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BSME quarantine

Our 2020 rollercoaster: an exporter’s journey through a pandemic, lockdowns and working from home

15th March 2021

Back in January 2020, I would have said that m2r Education is ‘an international recruitment company’ and that was all. How things can change in 12 months.

Change on the horizon

In February we set off for Abu Dhabi, ready for BSME conference, our second event of the year. This is when events took a turn for the bizarre.

On the first morning of my stay, upon deciding to enjoy a bit of winter sun, pre-conference, it became very clear that leaving the hotel was not going to be possible. In the hotel there was an Italian cycling team and they had tested positive for something called coronavirus.

All I knew was that it meant I was confined to my hotel room, conference cancelled and the British Embassy ringing me to enquire whether I needed assistance. After 5 days of monotony, I was allowed to leave and hot-footed back home on the first available flight, still not realising the enormity of what had just happened.

Locking Down

March came and so did the announcement on the 23rd that we had to work from home. I had never really worked from home before so this was somewhat of a shock. Not just for me, but for the family and the poor dining room.

More worryingly, we quickly realised that our entire business was now at risk as no one was flying anywhere. So overnight, our revenue stream and pipeline disappeared. Very scary times indeed.

We had one client who operated in the online teaching space. One. That was it. So, it was all eggs-in-one-basket time. They informed us that they could take as many online (work from home) teachers as we could supply, and they would provide full training. In one month, we went from supplying 150 applicants to 1500. We were onto something here.

A huge new business drive ensued, contacting every single online teaching company on the planet and offering our services. In a newly saturated market this was not easy.

March was also the month where we achieved our first accolade of 2020. In times of adversity, it was great to be recognised for our efforts by the Department for International Trade as we received the title of ‘Export Champions’ for the second year running. A proud moment.

As April appeared, I knew that employee wellbeing and positive mental health were paramount, so I ran a national wellbeing campaign. The online English teaching contracts were now beginning to grow and by May we started to look at more partnerships and how we could enhance our service offering.

By summer we had found our feet in the new business normal.

The New Normal

As summer arrived my dining room was getting rather stuffy. It was also getting rather boring too. Winning a national competition with the Daily Mail certainly helped though! Our branding was now in front of around 15 million people, across the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Mail Online, Metro and The i. It was brilliant to see our logo in a national newspaper and certainly gave me and the team a huge boost.

The new business drive was still going at full pace and by the end of June I had personally contacted and spoken to over 50 Commercial Officers in British Embassies across the globe, promoting our services and building our global network.

Due to all the hard work, business development, numerous Zoom and Teams calls, we had successfully won new recruitment business in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Schools and language centres were crying out for staff, the challenge, of course, was to supply. Our newly formed online English division was growing steadily too and generally the mood was more optimistic.

Through the summer and autumn, we won another national competition for helping UK nationals secure working from home jobs and we launched another brand-new service and launched a second online tutoring service.

As we entered October, optimism for international travel had still not returned and although applications were increasing, they were way down on the previous year. So, we could not afford to take the foot off the pedal. Therefore, I successfully formed a new partnership with USD $100m Middle Eastern ed-tech company, Bahwan Cybertek, to grow our new online services.

December arrived and everyone was wondering what Christmas and ultimately 2021 would bring. For us, it was a very busy month but also a time for reflection.

Light at the end of the tunnel

In 12 months, we had gone from staring down the barrel to helping over 500 UK nationals secure online teaching jobs, launching 3 brand new online learning services and receiving local, national and international praise along the way. 2020 felt like it lasted 10 years and 10 minutes all at the same time.

Hopefully all this hard work will make us a far stronger proposition when the world returns to normality.

So now, when people ask what we do, our company introduction has changed. We are not ‘an international recruitment company’ anymore. We now offer ‘bespoke services to the international education sector’.

Now into our 20th year in business, 2020 will certainly be one to remember.

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