Welcome to The Business of Adapting where we shine a spotlight on small and medium businesses who’ve had to change their way of working to cope with the effects of COVID 19. Some have had to shut their doors and redesign their premises, others had to change their whole business model overnight to fit in with online sales of services and products. These personal journeys are intended to help other businesses feel inspired by peers who have struggled through this crisis and managed to find a new way of working and keeping their business alive. I implore all readers to shop local and use local services to keep these struggling businesses and livelihoods afloat.
I’d like to say I met Liza over a lovely coffee in a cosy café on a rainy day, as she is the type of warm character that will leave you feeling like you’ve made a quick friend as you get lost in her story.
Alas, we chatted over an app people have likely grown to have a love/hate relationship with – Zoom. Liza hilariously launched straight into her story and paused ten minutes later asking what the question was! I had plenty of questions lined up but it developed into just a chat between two people keen to share a tale and keen to listen.
Some background to Liza and her business:
ClapHandies, Playlabs is a fun, creative class for babies to toddlers, with parents/minders involved. The PlayLabs offer a wonderful start in social play, with an array of activities that fully involve children, along with their adults. Activities include rhyme time, music, movement and age appropriate educational and fun activities. Liza also offers kids birthday parties and has a brand new venture coming… read on for more on this.
As you can imagine, these classes are face to face and involve a lot of expression and physical interaction. So what happens when that can no longer happen?
Hi Liza, so nice to meet you. So how are you keeping?
I’m good, thanks. It’s been a hard few months. I saw this coming for months. We’ve lived and worked through Swine flu and had to change the way we worked for that. We saw SARS and how bad that was but thankfully that was contained quickly so I was really nervous of it from the offset. This one felt different from the beginning, when we saw it progress in China and then gradually heard of different countries having one case, then multiple cases so quickly, I was scared. Scared for my business. I wondered how we would survive this. My husband is a contractor too so how, as a family, would we possibly get through a pandemic?
In January we, at ClapHandies, celebrated our best month ever. We were looking forward to progressing and continue that trend through the year, finally after 14 years the hard work was paying off but the world was slowly starting to go into lockdown.
So you were ready when March hit and we went into lockdown?
Oh hell no! I put the covers over my head for three weeks and found it hard to get out of bed. I didn’t want to face it, didn’t want to believe this was happening and my world was caving in.
Three weeks in and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put an announcement up on Instagram that I would be going Live on Insta the next day. I’m not great at marketing, but when I put the announcement up I went from over 500 followers to over 5000! In one night, for just one post! I couldn’t believe it, it gave me the kick I needed and I got up and did the live. There were 400+ people on that live and the feedback, oh the feedback was incredible. I had customers who had been with us years with each child message me, delighted with the free IG Lives.
The kindness of strangers
The next few lives had huge views. People were asking for me to give details so they could pay me. I kept writing back to them all saying ‘These are free, it’s Instagram!’ and they’d write back and insist they wanted to pay me.
I was so shocked. Here I was with my world falling apart, a loan that needed paying, staff who needed their jobs. I had no way of earning money but people asking to please be able to pay for my free classes. So I gave in and put up a donation link. I honestly didn’t expect a penny but people started putting in the cost of a class, then the cost of two, then €50 and €100 donations. My jaw was on the floor, it was unbelievable kindness.
Time to change with the times
From then I realised maybe I had something here. Maybe I could manage to still have a business. So I began Zoom classes and we rewrote the program to suit being at home. We had to think of things like, where we use toy snakes in class, we’d inform the parents to have scarves ready and so on. At first the classes were very much me doing a lot of talking and trying to engage the toddlers but the parents loved it and after a few classes the toddlers started interacting and chatting away and showing me things in their rooms.
When cases went lower and Ireland seemed to be working well, we saw light at the end of the tunnel. Our team redesigned our whole program to ensure safe participation in the class in anticipation of re-opening face-to-face classes. We had full classes signed up and paid for and we were ready to go. Three days before our first class we were hit with closures again. I now have debt I need paying, staff I’m losing, parents needing refunds and I’m back to square one.
What’s been the most positive part of all of this?
I learned to meditate. Meditation has been incredible. I’ve learned so much about myself and found a new level of calm from taking that half hour to myself to meditate. I credit it for helping me cope with all of this.
I’m also incredibly grateful we live in this country. I’ve been able to avail of the Trading Online Voucher and I will be releasing a whole new business having used that voucher; ClapHandies at Home. My leaders have been able to go on COVID payments and I applied and got a grant from Facebook to help with the online marketing of ClapHandies at Home. I couldn’t possibly have survived without these.
What tips would you give another business who is starting up?
Set your limits from the offset! I started out for years working 16 hour days. I’d run the business in the morning while the kids were at school and then the minute they were in bed I’d be at it again. You need to set the balance from the start.
How do you see your business evolving?
It’s scary as I had to write projections for the banks on this and really, I’ve no idea how it will go but I can only hope it goes well as we are 96% down year on year to date.
ClapHandies at Home will be launched soon and they are our lifeline right now. These are pre-recorded classes, carefully thought out and presented for parents to connect with their toddler whenever they want. They are designed and filmed with the home in mind and judging by feedback I received in Instagram Live and zoom classes, these will be a big hit.