By Narinder Singh Nijjar, Director – Fraser Stretton
It was the 23rd March 2020 & we had just entered into the first lockdown. I was having my daily catch up with my dad on the phone while I’m driving from meeting to meeting. My dad was reassuring me that business will be fine but that the priority was for me and my team to stay safe, “don’t take any risks by going to unnecessary meetings” he said. I countered that by saying that I would be careful and if anything, he needed to ensure that he stayed at home with mum and I would ensure food shopping was delivered etc….
The next couple of days were very uncertain, we didn’t know:
If we could open our office;
How would we conduct property viewings?
What about the new starters who only joined our team one week previously?
What if people don’t pay their rent?
How will we earn commission if sales viewings are not allowed to take place?
These were just some of the questions that were swirling round our minds while we faced up to the daily government briefings, not knowing if all our hard work for our fledgling business would be in vain.
It was approx. 3.03am in the early hours of Saturday 28th March, when my phone rang and my mum spoke to tell me that my dad was struggling with his breathing and she had called the paramedics but they wouldn’t let her go with my dad to the hospital- she wanted me to speak with them to make them understand why she needed to go with him. The paramedics advised that due to Covid-19 restrictions, hospitals were out of bounds to family and friends, only patients were allowed to be taken in. My initial reaction was whether my dad had Covid? They couldn’t confirm or deny but said that he needed to be in hospital in order to help him.
The following 72 hours were possibly the longest in my life; dreading what we would be told each time we called the hospital; fielding calls from concerned family and friends but not knowing anything myself. I had to snap out of this helplessness to ensure that I could still take customer calls and conduct viewings in a safe manner.
Team members were understandably concerned about their jobs but we made sure that we constantly reassured the team that we had already factored in their salary in to our business disruption plans and that they were already accounted for in our budgets.
My world came crashing down in the early evening of 31st March when the medical professionals switched off my dads life support machine for the last time. My mum & brother were with him but I couldn’t be there due to restrictions- I can’t even express in words how not being with him made me feel. Regret, anger, sorrow and sense of not knowing how I would continue without my guide, my counsel, my inspiration, my hero.
Yet, carry on we did, we didn’t have a choice. We had a thriving, albeit, fledgling business which was continuing to grow. New members of staff were working and needing support, business partners were arranging meetings by video; we started to embrace Zoom, Teams and other platforms for the first time ever! Not a day went by where I could actually sit and mourn, business demands needed to be managed and unfortunately, we had to strip the emotion out of the situation and ensure customer demands were met.
The life of an entrepreneur can sometimes be lonely; you are following your instincts and trying to put in place new ideas to help you grow your business interests, sometimes against your better judgment and sometimes against wisdom from others.
The loneliness during this period was magnified ten fold but in a way, our businesses became our release and helped us to re-focus our energies.
I could hear the pride in my dad’s voice when we set up our businesses, I wanted to ensure that I could do his legacy proud. This became my focus, the energy and drive that I needed to ensure the business was still moving the right way but I feel subconsciously, it also became my support tool to help me with my grief.
Government support was announced, but the newest members of staff were not eligible for furlough payments. This meant that we had to dust ourselves down, keep it “business as usual” and keep moving the business forward.
The irony in all this is that we have grown our business by 260% during the pandemic. Our hard work and endeavours have borne tremendous fruit. Our team has grown from being four members to now a team of eight, with further recruitment in the pipeline.
For me personally, it breaks me every day as I digest our success, that our biggest supporter, ambassador and well wisher is not here to see it… I do hope he is looking down and seeing how he keeps on inspiring us day in day out to raise the bar… in his words, “you will go far my son”.
Narinder Singh Nijjar – Director