When the UK went into lockdown in March last year, Nichola Howard, founder of Launch Events NW, lost 60 per cent of her business overnight.
With events postponed, Nichola had to refocus the business, which had predominantly relied on revenues from three major events including the Blackpool Business Expo, Business Expo Wigan and Business Expo Leigh.
The events, which have been running annually since 2013, attracted more than 150 businesses at any one time and 2020 was going to be their biggest year yet – that’s until the pandemic hit.
“We were on target for our fastest rate of growth last year,” said Nichola, who is also Wigan vice chair of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
“We had sold all the sponsorships; we had the best start to 2020 that we could have hoped for and then the pandemic hit and overnight we lost most of our business as events were cancelled.
“It was devastating at the time and I thought we had lost everything. We did manage to get the grants which kept the bills paid but we knew we had to do something to survive.”
Nichola, who operates the business with sister and marketing director Jo Leigh, changed the direction of the business to focus on the digital marketing offering, which they previously provided as an added service.
The digital offering includes everything from digital marketing strategy and social media management to content creation for small businesses.
The sisters are currently preparing for a new website launch to kick-start the new direction in 2021.
Nichola said: “We have always offered marketing as a service as we genuinely want to help small businesses get seen and heard however It wasn’t our main focus and not something we marketed.
“The expos took a lot of time and planning which left little time to focus on anything else.
“But the pandemic has allowed us to sit down and take a good look at the business and what we want to achieve, and we decided this new direction was where we want to be.
“We’ve already picked up new clients and we will continue with the events which we will streamline.”
Nichola will be sharing her experiences after signing up as a mentor for FreelanceHER 100.
The three-month accelerator has been launched by IN4.0 with The Landing and will aim to kick-start the entrepreneurial careers of 100 women across the North West.
The fully funded programme will focus on women for whom COVID has resulted in a career break, freelancers who want to grow their business, mothers seeking to return to work as well as applicants from the BAME community.
Women from across the region have the opportunity to take part in the scheme, which will be delivered online in weekly sessions.
Said Nichola: “I can’t wait for this to start as this is something that is different, it’s not being done anywhere else and importantly it’s going to add real value to women in Greater Manchester.
“I want to show women this is what we’ve done, we thought we were going to lose the business, but we’ve come back with a bang and this is what we’ve learnt, and I want to help other women to do the same. If it has worked for us it can work for you too.
“If you’re a freelancer then sign up to this programme and get the best advice and support from women who have done it all before.”
Programme director Naomi Timperley said: “I'm looking forward to Nichola sharing her experiences as a freelancer on the programme.
“FreelanceHER 100 is offering women a unique opportunity to launch their careers during these challenging times with the help and support of some amazing women from across the region.”
FreelanceHER 100 will launch on 2 February 2021.
For more information, please visit https://www.thelanding.org.uk/freelanceher100/