Brno expat businesses and the lockdown

We asked five foreign entrepreneurs the same question: How did the pandemic and lockdown affect your business and what helped you to keep it running? Is there any advice you’d give other entrepreneurs?

Gale A. Kirking (US), Editor-in-Chief

Our business has slowed down a little bit, but fortunately there has been enough work coming in to keep us going. Also fortunately, I had been reducing my staff by attrition over the past several years, because, prior to March, it had been difficult and expensive to hire qualified people. That means that I am working now with just a couple of part-time assistants and it was not necessary for me to lay off any people. Big advantages for me are that my office is only 5 minutes’ walk from my house, so I have been able to work in my office every day, and we need very little face-to-face interaction with our clients.

I learned a lesson from the 2008 crisis and the briefer, shallower slowdown in 2012 not to staff up during good periods with more people at higher cost than you can afford to keep on when things will slow down. That advice won’t do anybody any good on getting through the present crisis, of course. What I would say about the present, though, is that, if you are in a kind of business that will not be fundamentally handicapped by the present crisis, you might do well to try and continue operating at a reduced level now and with a view to the other side of the crisis. It may be a lot easier to hire good people 6 months from now than it was 6 months ago, and some of your competitors might not be around anymore when the crisis ends.

(Kirking created English Editorial Services in 2003 after working nearly 25 years as a journalist in the U.S. and as an investment analyst and director of equities research in Europe.)

Teji Riar (India), food chain founder

Our business was almost shut down, we could provide our service only through our window or home delivery. The first two weeks were very tough as not many people were coming out of their homes nor ordering home deliveries due to the general panic. But we stood our ground, worked hard, did whatever it took to keep our business going. Most of our Czech employees had to register at Úřad Práce, but our Indian employees were with us working hard. We didn’t want to depend on the government help during this period, so somehow we managed to pay our rents and bills. Now we’re just waiting for things to get back to normal, the coming few months will be difficult but we will bounce back.

Anne Johnson (US), editor

I am a medical and academic editor and I already work from home, so the pandemic has not really affected my daily business. In fact, as more academics have been working from home themselves, I’ve noticed an uptick in my business—that is, more people are at home writing papers, and therefore I have more work to do. What has changed is that my workday that was previously broken up with regular social events (on Tuesdays I do X, on Thursdays I do Y) came to a halt, and it was difficult to finish my workday without these events to remind me of days and times.

I’ve changed careers several times in my life; I would imagine most entrepreneurs have adaptable mindsets. I would suggest thinking: What parts of my job could be done online and adapting what is adaptable; if not then What skills do I have that I could apply to an online job and shifting that way.

I have taken the government supplement and used it to pay other entrepreneurs whose jobs have been negatively impacted for future work or for jobs that they could do from home, even if it’s a little out of their range. This “we’re all in this together” teamwork approach is part of what makes self-employment bearable.

(Anne’s website

Sergio Bellini (Italy), a restaurant founder

It was obviously unexpected suffering for us. Thanks to my wife’s smart management we had financial security resources allowing us to overcome this moment without having to lay off our staff or undertake other unpleasant measures. We did not provide home delivery trusting in the help promised by the state. On Monday, May 25, we are opening the restaurant and hope our customers will support us enjoying our cuisine and toasting to the restart.

(Sergion owns Castellana Trattoria)

Johan Nilsson (SWE), business owner

As most businesses we experienced a big decrease in sales, both for our B2C as well as B2B. We quickly focused on reducing any unnecessary expenses and tried to negotiate discounts where possible. We reduced all paid marketing but instead focused on what we could do ourselves. Such as personal communication with our customers and personalizing of the orders and packages, which brought us back a lot of good feedback and customer satisfaction.

We took it as an opportunity to evaluate and make plans for the future, working on new products and concepts & implement changes and improvements that we had been planning.

These are also the steps that I would also recommend to others, to focus on reducing costs, improving relations and instead of slowing down rather spend the time planning for the future to come out stronger than before. In my experience it’s very easy as an entrepreneur during normal times to get stuck with tasks of the moment; that it can be hard to find time to plan forward.

(Johan founded and runs Goodglass)


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