How To Grow A Small Business In A Pandemic

Do you have a small business idea, but don’t know exactly where to start? Portmanteau LDN is a small business based in London that was set up by our founder during the heights of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, we, the Portmanteau LDN team, are well on our way to producing our first ever magazine issue, and have been steadily building an online following.


This post contains all the advice that you would need to know to start growing your small business in the current climate, and who Portmanteau LDN is as a business. During Portmanteau’s Instagram Live session, we talked about our experiences starting a small business on a small budget, how to best market a small business within digital spaces, and how to grow support within the small business communities online.


In this conversation:


R: Ruby Walker - Founder and Editor-in-Chief (@rubylizonwalker)

S: Shona Henderson - Marketing and Communications (@_shonahenderson)

M: Manon Wright - Illustrator for Issue 1 (@_ManonWright_)



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R: I’m Ruby. Essentially I started this project off the back of my publishing master’s degree and before that I had done a creative writing degree, so I’m already very invested in being part of the industry. It was a passion project that I wanted to create a space where the authors and the publishers and everyone involved can be paid fairly because that is quite an issue in the publishing industry. I’m sure we will have time to go into that later.


R: Shona, do you want to introduce yourself?


S: Hello everyone, I’m Shona. I work at Portmanteau doing the marketing and communications. That’s basically my role, so if you see us tweet on Twitter and on the other platforms apart from

Instagram that is probably me. So, say hi over there if you see us.


R: So, I’ve already gone over my role at the company, but just to go back over what Portmanteau is. It is a literary magazine. As a business we have big plans for it so we are hoping that it will turn into a publishing house of its own. We’ve got big plans but we are starting as reasonably small. We’ve launched ourselves head first. We have plans for expansion. Issue 1 is coming out early April, and the three of us have been working very hard to get it published then.


R: Our next talking point is about managing a small business when you’re just out of university, and you’re with a small team on a very small budget. We probably don’t have much insight on how you would do that in a normal world at all.


M: Yes! We are just kind of winging it.


S: Honestly, it’s a trial and error basis for sure!


R: Definitely. So, Shona, do you want to shine some insight on how it has been marketing using all digital tools, getting a project from zero to one-hundred only online?


S: I mean to be honest it hasn’t really changed for me. I guess it has changed for the better during the pandemic because I feel like more people are actually online and using digital spaces. I come from a background where I’ve pretty much exclusively done digital marketing, so I don’t really know much different. I guess the way to build an audience during this pandemic, and going from zero to one-hundred, is just setting up your brand online, and just communicating. You just have to insert yourself into situations and go, “I’m here. I do this. I do that. Please come and chat with me, or come follow me, see what we are up to.” The trick is to start following a load of people and hope that they go on to your profile and go, “I like the look of what these people are doing.” So, you definitely have to have good content on your pages so that when the people do eventually find you, they enjoy what you’re doing and want to see more. You can’t be nervous to follow or chat to people online who are maybe bigger influencers than you are as well. I think you just have to get over that barrier, and be open to all interactions, and engage with everyone.


R: I think you’ve done a really good job of that. Thank you for the compliment about the website. Shona and I worked quite hard on that one. I think we were going to about eleven o’clock at night on facetime, adding content. You are absolutely right, it’s all about building that community and building it quickly so that you’ve got that foundation of support, so that no matter what you’re posting you got that little group of people who you know are going to help you spread and share things. You’ve done an amazing job of that, honestly. I was struggling before you came on board! So, thank you so much!


S: I mean, it helps to be there all the time. As I said before, I live on Twitter; it’s my life. I’m just always there, reading tweets, liking tweets, retweeting. So, if you can do that on the Portmanteau account, you are a presence that is always there that anyone can reach you. If you are always there to engage then that is honestly half of it. To always feel like you are a presence there is just done by being on Twitter.


R: I think that probably good advice for anyone starting out just off the back of university and wanting to go into something on their own. First of all, it is a big jump, and you’re going from zero to one-hundred, so you’ve got to put your all into it by being really accessible. I think that’s what people love about small businesses. Okay it’s fine if you’ve got a magazine like Vogue, but you wouldn’t think, I can go to them. I can interact with them and ask them for advice. Whereas, when you’ve got a small business with a team of three on a first issue, you know that when you’re posting that comment or liking that post, that person is seeing it directly. Essentially, if you don’t have any connections within the industry, you can get in touch with Portmanteau and you have one, two, three people because we see everything. As creepy as that sounds!


S: We are always here.


M: We are all connected to the Instagram.


S: We are always watching.


R: Exactly. We’ve met some really lovely smaller businesses as well. For our PR, I’ve just been communicating with a lovely small flower business based in Leeds. So, it’s really important to build that small community straight away. We’ve got a lot of book bloggers who follow us here [on Instagram] and illustrators, and I think that if we can say anything about making a small business, making community, is to reach out to people. They are in the same boat as you. They want to make connections just as much as you do.


S: I’ve definitely felt that on Twitter as well. It’s very interesting to see the different audiences across the different social media channels. As Ruby just said, on Instagram it’s mainly book bloggers. But, on Twitter it’s mainly writers and small magazines. So, it’s very different who you are interacting with, and I can say for the Twitter that you just have to communicate within that small community. Everyone is so supportive. We all started out from the same place. Whether you’ve got a few hundred followers, or a few thousand followers, everyone just wants to lift each other up, and everyone can see the amazing work everyone is putting out there. So, it’s definitely worth being in contact with your small community, or the immediate community that you’re trying to put your business out into.


R: Yes, definitely. I think, if you’ve got heart, people can see it. That’s one of the main things I would say.


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If you have enjoyed reading the Portmanteau Team’s perspectives on growing within the small business community online, you can follow us across our social media channels. We are @portmanteauldn on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, and Pinterest (except on Facebook where we are @PTMN.TEAU). If you have a small business, or have more questions about how to set-up a small business, come across to our social media channels and say hello!


We will be posting more insights from our Portmanteau Instagram Live session, so watch out for that. If you are looking towards graduation this year, then we have advice about how to navigate being a graduate in a pandemic. Also, if you’re wondering if a publishing degree is for you, advice on this will be published in an up-coming post. Stay tuned!


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