MINT Member Lockdown Reflections: Alan Sawyers

by | Mar 22, 2021

I spent most of 2020 on our fortnightly MINT bootcamp calls slowly but surely seeing each and every member of the group go through low periods.

Whether it was the impact the pandemic was having on their businesses, the pressures of homeschooling, missing loved ones, worrying about catching the virus… the effects of lockdown and various levels of restriction were taking their toll on even the most constantly upbeat of the bootcampers.

In late 2020, I was next, probably last, in our group to feel it.

I’d come to realise that it wasn’t just those whose businesses were suffering who were allowed not to be OK.

I wasn’t OK.

Turn back the clock to March 2020. I was 100% self-employed for the first time ever and had been since just September of the previous year.

It was daunting, it was exciting, it was busy, it was overwhelming, it was lots of things all at once.

I’d decorated the office at the unit where my family businesses, North East Gifts and CCS Products, are based. I was starting to plan to go Limited again, having first registered AS Design North East Limited in 2011 as my part-time side hustle. Everything was sorted. But something was bothering me (and the rest of the world)…

I’d been in London in February, for what was the one and only concert I went to in 2020 (and most recent at the time of writing), and people had already started wearing face masks. The Coronavirus (remember when we called it that!?) was here in the UK.

Then when the first full lockdown hit, I suddenly started to question whether this big achievement of being self-employed for the first time had happened at the wrong moment.

At first, it felt a bit like “oh no, not another thing to interrupt our businesses” having spent the last few years being as puzzled as the rest of the business world about GDPR, Cookie Law, Brexit… and now this!? More protocols, more government guidance, more misinformation, more scaremongering, more overnight “experts”…

The worry unfolded… as I learned that I qualified the grand sum of ZERO support…

  • I had no employer to furlough me
  • I had no previous tax returns to qualify for self-employed grants
  • I had no business premises to apply for business interruption grants
  • I had a bank account that didn’t do bounceback loans
  • I couldn’t apply for a new business account without a trading record that pre-dated the point where AS Design started trading again

Basically, I had nothing to rely on other than keeping busy.

And I did keep busy. Thankfully.

I had several companies coming to me for help getting their offline business online. I was also lucky enough to have five retained clients who all kept paying throughout the pandemic. Financially, 2020 was a better year than I could ever have hoped.

A year on, I have ten retained clients.

But more than that, I KNOW I have ten retained clients and I KNOW how much time I need to dedicate to each one of them by the month, week and day.

I wouldn’t know this if it wasn’t for MINT – and bootcamps in particular – keeping me focused on goals and reflections. For me, it’s not about how many posts I’m going to put out on social media this week, or how many blogs I want to write this month, it’s about keeping myself managed. That’s the bit I haven’t figured out yet.

I believe you can’t do this without a team. And when you’re self-employed with no desire to take on employees, your business network becomes your team. MINT is not a selling group or a networking club, but we get to know each other and buy from each other. I’ve outsourced social media, design, development, accessibility, finance, and have recently taken on a fellow MINT member to help manage ME and stop me from forgetting to do things! Pretty much everyone I work with is MINT.

We throw around the word ‘community’ too easily, but MINT Business Club is definitely that.

So why was I NOT OK and how have I dealt with that?

In December, I didn’t know how many clients I had. I didn’t know how many projects I had on. I didn’t know what capacity I had. I was too busy. I was taking on work I had time for, but then when those projects got delayed for reasons outside my control, I had to take on more work to keep paying the bills, and then everything competed with everything else and I was really starting to NOT enjoy it anymore. And I love what I do!

I took two weeks (ish) off (ish) over Christmas and New Year and came back to work in 2021 determined not to allow 2020 to repeat itself. I opened my shiny new MINT 2021 planner and decided to start working everything out.

I worked out – to the minute – how much of my time is accounted for. Whether that’s through retained clients, time to work on my family businesses, estimated downtime, etc etc. And I wouldn’t have been in a frame of mind to do that without the accountability support of MINT.

2021 is about time and capacity. It’s not about growth. It’s about the visibility of workload. It’s not about more, more, more. It’s about structure and focus.

It’s about managing ME.

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