Katrina Allen March 23, 2021
Today marks the one year anniversary of the first lockdown. It’s been a year of extraordinary, life-changing events, and one in which many people have only been able to survive by either embarking on entirely new careers or by going remote.
Ghislaine Hubbard resigned from her job – running the witness service at the Old Bailey – just before lockdown and, having once trained as a graphologist, turned to running online interactive sessions. She now works fewer hours and earns more than before lockdown. But she is well aware that she needs to look to the future and work out how to market herself in real life once restrictions are lifted. “It’s going to be the next big challenge.”
Most of her clients come through Airbnb Experiences, which offers activities to complement their holiday accommodation. With tourism on hold, those clients are now turning to online meet-up groups.
Ghislaine says: “I pay Airbnb 20 per cent of my earnings, which may sound hefty, but I have access to their platform and get to take advantage of their marketing skills.”
The vast majority of her clients are North American corporates running team-building exercises. “I imagine that will fall off pretty dramatically after lockdown, so I’m looking at more localised sessions, although with the new future of remote working there may still be an online market.”
The corporate market is relatively new to Airbnb and they are now concentrating heavily on that sector.
Ghislaine says: “For example, public speaking websites offering after-dinner and conference speakers are pretty uninspiring. That business could well be snapped up by Airbnb as well as by other platforms that will no doubt emerge out of all this. The experience over the past year looks to be taking everyone in a new direction.”
Quizmaster Steve Roy runs online evenings over Zoom. “I also use Kahoot! which provides a type of finger-on-buzzer experience that works really well. When we get back to normal, I’ll probably still use it for some of the rounds. It’ll save a lot of time. Marking the papers is a slow process.”
His customers are mostly corporates but he also runs quiz nights for sports clubs. While members can’t play under the current restrictions, many are still expected to pay the full subscriptions to cover staff costs and loss of bar and restaurant revenue, so those clubs offer regular online activities to make up for it. Some, for instance, used to run a quiz evening every six months. Now they are offering them monthly, which means that, although he charges less online, business has increased.
Since he doesn’t lose time travelling, he can also fit in several sessions in one evening.
“This has also prompted me to promote the business internationally in other English-speaking countries such as the US East Coast, South Africa and India, where the time difference isn’t too extreme. I’ll go back to face-to-face evenings but the online business will work alongside.”
One challenge with taking the business overseas is that his questions will need to suit the culture. “I’ll have to use completely different ones for news or sports rounds, to understand the likes of baseball or American football. And I was speaking to a friend in India who had no concept of the Meghan Markle fiasco as it’s apparently barely made the news over there.
“It’s been an interesting experience but I do miss the banter, working the room. You don’t get the same feedback online, and that can be quite isolating.
“But before lockdown, I would never have thought of doing this internationally and it could be a huge boost for the business.”
Most of us have struggled with uncertainties over the last 12 months, and business owners have needed to be particularly resilient. Thulasi Mohanadas, a business psychologist and psychotherapist, says: “This past year has been traumatic for so many and juggling things like a stressful work situation, home schooling and perhaps even contracting the virus can lead to mental health difficulties. Many people have a tendency to blame themselves in these situations and the techniques I use such as CBT and Mindfulness can help them to get out of that rut and develop coping strategies.”
Roswitha Wetschka runs Latin and ballroom dance classes and took over The London Dance Studio just before lockdown. She says: “It was terrible timing. Business just crashed. I started online classes but I had to spend a lot on equipment to set up the home studio as well as time getting to grips with the technology. I also had to be really creative with my teaching methods. Fitness classes translate well online but dance is very much reliant on physical contact.”
One ingenious solution was to represent a partner using a teddy bear, arms stiffened with kitchen utensils, which she could also hold with one hand so she could teach sideways.
“One advantage with online lessons is that beginners aren’t self-conscious in front of more experienced dancers. They can also turn their video off and take some time out on the sofa with a glass of wine without anyone noticing.“
“Using Zoom means I can cater to much larger numbers. My package allows me to teach to up to 100 people, so there is huge potential.”
She has also come up with the new concept of dancing in the park, which will make people less nervous as it will take place outside. “It will have to be line dancing as waltz and cha cha cha, for example, can’t be done on the grass. People would trip over.
“But this time out has meant I’ve completely re-thought the business. I wouldn’t have considered online sessions before lockdown.
“When we get back to normal, I’ll continue to live-stream sessions in tandem with teaching in the dance hall, so all that new equipment won’t go to waste. It’ll also mean that I won’t lose those overseas and out-of-London customers and people can join the class if they still feel vulnerable and too nervous to come back in real life.”