In this interview, co-founders of ABC School of English Ltd, Sue Rao and Bozena Grzelak, both share their story as small business owners navigating the challenges of COVID-19 and how the London Business Hub’s adviser support provided clarity along the journey.
Tell us who are you and what you do at ABC School of English
‘ABC School of English’ is a school teaching English as a foreign language which was opened in 2002. We became friends whilst working for several years at a language school on Oxford Street, London. It is there we gained a great deal of experience and insight into the workings and running of such an establishment and one evening, whilst studying for our master’s degrees, we had a “Eureka” moment” and decided to open our own school. We both utilised the knowledge from our respective subjects, marketing and IT, prepared a marketing strategy and a small website – and the rest is history!
How has the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis impacted your business?
The pandemic hit our business badly, with many devastating outcomes. When the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020, the school closed in line with government advice for five months until we reopened on 1st September 2020. Moreover, all fees paid in advance had to be refunded. Since then, we have had to endure different tier restrictions in London and the latest lockdown.
To add to our troubles, business interruption insurances that we thought were in place for such situations proved useless. In the absence of a vast portion of our income for the previous year (in the region of 80%), and this potentially continuing in the upcoming months if not years, unfortunately, we have had to lay off staff (60%). Our remaining staff have been put on furlough/flexi furlough; however, with no access to the business rates relief and support from our city council, we felt that the benefit of furloughing our staff was potentially null of void if we are forced to go out of business as a result of the rates overheads. It’s been an incredibly tough year for us to remain resilient whilst navigating through the many challenges.
In May 2020, we received a newsletter from Camden Council providing information about the Government’s support, guidelines on reopening our business during COVID-19 and the possibility of having free 1-2-1 advice sessions with the London Business Hub, which we duly followed up. This is where our new journey to more clarity, confidence and having much-needed support assisting us along the way began.
How did the London Business Hub help?
We were appointed to our business adviser, Patricia Ashford, who provided us with invaluable support due to her business expertise from decades supporting businesses.
The guidance provided opened up many opportunities, including: applying for a grant from Facebook, attending webinars on different aspects of running a business, including Brexit and its impact on businesses. We gained insights on crowdfunding platforms and the Mayor’s resilience fund. Additionally, we researched bidding for/finding public sector contracts, among others.
We have been extremely privileged to receive support from the London Business Hub, which helped us through arguably the toughest times the business has had to go through since its foundation in 2002.ABC School of English Ltd
Our adviser continues to bring a fresh perspective, presenting new ideas to benefit the business. During our last meeting, we discussed the government’s Kickstart Scheme and the digital boost programme; both of which we are now looking into.
How did support from London Business Hub impact your business?
We were successful in securing a grant from Facebook, which will allow us to make our website responsive and update our current version, which is the foundation of the school’s website.
Moreover, our staff attended the Google workshops recommended by our adviser which allowed us to implement their knowledge during an SEO campaign; as a result, we currently are on page one on Google ranking for one-to-one private English online English lessons.
Our call meetings with our business adviser, Patricia Ashford provided us with invaluable support and due to her business expertise, we were able to access the government’s initiatives and provisions for businesses during COVID-19.ABC School of English Ltd
We continue to see great results from London Business Hub’s support during COVID-19. Bozena is preparing an offer to promote on the crowdfunding platform which will hopefully secure the Mayor’s resilience fund and help boost exposure on social media. Meanwhile, Sue is working on a teaching training course that would allow her to take on apprentices to support the government’s Kickstart scheme.
What is your advice for other business owners during the COVID-19 crisis?
You will have the opportunity to gain new skills and share your experiences with a business adviser. During the one to one sessions with the London Business Hub we were able to assess/reassess the business’ performance, address constantly changing risks and worked on a business plan for the future. Just having someone outside looking in with fresh eyes is enough to add motivation and belief.
We would strongly recommend any business owners who are struggling during these unprecedented times to reach out to London Business Hub.ABC School of English Ltd
What’s next for ABC School of English?
We are confident, despite the current unprecedented times due to COVID-19, coupled with the impact of Brexit on our industry that we will come through it stronger and with new projects in the pipeline.
We are preparing a teaching training course which will allow us to take on apprentices and support the government’s Kickstart scheme. We are hoping to provide the apprentices with the qualifications, tools and experience to teach English as a foreign language.
London Business Hub offers free one-to-one support and advice from a team of expert advisers – to book an appointment, please click here.
The London Business Hub Business Support programme is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF’s) Hub & Spoke project.
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