I have come full circle, well almost. Here I am sitting working from home, which is where I started my business 26 years ago.
The difference is that I now have far more experience and a better idea of what I really want to achieve.
I wonder how many people have an end goal when they start their own business, I didn’t. All I wanted at the time was freedom to do my own thing. I didn’t fully appreciate that the background I had come from was unusual and that better options existed out there – working for the South African Tourism Board in the 80’s and 90’s was unique.
I felt I had reached my ceiling within the organisation and with democracy about to happen in South Africa I decided to take the plunge.
Circumstance happen – life happens, we have our ups and downs. Very quickly into working for myself I realised I didn’t like working on my own, I needed someone to share the load and bounce ideas off. So I chose a business partner and within a couple of years we had an office in Wimbledon and had employed our first staff member. I am still in touch with Theresa, who now lives down in Devon.
At the turn of the millennium we moved south to Horsham and bought an office building, which was made possible by a very successful side line business, booking car hire in South Africa. That was when we realised it is far easier making money taking bookings, than it is doing representation!
We persisted with representation … The car hire business dried up when companies such as Holiday Autos realised that South Africa was a good market for them.
Within a couple of years we had a team of 4 and the business was going well. We did not have a huge amount of competition and clients where prepared to pay a reasonable fee. The team grew, I think we had about 8 people at one stage.
As the years past we have had Emma and Emma, Neville and Bruce, Carrie Kerrie and Cara, Julie, Julia and Jules, Lynne and Lauren – people have come and gone. We have had our challenges and struggles and then we had COVID.
Many of those who we see as our competition these days have a very different business model to ours, one or two people working from home. The Ethos model was a team of 5 people and an office with all that comes with an office. So when COVID happened and our income virtually dried up overnight we had some tough choices to make. We were not unique, the travel industry in particular has had it very tough.
Trying to get out of leases for the office, the photocopier, the phones etc made me consider liquidation. We were very fortunate that with the British furlough scheme we were able to continue paying our staff for 7 months, but as the scheme changed and we had to contribute more and more, the situation became untenable and we had to make the hardest business decision ever – making loyal staff of 19, 17 and 11 years redundant.
So November 2020 is the new beginning. Amanda and I are going to have to go this alone and try and keep Ethos going. We do not know when our income will get back to any kind of normal, but we have to try and be optimistic. We have to recreate ourselves and do things differently.
I heard someone say recently that an ‘optimist navigates the chaos’ – some people actually thrive on chaos.
The AA Milne quote is something I am pinning things on at the moment – “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”