Covid-19 may have shaken up the business world but, for many, it has opened up doors to becoming their own bosses.

Experts say changes in employment and people rethinking their future has meant a rise in people wanting to “take control of their own destiny” and start a business.

Many out-of-towners were also eyeing up the Bay of Plenty as a good place to set up shop.

Rotorua Business Chamber’s Start-up Clinic manager Tracey Goodall said there had definitely been an increase in the number of people wanting to start their own businesses.

Goodall said more than 75 applicants have wanted to join the chamber’s business training and advice programme in the past six months.

The clinic has 25 clients being coached and 20 who have successfully completed the programme, she said.

“The majority of clients are new business owners.”

The types of businesses popping up were diverse but Goodall said there was a “definite focus” on food, retail and health-related businesses.

“While there are a few that have aspirations to launch a national or global business, the majority of people mostly wish to have a small business where they can be their own boss.”

Goodall said there was certainly a trend for those who don’t fit into the “normal” working hours category.

“There are many intelligent and skilled mothers who can’t fit back into a job that requires 9-to-5 Monday to Friday.

“By being their own business they’re able to take control of their life and income, and still provide care for their family.”

Many clients in their 20s had decided they want to be in control of their own destiny and had a desire to be a business owner, she said.

“There is another large group of clients who are in their 40s and 50s that want to take control of their lives and what they do.

“These people have a lot of work and life skills to contribute and have decided they have the experience under their belt to own a business.”

Goodall said it was important for employers to keep up with a changing business world.

“Many people are fed up with not getting roles because businesses don’t have flexible hours or working from home options.

“Covid is definitely shaking things up when it comes to flexible work conditions, however for many this has opened a door to imagine what it would be like to be in control of your own destiny.”

But Goodall said while it can be satisfying to be your own boss it was important people understood they will need to work longer and harder to make it happen.

“However, if you do what you love, then for many the choice is easy.”

Tauranga-based specialist childcare business broker Linda Harley said more people wanted to buy businesses than sell.

“We need a lot more listings.”

The business partner at ABC Business Sales said a large number of buyers were from out-of-town and looking to relocate to the Bay of Plenty.

“There are quite a few Aucklanders looking to buy in the Coromandel.”

She had even sold a childcare business in Whangamata to a Kiwi ex-pat returning home from the Middle East.

People were moving for lifestyle reasons and “getting control of their own destiny”, she said.

“I think Covid has given people time to reflect on their lives and what is of value to them.

“There’s a lot of reward to owning your own business no matter what sector it’s in.”

Harley said 85 per cent of people visiting their website were new, which suggested a lot of people were buying their first business and getting out of employment.

“I’ve got people who have retired early in their mid-50s and have had successful businesses in the past and are coming in for looking for businesses because their money isn’t earning anything in the bank.

“A lot of my specific buyers are first-time purchasers in their early 40s.

“Some of them have lost jobs so they are wanting to buy. Some of them are bored.”

A lot of childcare teachers also wanted to own their own centre, she said.

Harley said it used to be that baby boomers were selling up and exiting employment.

“But what in reality is happening is they don’t want to retire, but they want to reduce their workload and stress.”

ABC Business Sales business partner, Greg Dunn, said there was quite a lot of interest in buyers from out of town wanting to snap up businesses in Rotorua and Taupo.

“In particular, we’re seeing a lot of people from Auckland making inquiries and offers on businesses. We’re restricted by level 3 at the moment, but they are saying ‘we’ve had enough; we want to move to the regions’ particularly in Rotorua and Taupō.”

Dunn said out of 10 deals in the past three months half were from out of town – and 50 per cent were new business owners.

“We’re seeing quite a bit of interest out of the corporate sector, people cashing up their super looking to be their own boss.”

E-commerce businesses and “Covid-proof” companies with availability to work-from-home were popular, he said.

Many people see owning a business as “fun” as they “are the master of their own destiny” and getting good returns on investment.

“People are seeing it as a path to retirement, they’ve got something they can own and run themselves.”

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce events and sponsorship manager Anne Pankhurst said the emerging business category in the annual business awards had its biggest number of entrants to date.

Pankhurst said the rise in new and emerging businesses was a reflection of the Covid-19 environment.

