Navigating Covid as a Small Business Owner

Before Covid I had a small business, things were tough but I earned a decent wage and I had autonomy. My business was coaching over 60s women to grow their confidence and to improve their health and wellbeing, it was incredibly fulfilling and it had been running for seven years. 

I did everything I could to keep people safe. I limited numbers, everything was cleaned after each session, then it was 1-2-1 sessions only, always in the optimistic belief that lockdown could be avoided, finally, with a weeks notice, the gym was closed and we hopped online. 

Turnover plummeted for a variety of reasons, mainly that people didn’t feel comfortable online. I made the decision to get a part time job almost straight away, my first foray was working for the much vaunted ‘Track and Trace’ scheme. I walked with the chip on my shoulder of having a key worker lanyard to attend my 3 day training scheme in a nondescript office block on the outskirts of Glasgow. 

This was the third week of lockdown 1, there was no social distancing, the training lasted 90 minutes instead of three days and we would be emailed the night before if we were needed the next day. The level of uncertainty and lack of security was a real eye opener. The contract lasted three weeks as the company was exposed for failing to adhere to social distancing and was closed down. I lost a week’s wages due to the company not replying to emails.

By this stage Rishi Sunak had made his big economic speech about wrapping his arms around the people of Britain. I nearly cried when I heard that Company Directors like me, would receive nothing, I still had gym rent to pay and a wage to take, it’s quite difficult to explain the feeling of being told your job/company is worthless in the eyes of the government. 

This led to my next jump, I was determined to not be left exposed like this again so I was going to use the pandemic to retrain, this led me to make a deal with the Devil, I put all my morals aside and went to work for the big enemy, The Big World of Online Retail. 

The big online retailer sent me my computer, gave me six weeks of training and then I was off, answering calls/emails and messages from angry folk looking for their lost trampoline. The work was lonely, demoralising and threatening, whenever we got bad ratings, we knew about it, the carrot of an actual contract at the end of nine months is dangled ahead of you at every turn, jovial memes about how great it is to take unpaid time off when it is quiet would come regularly and meetings would be peppered with insidious games like word bingo which was meant to be for fun but was clearly to check people were listening. 

I knew that if I did that job for six months I would be able to pay for my Data Analysis course, so here I am with four weeks left of the course and entering the tech jobs market whilst still keeping my gym open online, looking for another part time job to bide me over until I get a tech job, still without government support and also taking up volunteer roles to enhance my chances in the difficult job market. 

Having a flexible job market should be a stated aim of any Government, the fact that I wouldn’t have managed it in non-Covid times, that I had to pay fully for it myself and have to jump from insecure job to insecure job surely shows something is wrong, this wouldn’t have been possible If I had kids, or mental health considerations or caring responsibilities. 

My pandemic has been a rollercoaster which has tested me beyond what I thought capable, it has highlighted so many areas of inequality and the dangers of the gig economy, trying to change career and upskill is always going to be difficult but it shouldn’t be near impossible.

By Graham Angus, Glasgow. 

This article represents the personal views of Graham Angus not those of the The Equality Trust.

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