Wales Online’s 35 Under 35. On the 9th of December I was named as one of the 35 amazing ladies picked as Wales’ top professional and business women. It was a massive surprise as I hadn’t even considered I’d be shortlisted, let alone chosen!
So when I look back on 2020, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful to you for your support. However, I’m also filled with sadness, for the loved ones we’ve lost, the memories we weren’t able to make, the people we haven’t seen, the cuddles we’ve not been able to give. My first business, dog grooming, is gone and I feel an immense sadness about it. My concerns over finances haven’t gone and I’ve still not been able to take a wage. However, I can only hope that this will change in 2021 and that the vaccines will help us all return to a sense of normality.
There will of course be major challenges ahead and with the Brexit transition period ending on the 31st of December. A new way of living and trading will come to be in the UK. I can only hope that you will continue to support me and businesses like me for years to come. I sincerely hope that the glimmer of hope shown in the run up to Christmas continues to sparkle and that Easterkins continues to grow.
I can’t wait to see what magic we can create together and I cannot wait to see the smiles! Thank you again for your continued support, I really do mean it!