How to start a business in lockdown: Haydon, Founder of Geologize
How to run a business in lockdown is our series about how small business owners are leading their companies through the coronavirus crisis. In this post, we meet Tide member Haydon Mort who started his business during lockdown. To share your story, message us: email@example.com, Facebook or Twitter.
Nearly 1,300 Tide members are self-employed teachers, trainers, tutors or consultants in education or science. During the coronavirus confinement, many of them have had to change how they work.
We asked Haydon about his brand new limited company, how and why he started his business during lockdown, and his plans for the future.
- Meet Haydon and Geologize
- Why did you set up your company now?
- How did you spot the need for your business?
- How did you test your business idea?
- Did you have a business plan or did you jump straight in?
- How is your business affected by the lockdown?
- Will you get any coronavirus support from the Government?
- What’s next for Geologize?
Meet Haydon and Geologize
Haydon is a geoscientist on a mission: to help people connect with the world we live in and to help other geoscientists communicate more effectively about their work.
As a child, Haydon was always interested in science and nature, fascinated by the way the world acted like a system. He recalls being stunned aged 16 when he saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. Haydon also enjoyed acting and playing the piano and guitar, skills which laid the foundations for his later career as a presenter and trainer.
After studying Geology and Earth Sciences, and then completing a PhD, Haydon has honed his craft as a science communicator over 15 years of research and teaching. How did he know this should be his lifetime vocation?
“Communicating science to the public feels natural and a total pleasure. I started Geologize as an online social media platform in 2017. I could be up all night making content and barely get tired, I was enjoying it so much.
“They say that when it doesn’t feel like work, you’re doing the right thing. That’s how I knew this was something I wanted to do, and ideally as my own business. I started to feel more confident about that when I saw real demand from people wanting to tap into my experience and expertise.”
Why did you set up your company now?
Haydon bubbles with enthusiasm for communicating about geology, geography and ecology so why hadn’t he started his own company sooner? Many business owners will identify with the reason: life got in the way.
Haydon was occupied with his young family and his work as a researcher and teacher. Then, just as the UK went into the coronavirus lockdown, he was made redundant and that was the push he needed to take the leap into running his own business.
Before setting up his limited company, Haydon was Head of Geography at an independent school. When the school closed as part of the Government’s measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, parents were reluctant to pay the school fees. Haydon’s employer went into administration and laid off the staff.
“It was difficult but I knew this would give me the opportunity to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
“I’d just never got around to starting a company. Then I saw a message from Tide saying they could open a free business bank account and open my limited company in five minutes – also for free. I thought it was too good to be true but that’s exactly what happened.
“It was amazingly straightforward to do. By the end of the same day, I’d received a PDF letter from Companies House with a certificate of incorporation. I now owned a company! I felt much more confident to take things forward.”
How did you spot the need for your business?
After sitting through hundreds of talks by scientists at public and academic events around the world, Haydon realised he needed to help:
“Scientists are notoriously bad at communicating with non-scientists. My area, the geosciences, has a particular issue because there are many important hot topics that we need to talk about. Climate change, managing water resources, mining, producing energy and more. But when scientists try to engage the public about these subjects, often they fail.
“With something like climate change, scientists have a big challenge to communicate their findings and opinions with the public in ways they can understand. Yet science communication is rarely taught to scientists. That’s where my company steps in.”
As an accomplished teacher, Haydon was already explaining the Earth, its processes and our effect on the planet to his own students. He realised he could reach a wider audience by teaching other geoscientists how to better communicate with the public.
How did you test your business idea?
Haydon validated the idea for Geologize in 2017 when he was working in Brazil. He organised a geo-sciences communications course which attracted people from all over Brazil. Haydon had industry support too, with five sponsors paying for the event and the attendance fees.
“The course was an experiment – I believe it was a ‘world first’ – and it turned out to be a great success.”
Life got in the way over the next two years but Haydon was able to offer the course again in 2019. He was overwhelmed with the response and had to find a larger venue and in the end, the event took place in two cities.
“I’ve had great feedback from scientists and the public. There’s a real thirst for inspiring, clear and effective communication. That’s how I knew that my business would work.”
Did you have a business plan or did you jump straight in?
Anyone can set up as a sole trader or start a limited company without a business plan. But Haydon found that even if your idea is clear in your head, it can be helpful to get it down in writing:
“As soon as I (well Tide actually) set up my limited company, I wrote a business plan because I now have a legal entity to take care of. Before that, I was mostly just concerned with how many followers I had and if my engagement was high enough.
“To grow my business, I’ll probably need finance in the near future so a written plan is important to show lenders that I have a long-term vision for Geologize. I know a lender will need to believe in my business as much as I do.”
How is your business affected by the lockdown?
Haydon started his own company in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, adding extra challenges to growing his business:
“Social distancing measures might be in place for a long time. This will affect whether and how I organise in-person courses. Instead I’m creating professional quality online course content on sites such as Thinkific.”
“Added to this, both my young children are at home so producing content quickly is proving a challenge. I teach people about the Earth’s finite resources but at the moment, the most scarce and precious resource in my own life is time!”
Will you get any coronavirus support from the Government?
Because Haydon went freelance during lockdown, he doesn’t qualify for the Self Employed Income Support Scheme and because the company has no property, it isn’t eligible for a coronavirus grant from the Government.
After being made redundant, Haydon asked for advice at his local Job Centre and discovered he’ll probably qualify for the National Enterprise Allowance,
“I hope I’ll be able to get this allowance so I can focus on starting my business rather than having to find work immediately.”
What’s next for Geologize?
So far, Geologize’s main business activity has been in-person courses. Haydon’s had enquiries from British universities interested in hosting his courses after the lockdown but this isn’t all Haydon wants to do:
“I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I want to offer. In-person courses are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m working on online courses, exclusive Instagram groups, ebooks and more. I’m now based in the UK and I haven’t yet tapped into the market in this country.”
Haydon is looking into giving more public talks (after lockdown, of course) to inspire children and adults to see the world differently. He’s also writing a book about the surprising ways that geology affects our everyday lives.
At Tide, we agree that complicated topics can be explained clearly. That’s why we’re making business finances and admin simple so small business owners can spend more time doing what they love. We’re proud to serve Haydon and wish him and Geologize every success for the future.
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Main photo shows Dr Haydon Mort filming with Prof Iain Stewart
All photos courtesy of Haydon Mort