“Whether it’s been spurred on by a change in their employment, or the changing situation has made them rethink their future, we have seen many people using this time as a chance to make a change and start their own business.”

'Dream come true'

Owning her own business is a “dream come true” for Wendy Matthews.

The Rotorua single mother of five opened the doors to her bright-pink cakery, Marshmallow Sweet Treats, on Hinemoa St in August.

“It has probably been a lifelong dream.”

Matthews said she had been baking since she was young alongside her dad, who was also a baker.

After moving from Auckland to Rotorua last December, Matthews decided she wanted to open her own cakery.

“I googled how to start a business,” she said. “I was clueless.”

After seeking help from the Rotorua Business Chamber’s Start-up Clinic, Matthews said she was able to get on the right track and developed a good business plan.

“They believed in me from day one. It was a real eye-opener.”

But navigating a new business in a Covid-19 world has its challenges.

Matthews’ grand opening was just two days before New Zealand was hurled into its second level 4 lockdown on August 17.

“I spent all day baking and then we went into lockdown.”

But business has since picked up again and Matthews said she was selling out of her homemade treats once again.

“Every day there are more people coming through.”

Matthews said the feeling of opening the doors to her very own business was “hard to put into words”.

“It just all happened. I didn’t even imagine I would do this.

“It’s just a dream come true.”

Covid a 'silver-lining'

Tahlia Charleson’s business started in a converted sleepout and now she has her very own Pilates studio in Tauranga’s CBD.

When Pilates instructor Charleson and her husband returned from travelling overseas, she landed a job with a local physiotherapy firm.

But after falling pregnant with their second son, Charleson sought a more flexible work-life balance.

“We have a sleepout on our property that used to be an Airbnb, so we renovated it to be a Pilates studio.”

In April 2019, she opened Tahlia’s Pilates in the converted sleepout.

“Within eight months I had to close my books because I just couldn’t fit any more clients into the space.”

So off she went in search of a larger commercial space for her new studio.

During the first level 4 lockdown Charleson spotted a suitable space on Elizabeth St in Tauranga up for lease.

“I walked straight in and thought this was the space. I almost burst into tears it was such a pinch-me moment.”

Charleson signed the lease in November 2020 and opened The Pilates Fix in January.

“Covid actually is a silver lining. I have never rented a commercial space before.”

But it wasn’t long before Covid-19 presented its challenges for the new business owner.

In August when the country went into its second lockdown Charleson was forced to adapt.

“Within 24 hours we just shifted our entire business to be virtual.”

She moved from in-studio Pilates to live-streamed classes.

In level 3, Charleson said several clients had to forfeit their memberships because of financial reasons and job uncertainty.

“The last week of lockdown and the first week back felt a little grim and a little worrying.”

But the business had since had an “overwhelming” response and there had “definitely” been a lift in memberships.

“Prior to Covid, we were averaging one new person a day so 30 new clients a month. In our first week back we didn’t have a single one.

“But then in our second week back we had five and in our third week we were back up to having eight new clients.”

Charleson had also started free classes with Awhina House – which supports homeless women in Tauranga – and had some “pretty ambitious” goals for the future, including educating emerging talent.

It was important for people to continue supporting local businesses in a Covid world, she said.

“This space is my livelihood. My husband and I put everything on the line for this. It is space that’s enjoyed by so many.”

New to business? Here are some top tips

Get advice early from your accountant, lawyer and business adviser/mentor
Have a plan. Have a clear roadmap of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Don’t overcomplicate it.
Be flexible and learn to move quickly.
Don’t overthink, this could put you in stall mode.
Understand your finances – where is your money coming from, where is it going and, if you need it, where can you get it from. And don’t bank your house on your business.

Most common mistakes new business owners make

Not planning their business; having a great idea, but not sizing or scaling it; lack of understanding when it comes to their place in the market.

Not getting advisers involved early on. Having a great idea is not enough to start a business, and you can lose a lot of time, money and heart if you don’t set up your business from the start.

What makes a good small-business owner?

– Someone smart, flexible, able to be fleet of foot and move quickly – that includes realising if something is not working, to cut it loose.

– Someone who is able to ask for advice and more importantly implements it. Others have done this before, you are not the first, so use someone else’s experience to benefit your own business.

Source: Anne Pankhurst, Tauranga Chamber of Commerce

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