‘Trying to do Everything’: A Female Entrepreneur and Covid-19

Ali Schillemore.

Becky Lodge Founder of Little Kanga Ltd and StartUp Disruptors (a business club and community for start-ups and small business owners) interviews Ali Schillemore, owner of Ali Schillemore Graphic Design. This is the fifth article in a new series exploring the impact of Covid-19 on local businesses and start-ups in Portsmouth. 

In her own words, Ali Schillemore is a 36 year old Mum of two (soon to be three!) with 12 years graphic design experience gained working for a print company and designing specifically for print format, which is a very specific skill set. Before this, I worked for Portsmouth City Council working for the communications team on various marketing projects for Portsmouth.’

Becky Lodge: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.

Ali Schillemore: I have always been into art and loved it at school and also have an interest in IT as well. The skills base that I have is predisposed to the creative skills and interests that I have. I was also always mindful that I needed a job that would help me use this potential and also provide an ongoing living for both me and my growing family over time, so I ended up as a graphic designer, helping businesses to build a better visual presence and brand.

What have been the challenges for you as a female business owner?

The main issue for me is that I am also the primary care giver for the children and have to work varied hours around this. I don’t sometimes have the physical hours in the day to work as others perhaps would have.

I think that I am able to cope with it (for the most part), but I do worry about some of the deadlines with work from time to time, as I really want to do a good job for my customers. I am also aware of ‘over-promising’ and ‘under-delivering’ on customer projects and this sometimes causes pressure as deadlines for print can be tight. When I first started the business, I looked a lot younger than I actually am and this worked against me as people thought that I was the intern!

This led me to perhaps think that people didn’t take me as seriously as a woman due to my outward ‘youthful’ looks , but I found this a slightly strange way of people to behave towards me based on outward appearance.

How did you feel about the COVID-19 pandemic?

I think initially I thought that it was going to be something that wouldn’t touch us, as it was going on half-way around the world.

It became very real, very quickly as members of my family had to shield due to ongoing lung issues. My father has 40% lung capacity and I was worrying about if he was going to be OK.

My boys are still small and they are now able to talk more about things, but they didn’t understand what was going on and it made me appreciate what I had previously, in terms of freedom to move around and go out to the park and be with the children.

What helped you as a small business during lockdown?

I managed to get the self-employed income business support grant twice and this helped a little bit, but it didn’t cover the full level of previous income that I would have had normally.

Whilst it was great to have some income, I was aware that the average that I had coming in wasn’t the same as before, but was still lucky to get this and I am grateful for that.

The positives around the family, were that the boys managed to learn to play together (due to not being able to see their friends!) so their relationship has improved because of this and that’s a positive.

There were issues around trying to do everything including home-schooling and keeping the household running was a challenge, but there were some positive aspects to lockdown as well as negatives. You have time to reflect and think about things. We explored the local area more and walked around the area local to our home and discovered new parks and nature once again. We even attempted the Joe Wicks exercise regime, but our children were not so keen!

What do you think will happen in the next 6 months with your business?

I am due to go on maternity leave in 2 months, so I am making preparations for this and letting my customers know what plans are in place to support them during this time.

I am going to take around 9 months off if I can, but I will still come back to the business in the fullness of time once I am able to build the hours back up slightly at first and again this will fit around the family.

What’s the next move then both for you and the business?

I am looking forward to bringing a new baby into the world and this is the top priority to ensure that we have a healthy and happy family.

In terms of the business, it’s going really well at the moment and I have a great customer base with some fantastic business owners that I work with locally and I hope to pick this up again in the future.

How have you found operating a business in Portsmouth and the wider Hampshire area?

There is a great deal of small business activity in the city and there is a large pool of people that are looking to make connections in the local area. I am past the days of having to ‘door knock’ and the micro-business owner market is very active.

StartUp Disruptors helped me to connect to other people which as an introvert was beneficial and helped me to build my confidence early on. I tried lots of formal networking groups which, quite frankly, I found a bit terrifying and being a member of this community was more informal and supportive. [It] felt like the ‘right fit’ for me: where people come to help and assist, and build community that’s based on shared ethics and passing on their experience, and [where] people get to know you personally.

It’s like a ‘big business family’ where people are looking out for you with no agenda. The advice in the group is very honest and this is useful and practical and pushes you out of your comfort zone and helps with personal and professional business growth. I am one of the longest serving members of the group and I really enjoy being a part of it.

Ali Schillemore.

Were there any periods in the last few years that were challenging for the business?

I had a large client (marketing agency) and they used to contract me in for a couple of days a week and then this stopped. To have this taken away suddenly made me more mindful of this, as there’s risk involved with ‘having all your eggs in one basket’ financially with one customer.

I now have more of a balance of smaller customers that helps mitigate the risk in the longer term for me as a business owner, this is something that you learn as you move through your business journey.

This was the only thing that has been challenging for me over the past few months, but I am lucky that I have other customers that have helped me through this phase as a micro business owner and now the business is more stable, which is a good thing bearing in mind the times that we are all living through right now.

You can find out more about Ali and her business at her website, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can find out more about StartUp Disruptors and how to join them, and follow them on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn and you can follow Becky Lodge over at LinkedIn. You can also telephone: 0333 444 0364 or email: info@startupdisruptors.co.uk for more information. 

S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:

  • voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
  • small businesses and self-employed people
  • POC communities
  • people with disabilities

We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences in any of these areas, get in touch with us over on Facebook and Twitter, or email us at submissions@starandcrescent.org.uk 

All images courtesy of Ali Schillemore.

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