Covid-19: A Small Business Killer?

Mike McGrail
6 min readMar 10, 2020

On the effects of Corona Virus on small businesses in the UK, and how some are adapting.

A horrible realisation hit me hard last night; Covid-19 could seriously jeopardise the future of my business and livelihood. The more I thought about this, the more it was clear that this virus could very easily lead to a horrendous unravelling in the small-medium business world.

Over-dramatic?

I don’t think so. Here’s the scenario with my business:

I run a small video production company based in Edinburgh, Scotland (Getgo Studio). The majority of our work takes place ‘on-location’. Effectively, we travel to offices, venues etc and shoot corporate videos. Not just within Scotland, but across the UK.

What happens if the UK faces a lock-down similar to Italy? All shoots will be cancelled or postponed. That could cause an unsustainable, zero-revenue situation. All hypothetical of course, however, as things rapidly escalate, not unrealistic.

The domino effect

Let’s take a conference as an example. They’re already being cancelled, even those that are taking place in the summer. The dominos start to fall:

  • The conference company lose all revenue from ticket sales (unless there’s a Force Majeure clause in the T&Cs, and even that could be sketchy)
  • They also likely lose all sponsorship and exhibitor income
  • Often outside caterers etc are involved — that’s their revenue gone
  • Speakers who receive a fee can no longer do the very thing they are paid to do

And so on, and so forth. There’s very few, if any sectors that this wouldn’t leave a devastating stamp upon.

Photo by alireza mahmoudi on Unsplash

Adapting is vital

Back to the conference. It may well be the case that the organisers decide to make it fully remote, with people watching via streams. This isn’t new, virtual events are regular occurrence.

Ticket revenue is back on the cards (albeit likely at a lower price-point) as is some level of sponsorship revenue. Not the perfect scenario, but a partial solution.

Remote control

At the time of writing, #remotework is trending on Twitter. This is due to a number of businesses in the UK deciding to implement remote working wherever possible.

Again, remote working isn’t new. Many businesses only work remotely, however, it’s a sign of adapting in order to stop the spread of the virus, but also ensure business can continue. Not necessarily easy for large corporates that are scrambling to deploy a new way of working, but likely slicker for the more nimble, smaller businesses out there.

This of course doesn’t fully negate the issue of workers becoming ill and being unable to work. It’s when that happens en-masse that the situation becomes a lot trickier.

If the product or service can’t be delivered, then there’s no revenue. That comes down to people being ill, supply chains failing, manufacturing halting and a number of other factors. This is where the pinch is really felt.

Flipping service delivery

One of my clients was due to fly to Switzerland this week to deliver a training course, however, her client cancelled the session due to C19 concerns. The training is vital to the client’s business, so we are now filming the training and it will be accessed remotely by the learners. Not a complex solution, granted, but it still pushes against the tribulations.

I spoke to Gary Ennis, of NS Design about the effect of C19 on their training business and how they are reacting to the situation:

“Our business is already seeing the impact from an immediate concern over public gatherings. As a company who primarily delivers training (physical training, where people join us in the same room for a half or full day’s learning), we’ve already had multiple clients ‘postpone’ their bookings until further notice.

And given we’re still just in the ‘containment stage’, where the official government advice is NOT to ban events, when this changes we expect an almost immediate blanket cancellation of all bookings.

Without resilience planning, training companies like ourselves could go bankrupt. With some forward planning and creative thinking, we got in early, pro-actively contacting our main clients and suggesting alternative solutions such as webinars, conference calls, 1–2–1 telephone coaching and more.

Yes, we will inevitably be financially impacted by the coronavirus, but by realising that disruption (in some shape or form) is always inevitable, businesses might mitigate some of that loss and start to get better at dealing with ANY change forced upon them

Gary and his team have done a great job at pro-actively attacking the issue and offering alternative solutions to clients. Like he says, they’ll still suffer, however, their approach means they are at least ahead of the game.

The sickness problem

While I’ve been focussing on the fact that demand for services or products is and will continue to drop in light of Covid-19, there’s another vital factor at play here, and that’s the issue of statutory pay for employees in the UK.

Not only is revenue likely to be hit, but with the potential for swathes of staff becoming ill, then employers are liable to cover payments to at least the statutory level.

Of course, people need to be able to support themselves and loved ones — that’s not in question. The problem is that a business is suffering income-wise due to forces out-with its control, yet still has to support its people.

Matthew Cole, Employment Lawyer at Prettys, framed the government response for me:

“With people beginning to question whether they are entitled to sick pay and normal payment during self-isolation, urgent legislation has been brought in.

The Prime Minister announced last week that employers should be taking the illness seriously and said those suffering will get statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day off work. The change, which is being introduced in emergency legislation, is expected to mean an extra £40 for people receiving SSP — which is set at £94.25 a week and paid by employers.

The aim of this new legislation regarding payment of statutory sick pay from day one is to ensure people with coronavirus do not feel financial pressure to come into work and risk spreading the disease.”

This is great for employees, but does put pressure on employers.

Freelancers and solo-business owners

I fall in that bracket. While I do work with a freelance pool of talent for video projects, I have no employees and am self-employed. That means no sick pay for me. If I’m not working, then there’s nothing, nada, zip.

Even if fit to work, as I’ve now more than put-across, there may be nothing to work on. The domino effect is active here as well, as the work I would involve freelancers in fizzles away too.

We just don’t know

I realise I’m painting a bleak picture here, yet I can’t help but feel it’s not an unrealistic one. While the focus is rightly on the human impact, I do think there has to be more thought toward small businesses and the huge part they play in the UK economy. We hear enough about the FTSE crashing etc, and I know that things filter down from there, but the majority of the giants will be okay. I’m not so sure the same can be said for little guys…

Update 11.03 — The UK budget has been announced. Two key things are that statutory sick pay has been increased, again, great for employees, not so much employers.

The second is that the ESA scheme, which allows the self-employed to claim a payment if unable to work can now kick-in on day one of illness. This does not help if you aren’t actually ill from Corona, which isn’t really any use when many self-employed peoples’ revenue is going to be slashed by the fall-out. Effectively, it’s better if you get ill. Crazy.

I’ve never really written anything like this before, but I hope it made sense and potentially helps in some way. Feel free to email me on hello(at)getgo.studio or leave comments here. More about my business here.

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Mike McGrail

Marketing consultant with 12+ years in the game. I work in whisky and gin marketing. It’s great. Writing about many things.