The Covid-19 pandemic put an immense amount of pressure on businesses and while some struggled, others readjusted to stay busy and increase their activity. They managed this despite the restrictions on people and companies that saw the UK suffer its worst economic slump in three centuries.
Despite lockdown lifting, challenges still remain and to help keep companies afloat, the furlough scheme will continue in 2021, as will government-backed Covid-19 loans, which by February this year had already provided £73 billion in much-needed support to 1.6 million businesses.
One small business thriving despite recent lockdowns is Frankie Duckworth’s Kinton Escapes in the Shropshire countryside close to the Welsh border, which provides unique accommodation in a yurt (The Kinton Cloud House), a wooden cabin (The Duck Hut) and a converted horsebox (The Kinton House Box).
After the first national lockdown in 2020, the business re-opened and Frankie says she has never been busier: “People were desperate to get out and couldn’t go abroad. The accommodation is self-catering and of course I introduced the necessary enhanced cleaning regime – so it ticked all the boxes for the circumstances.”
Running at 93% occupancy rate during four months in the summer and autumn, she recouped enough revenue to help her through the national lockdowns that followed.
Frankie hasn’t wasted time during the periods when the 2021 business has had to shut down, completing maintenance work both to the accommodation and grounds. She has also invested in a double-decker bus, which she intends to refurbish as another unique accommodation space.
On the difficulties the national lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions have caused, she says: “I’m lucky enough to be in the right business. If I was running a pub or a restaurant or had a lot of staff, I think I would be in a lot of trouble. I think it also helps that the business is small and therefore fairly flexible.”
She adds: “I am also fortunate in that I have savings invested in stocks and shares, so if I get short there is a safety net. Ideally, I wouldn’t be drawing down on that because it’s also my pension, but I have had to rely on it at times because of the pandemic shutting down the business.”
Frankie’s investments are looked after by Sanlam Portfolio Manager, Eleanor Ingilby: “The stock market took a nosedive when Covid first struck but she’s managed my portfolio well since then and it’s bobbing along quite nicely again, so I’m grateful to her and Sanlam.”
Bookings at Kinton Escapes should continue and Frankie’s confident there will be plenty of interest: “I don’t think people are going abroad and are instead opting for staycations.”
She thinks lockdown has helped to promote her business as people learn to appreciate anew the beauty of the countryside. However, she adds: “Anyone can put up a tent and make it pretty, but looking after your guests to ensure they get the kind of experience they want is something I really take pride in.”
Klick with clients
Many businesses that have performed well have done so because they offer products and services that are suddenly in demand in these extraordinary circumstances. But others, unable to operate in the usual way, have pivoted their business models.
Among these businesses are many that are family-run, like Klick Business Solutions, an award-winning specialised tender writing and bid management service located in the West Midlands.
The 11-strong Klick team helps companies across the UK – predominantly working in the services sector, including security, cleaning, recruitment, M&E contractors and social care providers – to secure contracts with public business sector organisations. They’re good at it too, achieving a 79% win rate for their clients.
During the first Covid-19 lockdown, Klick had to make two staff redundant and furloughed three others but recovered so well from that position that the furloughed staff returned to work and the company has since maintained 80% of normal turnover. What’s more, Klick brought on board 44 new clients in 2020, more than it did in 2019.
MD Andrea explains: “In April 2020 at the start of the first lockdown, public sector opportunities for new contracts dried up and some of our competitors furloughed staff and even shut up shop. When the tenders started being issued again, we picked up new clients and we were working flat out.”
Klick is not only providing a much-needed service, it has also been able to increase its training offering because of the unique pandemic circumstances. Says Andrea: “So many people from all sectors were furloughed last year and weren’t allowed to work, but they were still allowed to participate in training, so businesses like ours did very well.
“We provided online training in writing winning tenders to more than 300 people last year, but there was another benefit because the people we train often realise how difficult and time-consuming it is and decide to ask us to do it for them.”
Klick made the transition to working from home 10 days before this became mandatory because Andrea wanted to be prepared for the new way of working. Since then, the company has invested in new communications technology and also in training staff to use social media to promote Klick.
Andrea believes the business found ways of working smarter during lockdown: “When we return to the office, I need to make sure we retain the efficiencies we have developed while working from home.”
With so much to focus on her business, Andrea says it’s a big relief to have Sanlam’s Ed Kimpton as her personal financial planner: “He always goes the extra mile,” she says. “I also have corporate insurance protection with Sanlam, which gives me peace of mind.”
Although lockdown created opportunity for Klick, Andrea’s in no doubt about the reason why the company is successful: “We’re a close-knit team and everyone knows how to do their job and is loyal and committed. And above all, we have that very determined, British mentality to keep calm, pull together and carry on.”
Our support for SMEs
While the pandemic has meant a temporary shift away from face-to-face relationships to more virtual interaction, Sanlam is determined to continue providing a full support service to all our family-run businesses and other SME clients.
Eleanor Ingilby, Head of our Harrogate office, is just one member of our team of portfolio managers located across the UK. She looks after a variety of SMEs across all sectors. “We work to create bespoke financial investment portfolios to meet our clients’ needs, whether that be to generate capital or income, or to apply ethical criteria to their investments. And we grow and adapt those portfolios as our clients grow.
She adds: “We also have wealth planners who can help business owners who sell, leaving them with large amounts of capital, and talk them through strategies and plans for that.
“We can be there with entrepreneurs every step of the way and have that relationship where we really do understand them and their needs.”
To discuss financial arrangement for your business, talk to your financial planner or portfolio manager or contact us.