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What I learned in 2020: Kate Freeman

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As one of humanity’s most trying years comes to an end, we take a moment to reflect.

Canberrans have fared through devastating bushfires, suffocating smoke, destructive hail and a global pandemic in 2020. So undoubtedly, we’ve learned some things.

Today, Kate Freeman reflects on what the year was like for her as a business owner and parent.

Kate Freeman

Managing Director of The Healthy Eating Hub and HerCanberra contributor

Paint a picture of you after summer 2019/20. How were you affected by the bushfires and smoke?

Apart from feeling cooped up inside all summer with my kids and the juggling act that is also running your own business while you do this, the bushfires and smoke didn’t affect me or my loved ones personally.

A key memory I have of that time is that after Christmas we were up in northern NSW visiting family. While watching the news we saw how bad the fires and smoke was back home and stayed four extra nights.

We had to come home eventually and I remember driving into Canberra around midnight and the road was thick with smoke you could barely see, the wind was howling against the car and it was actually super scary driving back into town.

How did you fare in the great hailstorm of 2020?

My husband called me that morning, told me a hailstorm was coming and not to take the car out. Up north in Gungahlin I watched the storm come across and we got a few speckles of rain.

We had no idea that other parts of Canberra weren’t so lucky. My step-dad and brother-in-law both had their cars written off. Thankfully no one was injured.

What were your first impressions of COVID in early 2020?

When I first saw the news, I just thought it would be like SARS. That virus never affected us here in Australia and I thought the same thing would happen with COVID-19. I was very wrong!

I also find watching the news quite anxiety-provoking and try to do it as little as possible, so I was in a bit of bubble really, not really paying attention to what was going on. I had big plans for my business in 2020 and so I was head down, bum up, working hard!

One weekend in March we’d gone camping off the grid with no phones/reception. We came back to COVID cases in Australia and things starting to look pretty serious. Two weeks later we were in lockdown.

What was your first memory of being materially affected by COVID?

I shut my two dietetic clinics at the end of March, I didn’t want to risk someone catching COVID from my business.

In April we experienced a 56 percent drop in revenue and our cancellation rate doubled in two days. It was devastating.

My accountant told me to let go of everyone was on JobKeeper. That was half my team. I couldn’t do it. It broke my heart to think these people could lose their jobs.

I dropped my salary down to the JobKeeper rate so I could ensure everyone got paid and we put some of our personal savings into the business so we could keep going.

I was so scared, I thought for sure we weren’t going to make it, but I was not going to let my business die without a fight.

Even though my salary was less, somehow it didn’t actually feel like we were on less money. Things just worked. We had everything we needed. The great thing is, the investment paid off.

I’ve kept all my staff and the business is doing better than ever. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d laid off half my team. I’m so glad I didn’t.

What were the low points of 2020?

I’ve struggled with anxiety on and off the last few years and it came back with a vengeance this year. A particular low point was having my kids fight in the background of a client zoom meeting.

Over the two months of being home, there were multiple screaming matches with them while I was trying to get them to do school and keep my business alive. Trying to be mum and business owner at the same time was impossible, and yet, because it was what was being asked of me at the time, it made me feel like a complete failure.

Most of our clients are wonderful, however, people are behaving badly this year more than normal and some clients are just completely disrespectful of your business and we still have unpaid consultation fees from Telehealth consultations.

We’ve also lost thousands of dollars from late cancellations, where we can’t re-book another client in, yet I still pay my dietitians to be there. It’s definitely been tough.

What were the high points of 2020?

Seeing my team band together to keep the business alive was wonderful. While people were behaving badly around us, never once did someone on my team behave badly. They were wonderful.

I held a team appreciation day at the end of May to celebrate getting through two months of lockdown and there were so many laughs and tears, I felt so blessed to have gone through what felt like hell, with a super great group of humans!

This year I also launched a podcast which has been received so positively by my clients and followers. It’s been a dream of mine to do for a while now and 2020 has been so challenging business-wise that I’m a bit: do or die.

So, I decided to take the plunge and give it a crack. We hit #3 twice on the Australia Apple Podcast Nutrition Charts, which was pretty cool! I’m planning to bring it back bigger and better in 2021!

What’s the biggest positive change to your work or personal life that you’ll carry into the future?

I have become super-efficient in my business. The necessity of having to maximise revenue while minimising costs has forced me to look at how I was running the business and as a result, since opening back up again, we’re doing the best we’ve ever done–even before COVID-19 hit, which is very encouraging.

I certainly don’t have it perfect yet, but I’d like to think that I’ve been able to prioritise myself a little bit better. I’ve realised that if I don’t rest, look after myself, do some self-care, and manage my expectations that I will be no good to anyone, my family, my staff or my friends.

I deal with negative feedback far better. We’ve had to cop some pretty crappy customer feedback and it typically rocks me to my core and I obsess over it, constantly feeling not good enough and disappointed that I couldn’t keep them happy even when it wasn’t our fault or out of our control.

These days, I remember that 99 percent of our clients are wonderful human beings who love what we do, value us and I choose to focus my attention on looking after them. It definitely makes my stress levels a lot easier to manage when I do that.

What did you learn in 2020?

To not take anything for granted, life can change in as instant!

How are you feeling about 2021?

I am keeping my expectations low! I’ll still be making plans and setting goals, but I’m fully prepared that 2021 may have other plans!

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