Susie Kazda is many things. She’s a mermaid, a pirate and, sometimes, a superhero. On any given day, she might also be a magician, a face-painter or even an official games master. Susie also happens to be my sister. As a small business owner in the children’s entertainment space, she knows resilience – perhaps more than most. But this year, she’s come up against a challenge like nothing else.
With all public gatherings banned under social distancing rules, Little Party Faces was confronted with the unthinkable: How do you save a business that’s centred entirely around human interaction? As the parameters continued to shift, like so many others across the globe, Susie had no choice but to pivot. And quickly.
“We were affected instantly. Corporate entertainment was our biggest growth sector – I was so excited. Then, virtually overnight, we went from major Easter events and face-painting for little football fans to having our entire projected income for the year wiped out. We lost everything.”
The last jobs to disappear were the parties – which had set the stage for the magical character visits, bubble blowing and balloon twisting that Little Party Faces has built its reputation on.
“Initially, there were still a handful of tiny celebrations. Parents said, ‘Okay, we’ve had to cancel Tommy’s fourth birthday. However, we’re going to bring three friends over and we’ll make sure a very hygienically sound Spiderman comes to visit. Then, social distancing rules were increased. Once the parties stopped, I had no choice but to let my entire team go.”
Unpacking the making and markers of being your own boss
Both Susie and I are business leaders. However, there’s one key difference: my sister is her own boss, while I’m a senior executive at Xero. Lately, with all the more time for reflection, I’ve stopped to consider the traits that lend themselves to our chosen paths. And the one thing I keep coming back to is this: I prefer being part of something bigger, while Susie is a natural risk taker who thrives on forging her own way.
In her words, “All small business owners are searching for the freedom to turn their dream into a reality”. Of course, this dream isn’t without its challenges. And as companies across the country contend with the fallout of COVID-19, now more than ever, we’re seeing the inherent grit and capacity for reinvention that being your own boss not only fosters, but demands.
This sentiment was perfectly captured by Susie’s response: “First, I cried. It was all so heartbreaking, I was in complete shock. Then, I found myself at a crossroads. As a small business owner, I’ve always had that hustler’s mentality – so I decided to put it to the test.”
Before making her next move, Susie turned to her support network. As a digital native with nearly 20 years’ experience in marketing, there was no need for deliberating when it came to my first piece of advice. It’s time to move your parties online.
Transporting the magic to homes near and far
Susie didn’t hesitate, after all, “The parties might be cancelled, but celebrating birthdays doesn’t have to be!”
Within a matter of weeks, her business had transformed from physical to virtual. “To help keep kids entertained during lockdown, Little Party Faces is offering virtual character visits, personalised video messages and even virtual parties. We might not be able to paint faces, but we can still light up their days (and offer parents a much-needed break) with everything from singalongs to superhero training. All you need to turn a hairbrush into a microphone or a towel into a cape is a little bit of magic.”
And while the shows may have been cancelled, she was still able to make an event out of Easter. “We had a giant bunny delivery service, complete with egg baskets (we even added some wine into the mix for mum and dad) that we left on the doorstep. Luckily, it turned out to be a popular gift – proof that some of the best ideas appear when you’re flying blind.”
Best of all, Susie has been able to re-hire eight of her staff, who are once again moonlighting as everything from snow princesses to astronauts. And where they used to be limited by geography, with the help of a reliable internet connection, the team can now take the party anywhere in Australia – and beyond. As Susie says, “We’ve been opened up to the whole world.”
Looking to the numbers and drawing on customer data
Like any true data obsessive, I also encouraged Susie to leverage her customer relationship management (CRM) system. Or, put simply, to reach out to her customer database and take advantage of the intuitive software platform that she’s using to run her business.
“I sent my entire customer list a heartfelt email (composed over a glass of red and a few tears) to let them know about Little Party Faces’ new offering. Thanks to the CRM within Xero, I was able to personally tailor the message to each person’s name and that of their child.”
“I’ve also been using Xero to track where my customers are coming from (with Stripe on hand for international payments), and have created a new column to keep on top of all COVID-19 related refunds and credit modes. This way, I can measure the direct impacts on my customer base and income.”
Although the financial output of Susie’s new reality might not match her previous earnings, demand is growing. There’s even been a corporate entertainment booking to bring the party to the kids of Google’s Australian team, as well as a Xero Mother’s Day special. Regardless, she says, “Ultimately, we’re here to bring cheer at a time when things are pretty strange and scary.”
The bravery, ingenuity and resilience that make Susie so well suited to being her own boss are the very things that will help her make it through. Even if her business looks a little different than she might have imagined. “Previously, my biggest drama was something along the lines of ‘Where’s Batman’s cape gone?’ Now, my entire team have become everyday superheroes.”
Three tips on how to pivot your business in times of need
- Gain a clear picture of your finances: Now more than ever, it’s integral to track your business’ numbers. In Susie’s words, “Lately, I’ve been chatting to my bookkeeper almost daily. Without a doubt, having financial visibility is what saved Little Party Faces”. Your accountant or bookkeeper will be a key source of advice on your specific circumstances.
- Embrace your CRM system: Thanks to CRM, your customer base is nearer than you might think. You can easily monitor who’s purchasing from you, what they’re buying, and where they come from. This way, you know exactly who you’re marketing to. Now is the time to reach out and let your most loyal customers know what your current business looks like and let them know how they can continue to support you.
- Trust your instincts: One of Susie’s most popular offerings, the Easter Bunny visit, was “an idea that just came to me one night”. By taking a chance on something new, she was able to re-hire valued staff members. She was also able to re-think what it means to connect with her customers. It’s all about being proactive and taking charge of the things within your control – momentum is a powerful self-motivator.
Continuing business at times like these is tougher than ever. Xero’s business continuity hub has pulled together the latest information, tools and resources on everything from government aid to managing cash flow to help guide you through.