In this series, we uncover honest personal accounts of the heartbreaks, trials and triumphs that have made up 2020. By charting the full scope of the small business experience, together we stand to come back stronger than ever.
Breathe. This is the sign that greets visitors at Melbourne’s I Am That yoga studio, lit up neon-bright by the entrance as a gentle reminder to pause for a moment. In the months since it was secured to the wall, co-owner Victoria Csarmann has seen her business’ carefully laid plans upended entirely.
Amongst all of the chaos, it has been a mantra that she has turned to countless times since: just breathe, slowly, deeply. “This whole experience has been equal parts scary, heartbreaking and encouraging. We’ve been through everything.”
Letting go of what could’ve been and looking towards the future
From January, what now feels like a lifetime ago, she and her partner Sébastien had been planning the reopening of their newly revamped and expanded studio. The pair regularly stayed late into the night, working to create a space that was warm, spacious and, above all, open to everyone.
“With the help of Seb’s dad, who’s a bit of a handyman, we did everything ourselves. From the painting, to the floors and the joinery – we put everything we had into it. Then, we set the date for a March 21st relaunch.”
Of course, we all know what comes next. “Things with COVID-19 progressed so quickly, that we had no other option but to cancel our reopening. I suppose we were lucky that we didn’t even have time to mourn what could’ve been.”
“We watched what was happening to the rest of the world and decided to shift our attention to building an online studio.”
“I began this business because I didn’t want anyone to miss out just because they couldn’t afford it or the physical space didn’t make them feel welcome. We’ve always worked to be as inclusive as possible – from teaching in a way that acknowledges the different bodies and abilities in the room, to keeping our prices relatively low.”
I Am That’s genuine community-first approach has seen it grow a devoted following, one that has only increased now that members are able to access them online. “We’d never considered online classes before, but they’re an all-new way of making yoga more accessible.”
Drawing from a survey of 1,000 small businesses in early June, Xero’s Rebuilding Australia report revealed that 60% of the businesses that thrived during the initial stages of the pandemic expected to invest in technology over the following three months.
By rethinking how they do things in the digital space, the I Am That team has unlocked new ideas and systems that will endure long after the crisis ends.
Finding strength and purpose in the power of community
But that isn’t to say that their journey has been straight forward. “After the first lockdown period ended, we were so euphoric to be back in the studio and surrounded by people again. It was like magic. We scheduled as many classes as we could – even though it was near impossible to cover costs, we saw it as an investment in our members.”
“Then, two weeks later, the second lockdown was implemented and we had to close again – it caught us completely by surprise. Seb and I were devastated.”
That’s when the I Am That community swung into full force. “Within what felt like seconds, hundreds of members had reached out to say ‘I’m so sorry. I’m thinking about you. We’re going to get through this together.’”
And despite fluctuating lockdown restrictions in Melbourne, Victoria has continued to find strength in her community. “With everything that was going on in their world, they still thought to be there for us. We’re never going to forget that.”
“Whenever I’m feeling a little bit sad or scared about what the future might bring, I know we’ll be OK because we’re being supported by so many epic people. I have no doubt that our focus on community is the reason we’ve made it through.”
Lastly, Victoria has a message for small business owners across the country just like her: “There’s so much behind the ‘COVID pivot’ that the outside world doesn’t see: the hope, the sadness, the exhaustion. It’s really important that business owners pause to acknowledge how much they’ve accomplished.”
Unsure which steps to take next? For actionable tips, customer stories and insights into the trends shaping the future of small business, check out Xero’s Stronger and smarter: a small business handbook – a practical guide designed to help keep your business moving.