Posted: Wed 13th May 2020
"We had to think really, really fast. Our business is split into three areas, two of which dried up overnight. It was about adjusting to new circumstances in a short space of time," Sara remembers.
That adjustment meant a bigger focus on their delivery service. The company started delivering snacks to remote workers across the country and plans to enhance their B2C focus with a snack box delivery service.
We spoke to Sara about pivoting, planning during a pandemic and where Healthy Nibbles goes next.
The business before the crisis
Before lockdown, Healthy Nibbles was stable in terms of revenue. Sales were increasing year on year, reaching £300k in 2019 and revenue was forecast to hit £2m this year.
"We were in a fairly exciting stage of the business. The business had got to the point where if people talked about nutritional wellbeing, our name came up. People knew who we were," Sara said.
The business has "four full-time amazing people", but the team had been bigger. The business underwent a significant amount of turmoil last year when a bad hire employed four more bad hires. Sara ultimately cut the team down in size, making them smaller but stronger.
"We were planning to take on five more people, but we've held back on that now," she added.
Overnight changes to revenue
When lockdown measures were implemented, revenue didn't peter off slowly - it was immediately obvious the business was facing challenges.
"We provide healthy, tech-enabled vending machines, so that revenue stream died overnight because it was in the workplace. We went from making thousands of pounds to £3.50 in that first week.
"Most people were in a tech abyss and trying to get employees organised. I didn't realise a lot of companies wouldn't be set up to work from home," Sara said.
She started hearing the same conversations about staff grazing more. Everyone was joking about living in tracksuit bottoms and snacking on social media, but a lot of people were eating out of stress. As Sara explains, working from home has its novelty, apart from when it's forced on you.
The company heard stories from clients finding it difficult to work alongside their spouse and kids. One thing led to another and Healthy Nibbles decided to create mini snack boxes with corporate messaging that companies could send to their employees.
"We've made them more consumer-focused and worked really closely with clients to find out what they needed. It's good that the revenue is still there. The diversification of the product range has allowed us to respond better."
Planning in an unpredictable climate
Healthy Nibbles had hoped for a huge jump in revenue in 2020, after closing an investment round earlier in the year. The growth ambitions have been pushed to next year, although Sara admits that the potential second wave of the virus makes it hard to plan.
"In January, one of our investors told us to sit back and enjoy the journey! It's quite unnerving when you're used to stable B2B revenue to go to more flexible revenue," she said.
Sara's moved from looking three or four years into the future to looking weeks ahead. While her long-term ambitions remain, she's had to turn her focus to what's happening now. Things can dramatically change on a weekly basis, based on government announcements.
"It's more precarious. We're used to dealing with businesses, so cash flow is far more fixed. When a lot of that is taken away, you have to go and fight for it every month.
"We've accessed some of the government grant money, under the business rates relief and Bounce Back Loan. But the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme was useless because we weren't in profit."
Looking after your mental health during lockdown
At the moment, Sara's trying to take each day as it comes and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Eating healthily, exercising and sleeping well has helped, though she admits it's not always a walk in the park.
"Sometimes you'll have nights where you wake up at 2am and can't get back to sleep. When that happens, make sure you listen to your body and take breaks when you need it.
"I'd love to be incredibly virtuous and say that I've had a massive learning experience. But you can't enjoy every single up and down. There are businesses that lost revenue immediately and that must be incredibly frightening," she said.
Advice if you're preparing to pivot
If other businesses are thinking about pivoting, Sara recommends staying true to your values. Ultimately, she said, this will pass. You don't want to end up with something you're not passionate about.
"I don't see pivots and tweaks as massive game changers. It's just adapting to your clients, so keep everything really tight in terms of your clients and supply chain. Now isn't the time for massive innovative leaps, unless everything's dried up.
"In general, you don't want to waste time and resources if it's not going to work. Think about what you want the business to be and don't go too far past that."
Interested in hearing about more amazing female founders? Enterprise Nation's She's Got This campaign aims to address the key issues stopping women from starting businesses. Access resources and advice on the She's Got This homepage.