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COVID-19: a time for reflection and change

For some businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but for Festival Director, it has been a time to evaluate and review; leading to some silver linings.

Above: Shane and Karolina Russell, Festival Director owners

Shane and Karolina Russell own Festival Director, an online ticketing and event management software business. Their software platform offers fully customisable ticketing and online application forms with simple website integration, allowing event managers to collect revenue directly and operate under their own brand.

The platform was originally created to manage the challenges they faced with their own events and was broadened to cater for other events and festivals.

Karolina and Shane’s personal and financial crisis began in March 2019, when the NSW government introduced the Music Festival Licence, forcing onerous and costly licencing requirements on festival and community event organisers.

“Events were cancelled across the state and although these controversial laws were scrapped in September that year, the damage was done,” Karolina said.

When the summer bushfires began, festivals and events were again cancelled, from the Blue Mountains down to Victoria.

During this period, Festival Director lost 75% of its business.

Working from their property just outside of Moruya, Karolina and Shane were also personally impacted by the bushfires. They had been on alert for weeks, with their bushfire plan at the ready and the car packed. When they were finally forced to evacuate, they worked from the boot of their car in the evacuation centre car park.

“In February 2020, I had to see a counsellor,” Karolina said. “I was overwhelmed, exhausted and couldn’t think straight. I was a wreck … February was a write-off.”

However, she had a business to run so Karolina successfully applied for the $10,000 business grant, which provided some financial relief. She is also applying for the small business Rural Assistance Authority’s bushfire working capital loan, but the onerous application processes are delaying the application.

“A loan is not ideal, but we need the money,” Karolina said. “What convinced us to go ahead is the very low interest rate, with the first two years interest free.”

When the bushfires were finally under control, Festival Director only had three clients on their books, who had been forced to postpone their events until April and May. All Festival’s other clients had cancelled their events.

Then the COVID-19 crisis began.

However, the pandemic’s effects on other business sectors provided Karolina and Shane with the opportunity to diversify their business and offer online solutions to other industries.

One of these was the Bega Valley Innovation Hub, which was struggling to transition from inhouse training and events to an online platform.

“I had completed the Innovation Hub’s iAccelerate program in November 2019,” Karolina said. “And even though we had been running our business for some time, I found the program had a lot to offer. It provided the opportunity to test out whether I was performing certain activities correctly, and if not, to upskill on these.”

When the Innovation Hub was developing its Phoenix Resolve Workshop Series, the work involved was being done manually – presenters, registrations, participant requirements were transcribed onto spreadsheets.

Festival Director built an integrated system for the Hub to manage the workshop series online, which is working well. And other local business owners approached Festival Director to help them transition to online business.

“COVID-19 has made us look at our expenditure and cash flow, which we have adjusted here and there,” Karolina said.

“It’s also given us time to work on version 2 of our platform, which we were going to launch in February, along with our new business name and brand. So that is also a bonus.

“With three new clients on board this month, all requiring assistance to transition their work into the digital environment, we are feeling a lot more positive now and very much looking forward to expanding into new markets, such as the education sector with our online forms. We are doing okay.”

Above: Festival Director ticketing and event management portal

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