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Sami Lovett is the founder of Just Lovett Design, a company that creates branded, personalised, or bespoke products for weddings,  events, or bespoke corporate giftware. Sami has also developed an umbrella company Makers at the Mill who run online and in-person creative ‘making’ workshops for individuals and companies.  

With a business that centred on creating beautiful products for weddings and other live events, the pandemic was devastating for Sami Lovett, founder of Just Lovett Design. But staying resilient, being creative and developing a back-up plan turned calamity into opportunity. Here’s how Sami grew a new and lucrative sideline that kept her business thriving...

Our research is showing that small businesses across Yorkshire and the Humber are feeling much more positive about the future. Would you agree? 
I do! It was really negative in the first lockdown. I do a lot of work with weddings and events, as well as team building and I pitch and plan my work three months ahead. So, when we came into March 2020 and Coronavirus was on the horizon, there was one day where I got literally 10 phone calls and all of the work I’d planned for the next few months was cancelled or postponed. 

I honestly didn't know what I was going to do. Everything that I'd worked towards in the previous couple of years had been to get to this stage of moving into the design studio. I just felt powerless. There was so much uncertainty and stress. 

I just had to press pause for the first couple of months, put myself on ice. I did get some grant funding, which meant I was able to keep the business, which was brilliant. But then it was a roller coaster: coming out of lockdown last summer, getting the ball rolling again, and then another crash with the lockdown in November. 
At that point, I thought I've got to do something. From the design consultancy point of view – designing new products – that was still able to happen. Normally, we would invite clients to the studio. Instead, we could do live design sessions online and still create bespoke products. 

I brought the team building events online. I created creative wellbeing events where I would send out a flat pack of products in boxes. The event organiser would choose one of the products or ask for something bespoke. I would send out the packs in the post to all the people that were coming along. Then we would meet up on a Zoom call or in an online virtual world that I've created, have a bit of fun for a couple of hours, build a wooden product, and they would paint and personalise it. It meant that teams could still do a creative activity together. 

Being able to adapt meant that when we locked down again in January, it wasn't such a massive panic for me personally. And having the roadmap in place gave people a lot more confidence. We’re back on the arc of hope! 

What – for you – are the main factors that are making you feel more positive?  
I would say that it’s the wedding and event world coming back into play. The weddings industry has seen a 300% rise in enquiries because of the backlog. So, that side of the business is returning, and my virtual team building side has kept going. Having more certainty is good.

Do you think the changes you’ve made will stick moving forward? 
Yes. I've realised I can design products that everybody can build. So, it's taken my design skills further and challenged me to think in a different way. That has been brilliant for me. It’s opened a whole new part of the business. 

If you'd asked me a couple years ago if I would be doing virtual events online, I would have said no. But doing it, and coming up with something different, has been a really good unique selling point. It’s kept me afloat, and now I'm speaking to the event companies about going into offices and doing these builds as live in-person events for office parties or Christmas parties. 

I'm also in the process of creating a creative wellbeing subscription box, where subscribers get a new product each month and we build new products and an online community of people that love doing that. 

Do you feel that you became more agile in a way that is going to help you in the future? 
As a startup business owner, being resilient and agile are skills you have to have, but this year has given me the confidence to go, I can do anything! Surviving a global pandemic by being agile and moving, and coming out of it in a strong position, that's a good kind of vibe going forward.

We’ve noticed the trend of the Rise in the Online Local: big increases in local businesses benefitting from going online. Does this trend reflect what you see?   
I do a lot of business networking online. I’ve found that online community of local businesses amazing in helping me get my new ideas out there. The last year has really proven that relationships – personal and business relationships – are still the cornerstone of boosting the local economy, and the online local economy as well. 

As you grow, will your online presence allow you to maintain the local face of the business?
I think so. There's a good kind of online presence on Instagram, or Facebook. You can do live videos and speak to people. And you can reach and work with more people online and still have that personable kind of presence. When people follow you, you feel like you're getting to know them through the online conversations. 

A lot of the businesses we’ve spoken to say that they found selling online easier than they expected. Was that true for you? 
We’ve got online networking going. That was quite easy to do and it's accessible and keeps us in contact with clients. I didn't have to put too much work in to be online, because I've already got a website, and a good social media presence. 

I'm working on my customer journey to make it as easy as possible for the client using online systems. I want to have that personable feel with a client, but doing it online lets us have face-to-face meetings and save on travel time. 

What do you think you need to do now, to make your business as resilient as possible? 
I've been working with a business coach over the last six months to look into how we go from having one business, Just Lovett Design, which was my design and make service from the wedding and live events side, to growing that alongside Makers at the Mu=ill with the live and virtual team building events. 

Looking forward, what are going to be your biggest challenges? 
I think it's pushing forward and being out there. So, marketing. And given the digital streams that you can be on now, it's managing where you are and who you're speaking to.
I’m passionate about teaching live workshops, so going forward it’s also about instilling confidence in the general public that they can come into an environment safely and do a course for a day with people that they've never met before. A lot of people are still worried about the threat of Coronavirus, so there might not be as much uptake in those live courses as I would like. But my main concern is future proofing. Getting people on board to work with me to create a sustainable business going forward.

And what are going to be the biggest points in your favour? 
Having a backup plan. We know we can work virtually, and I've developed an online working system, so we can work anywhere. I've learned I can be resilient and change the way that I design products. So, being resilient, having a backup plan, but also being a little bit creative with what I offer.