When a small business fails

Covid-19 had a devastating effect on my small business. As an eternal optimist, I have written a lot about the benefits of COVID. The silver linings we found in a pandemic, when it was a time to reevaluate, become more introspective, get quieter, and reflect on what was important. But it was also a time of incredible hardship, of grief, isolation, and for small business, of real devastation. Because of the pandemic, the business model that my business partner and I were operating for our co working space Higher Spaces, was flung into disarray. And our small business failed.

Our growth strategy stalled

Before the pandemic hit, we were about to embark on a growth strategy. We were minutes away from signing a contract with a new business development manager. We thought we knew what the next few years would entail. We were confident and feeling optimistic about growth soon.

Then the pandemic hit, and we had to close our doors. We sent our tenants home, and they never came back in the same way. There was a real shift in behavior, with people electing to work from home even after the pandemic threat had subsided.

We tried to adapt

I’m an advocate for a hybrid model. And I support people being able to be flexible in where and when they choose to work. I think it’s great for families, and for communities. However, for the co working industry, it changed the foundations upon which we were basing our business growth model.

So we hung in there, we were lucky, we had capital, and we weren’t in debt. We tried to adapt. I worked with a mentor from the Victorian Business chamber, which I’m grateful for. We changed our business model, we went into the digital space. We received a grant to buy digital equipment and change our meeting rooms to digital spaces. We were on top of it, we were adapting and being innovative. But still, the co-working is based on the demand from people wanting to work in a public space with others. And even a year later, when it was safe to return, people did not come back to the office, and they were not congregating in meeting rooms.

On top of that many buildings were left empty in the CBD and surrounds. So there were more choices for people who wanted to come and use space on a short term basis, which was the service we also provided for. It was really tough. The last straw was in late 2022, when our landlord decided that she wanted a 40% increase in rent at the time of our lease renewal. At this time my business partner and I had a difficult conversation. We were on the same page on this, it was time to close.

Reframing my story

I worked with my coach on how to feel about that. At first, I felt like a failure. And there was shame in my business failing. But I was lucky enough to have a great business coach. He helped me reframe the story and remember the achievements and successes along the way and to be proud of those. We created an amazing space that was absolutely in line with our values and was conducive to health and well being and productivity. Our space received so much praise from others and made a positive impact on so many. And it was really working.

We ran a successful business for many years, and my business partner and I ran a successful partnership for many years. I learned so much about small business, getting into the nitty gritty of what that’s all about. We had so many amazing memories.

And now, it was just time to close. And so with that reframe, the shame disappeared, and instead, a sense of pride and gratefulness replaced it. This is a story of business failure. But really, it’s not a failure. It was an opportunity for me to grow and learn. And I’m grateful for that.

I’m grateful for our, our beautiful clients and tenants who supported us all the way through. I have so much gratitude for my amazing business partner, Shu Tan. We both started this business when we were working full-time at Telstra. And we were running the business on the weekends. It was tough, and it was fun. And we had some incredible times together. So thank you.

Closing business is an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life, because it taught me so much. And there’s a humility that comes with that of course, and a lot of gratitude.

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