Scared Doesn’t Even Cut It – COVID-19 as a Start-Up
Unpredictably, it would seem, 2020 has been the worst time to be a start-up with no cash, even in the Salesforce ecosystem. There’s no way we could have known that COVID-19 would affect us at this scale, but the impact on daily life has been significant. This post is about that tense feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Good Days and Dark Days
Those who know me personally know that I’m my own worst enemy.
There have been many days, since I started The Architech Club, that I have doubted my ability to run a business. Challenges include concise communication, market positioning and sales. In therapy, my alternative self yelled at me during roleplay about how stupid I am, and how arrogant to think that anyone would want to buy our service. I told myself nobody would take me seriously because they’d think I’m just full of hot air.
Those are the bad days, and they take the wind out of my sails. On good days, I’m tireless in my determination for The Architech Club to work. I’ve invested a great deal of time and money in getting the word out, building more friendships in the process, and so many of you have been supportive. For that, I’m so thankful. Since starting in October 2019, 8 talented people joined me because they believed in the vision. We sold a couple of Discovery projects, worked on our market positioning and we’ve even been building a new website.
Then Came the Plague
Salesforce, sensibly, recommended social distancing a couple of weeks in advance of our respective governments. As our countries ground to a halt, I (like many) thought we would be shut away briefly, and that we would adapt quickly to remote working. As a digitally-aware and accomplished home worker, I under-estimated how difficult it would be for some companies to adapt to remote working.
When the government announced a national lockdown, my daughter went to stay with her father, and I found myself living completely alone. I saw people on Facebook suffering as they began to lose their jobs. A friend was furloughed from her hotel job but now lives at the hotel, caring for stranded guests. As the crisis impacted daily life, everything went back to basics. We saw how bad things got in Italy – hundreds of deaths per day – and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.
It’s not in my nature to stay down for long. As we agreed that Mollie should stay with her father until things changed, there was a real possibility that I’d be alone at home for months. I watched Netflix for all of a week, binged on Tiger King and ran out of crime documentaries. After a week, I was so bored of watching endless telly. I skimmed through social media, considered the opportunity to train myself during the lockdown. With all the worry I saw online, I changed my mind and decided to channel my solitude to run free training for the unemployed. I wanted to help people emerge more employable on the other side of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, I told myself “It’ll be fine, we’ll weather it; I have enough work each month to cover my own bills. I can focus on getting the word out and developing more business.” We had work coming in mid/bottom of the funnel, but not much happening by way of leads. So we started to focus on market positioning, the website and trying to raise interest in The Architech Club. I got in touch with contacts on LinkedIn to offer support. We even ran a crowdfunding drive under the NatWest Back Her Business campaign, which has paid for a little marketing activity.
Then, after one invoice dispute turned ridiculous (oh, don’t even go there!), I found myself in an untenable position.
I’m not really sure why I thought that we would be immune from the impact of the pandemic. Maybe it’s because I was largely unaffected by the economic downturn in 2008-10. As a remote worker of ten years, I was quite tunnel-visioned and I overestimated UK businesses’ ability to adapt to the change in working practices that were suddenly a necessity, rather than a perk. I mean, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Virtual Cards Against Humanity became a Thing, we discovered awesome Zoom backgrounds and had a hell of a lot of fun too.
With schools closing and people being made redundant or furloughed, adults at home had very different and very sudden challenges forced upon them. Being cooped up indoors, dividing time between working and educating their children, having no physical presence with colleagues, families in each other’s pockets, the abused unable to escape from their abusers at home. Why would anybody be making decisions about IT projects unless they had to in crisis response?
More importantly, families have been losing loved ones, unable to say goodbye. I’m thankful each day that my family and I have avoided the virus. My biggest problems have been paying the bills. Not burying my family.
How have I coped?
Helping has been the biggest theme of this crisis. I’d take anything I could to ease the financial burden, and it meant going back to basics. The UK government responded well to the economic problems caused by the pandemic. The Architech Club was able to benefit from the UK business bounceback loan scheme, which gave a cash injection that at least made sure the mortgage was paid. As for that, I, like many, was able to benefit from payment holidays. Many businesses have stepped up to help the public.
With very little happening on the project side in April, I focused my efforts on continuing to network as much as possible. That’s been a huge silver lining – international virtual networking has been made possible by the pandemic.
I’ve had many conversations with fellow entrepreneurs, people at Salesforce, mentors, friends…just talking about ways to make the best of a bad situation. I’ve learned a great deal this way and offered to help in any way I could. It was hard not having Mollie around. I visited her briefly and we exchanged letters on either side of a pane of glass.
Networking brought me new contractors who want to help. One of whom has now joined my leadership team and has helped me significantly in tightening up the market positioning of the Architech Club. We’ve spent the last few months checking in with the growing team and having more conversations with prospects as they tentatively explore the possibility of reopening. We’ve built a fantastic working relationship and I feel very proud of what we’re creating.
May and Motherhood
Networking builds solidarity and volunteering fills your time and helps others less fortunate, yet neither pay your bills. Being a Salesforce MVP with 17 Salesforce certifications doesn’t necessarily bring you work, either. So I started tapping any recruiters and job sites I can get my hands on, trying to find some contracting work, to no avail. There just hasn’t been much out there, and opportunities have disappeared as quickly as they appeared, in some cases.
May was very hard. I began to get a little desperate; the payment holidays I secured only last until July and if I wanted to earn any money, I’d have to work in June and wait 30 days to see a penny of it. Without retained customers, what else can you do but worry? Mollie came home after 5 weeks with her dad, with absolutely no intention of doing schoolwork, no matter how hard I tried to get her to do it. I couldn’t put the work into creating a routine for her AND getting the business out there. So I felt like an awful mother, too.
I’ve had some wonderful friends try to help and I am very grateful to them for that. I’ve since accepted that I’m not a teacher, and have tried to spend more time being a secure loving base for Mollie, rather than shoving schoolwork down her throat. I can always do better.
Thanks to the support of my friend Stephanie Herrera, I secured an interview for a contracting role and the feedback was brilliant. I did really well at the interview, then, right at the crunch point, when the commercials were on the table, they suddenly didn’t need a Solution Architect any more. Despite this, new opportunities were still coming in, which was encouraging. Opportunities weren’t closing, but they were arriving. That was enough for me to start feeling more optimistic.
Rebooting and Growing
We are by no means out of the woods yet. But it’s getting on for mid-June, and I can see things are starting to pick up. The top of our funnel is filling up, and a prospect we’ve been working with since January has mobilised, starting to form a team to implement Salesforce under the guidance of The Architech Club. I can’t tell you how immensely relieved I am that we’ve been given the verbal on that. I’ll be even more relieved when the paperwork comes in. It’s been really scary, but also incredibly humbling to be living through these times.
My plan for the rest of this year? Write 2020 off, but keep going. Keep helping. And be cautious; as a shielded person I’m not really meant to be going out much at all. It’s a blessing and a curse; life is much calmer since I’m not up and down to London all the time. But I do miss my friends. I think the best way to handle that is to make small changes that are more protective, like driving part of the way to London and leaving the car somewhere so I can spend less time on a crowded train. I am looking forward to what the rest of the year brings, and even more so for next year, when I hope to attempt the CTA review board for the second time, after a bit of stability has built up with The Architech Club.