In this series, MOJEH asks society women in the region how Covid-19 changed their world. Here, CEO and founder of TishTash PR, Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, tells her story
2020 started out pretty well for me. My business had won its dream clients, we’d moved into bigger offices, expanded our team and were on track for a very good year. Fast-forward two months, and the majority of the world is in lockdown, thousands of people are dying every day and the global economy is in freefall. It’s a situation we never dreamed could happen. A human tragedy of proportions so immense and far-reaching, it’s hard to process.
As a small business owner, it’s a beyond worrying time. Overnight, my agency lost 70% of its clients. In the first two weeks of lockdown I barely slept, working all hours to keep the clients we’d managed to hold onto happy. I chased money owed to us with an urgency like never before, so I could continue to pay my staff. I wasn’t thinking about how I would pay my own mortgage, although I probably should have been. I was fighting with every breath to save my business. And the reality for many SMEs is that it’s about survival. We’re all fighting to stay afloat, to still have a business in a couple of months and the ability to recover and continue to provide livelihoods for all of those who work for and with us.
“I started writing my #CovidDiary – I wanted it to be open and honest and to move away from the sugar-coated posts we often see on Instagram.”
Once I got through the first few weeks on that emotional rollercoaster where I was scared, anxious, angry, one step away from a panic attack or a blend of it all at the same time, I started to feel a bit better in the ‘new normal’. I could think straight again, and, realising this was all actually out of my control, made dealing with the uncertainty of everything strangely easier.
It was at this time that I found comfort in writing. I write for a living and it’s something I love, but I never write for me, so I started writing my #CovidDiary on Instagram every morning. Just tales from the day before, life musings and thoughts on what was happening. It felt the right thing to be open and honest and to move away from the sugar-coated posts we often see on Instagram. I’ve shared it all – panic attacks at the supermarket; my very British daily thoughts on the weather; the ups and downs of owning a business; eating four cream eggs before 9am, hysterically crying curled up in a ball on the floor – it’s a warts-and-all thing.
Writing has become therapy to me. What I didn’t expect was that it would provide comfort to others too. But I began receiving messages from people saying how much they admired my honesty, because they were feeling the same way, and it was helping them to cope. I’m receiving more than 300 messages a day now, and I reply to every message I receive. It’s definitely played a key role in keeping me sane(ish) during this peculiar time.
The second thing I realised was that helping others and doing positive things made me feel happy. I started sending random gifts and deliveries to my friends with Careem Box to cheer their days, left treats on my neighbour’s doorsteps and joined my community Covid-19 support group. I kept busy doing things for others which, along with work and my diary, kept me so occupied I couldn’t think so much about everything else.
But what I really wanted was to do something for the SME community, a group I am part of and so passionate about. I was wracking my brain for ideas, but didn’t know what I could do that could possibly make a difference. Then a slightly offbeat idea came to me. I shared it with my MD, who’s a lot more cynical than I am and a great sounding board, who said it was so ‘out there’ that it may actually work.
“Helping one another get through this is the only way to move forwards. And get through this we will. Stronger. Wiser. Together.”
In two weeks, we had created a whole new concept, developed a brand, built a website and launched The SME RISE COLLECTIVE – a platform that offers individuals and companies in the community the chance to come together and buy packages from local marketing and communications agencies to sponsor and support other local SMEs in a pay-it-forward kind of way. We’re only days in, and while the initial response has been great, I have no idea if it will continue to work and make a real difference in the community. But we will do everything we can to make it succeed.
Now looking at everything through a very different lens, I have a new perspective; a renewed appreciation for the simple things in life, and the life we took for granted before. And while I don’t know what the future will hold, I do know that I’m going to carry on working as hard as I can, doing everything I can to get my business back to a place from which it can thrive again, helping as many others as possible along the way. Because helping one another get through this is the only way to move forwards. And get through this we will. Stronger. Wiser. Together.
Read Next: The Month That Changed My Life, Maha Gorton
- Compiled by Lucy Wildman