Entrepreneurs have faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, with business survival on a knife edge for many. Under such enormous pressure, it is their resilience that has enabled them to keep their businesses running or pivot their way to survival, an attribute that in a time of crisis can make the difference between success and failure.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has encountered some huge challenges over the years, but describes the last year as “the toughest time that many businesses have faced in our lifetime.” The Virgin Group, in particular the aviation and leisure businesses, has faced enormous difficulties.
He says: “A year on since the start of the pandemic, I believe this experience has helped me, my team, and the Virgin businesses build even greater resilience. Resilience comes from making mistakes and learning from them. I always encourage entrepreneurs to try and find opportunities in challenges, And this past year, there have been plenty of challenges.”
One important skill that he has learned over the years is that in times of adversity you rest when you need to, rather than quit.
“When you feel overwhelmed, if you can, I’d suggest taking some downtime so that you can reassess the problem from a different angle,” says Branson. “Have you ever noticed that something you forgot might just appear in your mind whilst you’re out on a walk or in the shower? It’s because you can think more clearly when you give yourself some space to do so. I often have my best thinking time when I’m playing a game of tennis, or cycling.”
Sophia Procter launched Munchyplay, a children’s plate with a built-in track for toy cars and trains, during lockdown last June. With retail closed for business and the uncertainty of Brexit looming, it couldn’t have been a more hostile time to bring a product to market.
“Overnight, I had to pivot our well-honed business plan from a high-street model to online,” says Procter.
However, a decade of working in the press office at British Airways had taught her that mental resilience is everything during crisis mode. Despite the many challenges, she focused on the business strengths and looked for new opportunities, which included the use of Amazon’s fulfillment services to distribute products quickly and efficiently.
She says. “Being agile and adaptable is part of my mental resilience, as it helps me to find new and creative ways to address and solve problems. Wellbeing also plays its part, and I’ve learned to find a better balance and take time out of work to reset and reboot. Without this, you’re unable to function to your best.”
As a testament to her resilience, in December, just six months into trading, Munchyplay was named one of the most promising start-ups of 2021 by Emma Jones MBE, founder of Enterprise Nation.
Neil Sheth is the founder of London-based content marketing agency Bubbli Digital. He launched the business in 2017 and has eight members of staff. When the pandemic struck, the business lost 60% of its customers in the space of four weeks, and he admits that it was panic stations.
“I was married, with a young child, a mortgage, and a team who depend on salaries, so there was no other option,” he says. “An entrepreneur should always have a Plan B, which includes reducing your risk by diversifying your products within the industries you serve. We launched a new service and training program that enabled clients to work more flexibly with us, kept existing customers happy, and moved us back in the right direction.”
Seth says that growing up with very little money had a big part to play in his mental resilience. “I remember having to use my neighbor’s old trainers, as we couldn’t afford to buy new trainers,” he says. “I’m grateful for my upbringing though, as I realized the importance of working hard and taking ownership of my bank balance early on.
Resilience isn’t about being perfect, and the good news for entrepreneurs is that it can be learned. Performance coach Agnes Cserhati, CEO of AC PowerCoaching, says: “For high performers, mental resilience is a powerful source of competitive advantage. It’s not about being tough and emotionless, but about your mental capacity to turn things around and recover fast from difficulties.”
Her tips for strengthening resilience include not fearing the negative emotions but facing them as fast as you can while reflecting on what you will do differently next time, focusing on what you can control and influence, learning not to be concerned about things outside your control zone, and relentlessly seeking an opportunity in every crisis, because there always is one.
She says: “Resilience lives outside your comfort zone. It is conscious and can be developed, but it must be practiced. Therefore a step-by-step approach of gaining confidence and strengthening your so-called ‘resilience muscle’ is key to success.”
Given that nearly half a million new businesses were registered in the U.K. in 2020, Richard Branson is optimistic about the reserves of resilience within the entrepreneurial sector.
He says: “It’s positive to see that even in the midst of such uncertainty the U.K.’s entrepreneurial spirit is stronger than ever. Research from our not-for-profit entrepreneurship hub, Virgin StartUp found that one in three Brits dream of becoming an entrepreneur and would like to set up their own business. Entrepreneurs are the dreamers, the innovators and the job creators, and they are vital to the U.K.’s economic recovery as we begin to rebuild.”
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