Jan Baker, founder of AromaOils, talks about the challenges of starting a business during the pandemic and why contacting Superfast Business Wales is one of the best decisions she’s made.
You started your aromatherapy business in October 2020 during COVID. What made you decide to go ahead?
Starting a close-contact business during a pandemic was probably the stupidest (and bravest) thing I've done yet! I’ve got to say though, it was my family that gave me the push to do it, they’ve been behind me 100%.
My background is in teaching. I previously worked as a languages teacher, commuting back and forth between Caerphilly and Wiltshire, coming home on a Friday, and then going back to Wiltshire on a Monday. It was starting to take a toll and by 2016, I’d had enough and moved back home to Caerphilly permanently. I did a bit of supply teaching, but I wasn’t particularly enjoying it and gave up teaching for good in 2019.
I’d always had an interest in aromatherapy and had been treating friends and family, including my husband when he had an accident. It started out as a hobby, but it then snowballed, and my family suggested (or rather nagged me!) to consider doing it as a career.
Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and go for it. So I did! I completed a Professional Diploma in clinical aromatherapy, and I’m proud to say that I’m currently the only clinical aromatherapist in Caerphilly County Borough who is qualified to receive GP referrals.
How has the business been affected by COVID?
The AromaOils clinic opened its doors on 12th October 2020. However just one week later, we were forced to close during the ‘firebreak’ period between 17th October – 9th November. We were only back open a short while before having to close again when Wales went into another lockdown on 20th December which was a huge blow. We were able to reopen on 12th April but unfortunately, the clinic has been shut longer than it’s been open, which has made it harder to build up momentum with customer visits.
Lockdown meant I had to pivot the business and move it online, much earlier than had been written into the business plan. But with the clinic shut, I was unable to carry out any close-contact sessions such as massage, or consultations in person.
Doing nothing wasn’t an option because the business would have gone under, so I had to look at what I could do, and I decided to try and sell my oil blends and aromatherapy products online and carry out online consultations.
I was lucky enough to be eligible for a grant from Caerphilly Council, which I used to order in some stock, and this did stabilise things by getting some cash in the bank.
The next challenge was actually setting up an online shop and telling people I was open for business but on an online basis. I had some business background from teaching NVQ in business but had no experience or knowledge of setting up a website or digital marketing.
I had to find a platform I could use quickly and easily, and I chose Wix as it has templates already set up. So, when we went into the ‘firebreak’ I used the time to create the website. It was done in a hurry and it wasn’t ideal as I’d never designed a website before. I knew I needed some external help with marketing and making sure my site was fit for purpose, so I turned to the internet and found Superfast Business Wales on a Google search for online marketing tips and general troubleshooting.
What help did you receive from Superfast Business Wales and how has it benefited the business?
I saw free marketing webinars advertised on the website and immediately signed up - and I haven’t looked back since! The webinar was really helpful, but it was the support from Leon my business adviser, following the webinar that really stands out for me. It helped me put into action everything I learnt on the webinar and was so tailored to my particular needs. Leon helped me get organised by giving me priorities (I love a list!) of everything I needed to do to improve my online presence and work on for the future.
I am reasonably tech-savvy but there were lots of things Leon pointed me towards – back-links and meta-descriptions on my website for example – that I’d never even considered. I had no idea there were so many digital tricks to be exploited that could improve my search rankings and make the business more visible online, such as claiming my Google listing and linking it to my social media and website. Leon was so informative and helpful. He produced a business action plan for me full of recommendations which I’m working my way through – I still have lots to do! – and he did a thorough review of my website. I was seriously chuffed when the report came back, and I’d made no major mess-ups!
Thanks to Leon I feel so much more confident in using digital, he’s been like a mentor. Going online meant I was able to keep providing a valuable service when the clinic was shut, doing confidential consultations over Zoom, and selling products via my website. I’ve been using Facebook to spark interest and my posts are reaching 11,000 people on average and this is helping generate sales. I’ve even shipped products out to Spain!
Now we’re back open, I’m going to continue running the online shop alongside the clinic. Being online will help me reach more customers. I’m hoping that if it gets busy enough, I can employ someone in the local area to run the ecommerce side of the business for me.
People really need this service, there’s no one else doing this in the area. Aromatherapy can be so beneficial for improving mental wellbeing, not just physical. There’s an ongoing UK Mental Health Foundation study which has found many people are suffering mental health issues brought on by COVID-19.
In fact my calming care blend for anxiety is the one I make up most. Since Christmas I’ve been treating approximately 30 people for stress-related conditions and I expect this number to grow, especially when I start receiving GP referrals.
What advice would you give to other business owners who are looking for a bit of extra help?
There’s no point being reactive, you have to be proactive and take advantage of the support that’s out there. I’ve always taken on board any bit of advice I can get. And I’ve been really impressed with Superfast Business Wales, both the webinars and the one-to-one advice have been so helpful, and it’s free! Leon has been fab; he’s given me reassurance that what I’m doing is right as well as a roadmap for the future. And I know if I get really stuck, I can go back to him for advice.
Sometimes, it’s the little things. For example, when the clinic was closed, I didn’t want to pay for internet line rental, so I used a mobile router. I was having connection issues with the router and couldn’t access the internet. I mentioned it to Leon, and he sent me instructions on how to fix it. I can now connect my laptop to my mobile router and work from my premises. It’s saved me heaps of time and means I don’t have to keep running back home to work – and when you’ve got a house full, it’s not easy to get work done!
All in all, I’d say contacting Superfast Business Wales was one of the best things I’ve done. I’m so grateful to Leon for his advice and support. I never really had the chance to develop any of my clinic business when I opened because we went straight into lockdown, so it will definitely feel like starting from scratch again. There’s no denying it’s been hard. But I’ve now got the digital tools and know-how to help me, and this really takes the pressure off in terms of juggling the clinic with the online business and gives me confidence for the future.