Starting a business at any time is challenging, but doing it during lockdown might seem even harder to many. Despite this, we’ve seen lots of new businesses this year. Between April and June 2020, there were 176,115 new businesses created – higher than the same period in 2019.
One of these businesses is Doorstep Gardener. Founded by Ashley Pollak who saw an opportunity to embrace the nation’s love of gardening during lockdown with an online plant delivery and collection service.
We spoke to Ashley about what it was like starting a new venture during a global pandemic and the lessons he has for others thinking of going it alone.
Why did you decide to launch a business during lockdown?
Before COVID-19 hit, my main business was a video production company. However, this suffered badly from the impact of the pandemic lockdown, so I started thinking about different opportunities that could turn this negative period into something positive. This drive to create something new fuelled the creation of the Doorstep Gardener.
I came up with the idea alongside support from my wife, who is a marketing director for a gardening centre and so has a lot of experience in this area. After coming up with this idea to tap into the gardening spike during lockdown, we built and launched a website in just a few days. Within the space of a week we had come up with the idea and had our first 320 orders.
How have things grown since launching?
Orders steadily grew and we expanded our plant collections to support this demand. Community marketing really helped us to get the business off the ground initially. We were able to tap into local networks and Facebook and WhatsApp groups, which people were much more engaged with during lockdown. We now have a team of around six drivers and eight pickers to support with deliveries and collections.
How do you see Doorstep Gardener growing and developing in the future?
Gardening is one of the most seasonal businesses that exists. At the moment we are reflecting on what we have learnt from this year and remaining conscious that the boost we had on our sales due to lockdown will not be there next year. We’re focused on how to grow the business model, developing efficiencies with our delivery and operations, and being cleverer with our marketing spend.
In the longer term we want to own lockdown as being a time where we all had the chance to reflect and make positive changes to our lives, starting with our gardens.
What lessons have you learnt from starting up a business during a time like this?
There have been so many lessons, but I’d say the key thing I’ve learnt on my journey is:
you can’t cling onto things as an entrepreneur. You’ve got to keep looking forward, exploring new ways to create business. You’ve got to be open to the fact that change can reveal better ways of doing things in the future. And remember, the heart of business is people and relationships, not buildings and stuff.
What are your top three tips for others thinking of starting out?
- Think ‘why not’ rather than ‘what if’. It’s easy to spend too long thinking about the decision, just get it started and fix it as you go.
- Be ready for some long hours. It’s tiring launching a new business, but the blessing is that as you are creating something for yourself you can keep going well past the usual 9 to 5. Make sure that you create some balance and block out downtime, play time and exercise time.
- Be resilient. There will be challenges and knock-backs so have a support network around you to keep going, whether that is business partners or friends and family.
Visit our dedicated site for more resources, webinars and inspirational stories to help you emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.