A Year Since Lockdown - Liz Hutchings
By Liz Hutchings, Founder and Managing Director, Total Guide to Ltd. Total Guide to is a group of information websites across the UK including Swindon, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Poole, Reading, Manchester providing local residents, businesses, students, tourists with up to date local information and giving businesses a digital marketing platform to promote themselves and their services. We also offer a full-service Digital Marketing agency.
March 23rd marks a year since lockdown began and the reality of the pandemic hit the UK. What are your memories of that day?
Although we could all see it coming, I remember having a sad eerie feeling as I collected my daughter from her childminder for the last time. I felt so incredibly sad for her knowing she would miss everyone (little did I know then, how resilient children are) and a mixture of fear and sadness for my team and the business I have worked hard on building up over the years and for our clients and suppliers who have done the same.
Thinking back, how did you anticipate the way forward for your business over those first few days?
Just as lockdown announced, my husband got a last minute deployment away, I was 4 months pregnant at the time and had a 2 1/2 year old who would no longer be in childcare.
I had a 10 minute melt down panicking about how I would manage my business and team through a crisis while caring for our toddler and running a household completely alone but I had a good pep talk with my mother and father in law and it gave me the positive mental attitude I needed to have to make it work.
After the initial sadness, the ‘fight’ kicked in. I decided to use the time to work on the business and to delegate to avoid furloughing staff full time if possible while using the time to really be with my toddler and to enjoy our time together.
What actions did you take to save/change/pivot/support your business?
We decided that although some of our competitors were closing their doors, we are an information website and a platform for our clients to promote themselves and we didn’t want to do our users or clients a disservice by halting activity. We completely changed our content strategy to focus on lockdown related content – takeaways, deliveries, online fitness etc and to be on hand to share local business news. We even developed a ‘live feed’ with local covid updates on local services.
We offered free promotion on our social networks for local businesses, and it gave us all a great feeling to be able to offer support to so many people during that nervous and difficult time.
All the ‘maintenance’ work on the sites that were always at the bottom of our work flow were bought to the top – search engine optimisation, graphic design, new guide creations. And while there was no immediate gain with this work we are seeing the rewards start to come in now which is a huge boost to us all. Highly competitive search engine terms which we once found challenging to rank well for are now in our Top 10 search times – fab work team!
We also sold another Franchise, Total Guide to Cardiff, and created a new location – Total Guide to Poole which was always in our plan but we brought it forward – the team worked solidly on it from March and it went live in May!
Name up to three positive outcomes of the last year for your business?
I feel an immense sense of pride and gratitude to the team – they really have pulled together and cracked on and have created some truly fantastic work. And their attitude has just been quite unbelievable – understanding and positive throughout. I can’t wait for us all to get together, although we haven’t physically been together we definitely have bonded more than ever.
Having had time to work on the business is going to pay off in the long-term. Our branding has never looked better, our SEO strategy is already seeing the strong results come for us and our clients and we have become a full service agency adding design and social media to our list of digital marketing support services. We also have 2 new excellent patches with Cardiff and Poole making our South West media coverage very strong.
As with the team, I feel honoured to work with such positive and strong business leaders. I remember the initial calls where none of us really new what to do, the panic and the fear of the unknown clear but our next communcation just a week later was a completely different story – everyone had a steely can do attitude and pivoted their business in order to survive.
Name up to three positive outcomes for you personally over the last year?
I look back on the first lockdown with such fondness. Although it was very hard and I had little ‘me time’, boy did I have a blast with my toddler. We had such a lovely routine and we just enjoyed being together – hugely helped by the fabulous weather we had. I feel emotional and grateful whenever I think of this time with her. It was made even more special by the knowledge that her little sister would be joining us in August.
Phoebe completed our family in August. Once my husband's deployment ended in June, we have all been together every day and I have cherished all this family time.
What do you most look forward to doing IN BUSINESS as we slowly move out of lockdown?
Seeing our business and our clients’ businesses bounce-back
Being able to meet customers and suppliers in person
Meeting up with the team and being able to reward them for their incredible efforts
What do you most look forward to doing IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE as we slowly move out of lockdown?
Spending lots of time with family and friends and sharing our gorgeous girls with them. FaceTime has been great but I can’t wait to start creating memories with them all.
Enjoying the Spring/Summer in Poole and exploring with more freedom.
Doing ‘normal’ things with the girls – taking them to swimming classes, baby and toddler groups etc. I love seeing them in those environments and feel my maternity leave has been slightly robbed.
What are your predictions for business generally in late 2021 into 2022?
I think people will press on with nervous optimism. We are already feeling positivity and we’ve had a great month with event organisers booking in campaigns.
After a slightly nervous start, as soon as businesses start trading and feeling more confident there will be a big bounceback – with staycations and people wanting to get their lives back I am confident we’ll all be in a much stronger position very soon.
The way we do business will have changed forever – Zoom networking, meetings etc will continue and we’ll have a balance of face to face and b2b. We will all save time and money by sticking at the remote working element but it’s important to have the human element as well.
Name one person who has been a lockdown hero for you over the last year?
Rachael Matweizyck Booth our Sales and Marketing Director. Rach has juggled home schooling, parenting, holding the fort while I’ve been on maternity, while looking after our clients with passion. Rach has remained upbeat and positive throughout and has offered a great deal of support to the local business community.
Name one business which has been heroic for you or your community over the last year?
I can’t name one – I would say that the support we have all given each-other will never be forgotten and strong bonds have been formed in our business communities. There’s been a real sense of camaraderie and understanding.