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‘I didn’t want to go back to my old lifestyle’: three entrepreneurs on why they struck out on their own | The unstoppables

Mika Johnson.

When husbands Mika Johnson and Dan Hardman were put on furlough, they re-evaluated their priorities and launched their own coffee shop

Starting one business during a pandemic is hard. Starting two seems inconceivable. Yet that’s what Mika Johnson and Dan Hardman did, first creating an online baking business from home and then setting up a coffee shop in Macclesfield, where they have lived for the past eight years. “It just felt like the right moment to do it,” says Johnson.

Both the bakery and coffee shop came into existence because of the pandemic. When the country was plunged into lockdown in 2020, the couple, who both worked in hospitality, were placed on furlough – and Hardman was later made redundant.

Like almost everyone else, he spent lockdown baking and sharing pictures of the results on social media. “People were asking me: ‘When are you going to start selling them?’” Spurred on by the positive response, Hardman spent the month after his redundancy planning, before deciding to pursue his passion with the launch of his own online baking business.

Johnson, meanwhile, went back to his job as the manager of a local pub when Covid restrictions were loosened. It was a tough readjustment. “I stopped drinking in October 2019 and over lockdown I realised that I didn’t want to be around alcohol or people drinking in that way any more,” he says. “I knew that I didn’t want to go back to my old lifestyle.”

Opportunity for change arose when the pair heard that a local baker was looking for someone to start selling coffee alongside his market stall. “I really wanted to do it,” Johnson recalls, “so I talked to a local coffee roaster, Kickback Coffee. They loaned us a coffee machine, gazebo and a stand.”

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Hardman and Johnson called their new business Yas Bean, a play on drag queen slang that conveyed a sense of fun and queerness. Within a few weeks, they had started selling coffee – and Hardman’s bakes – in a mini outdoor market. “We were in deepest lockdown in December and January. It became a focus for so many people in town,” says Johnson. “So much so that we would have queues.”

As restrictions began to ease, however, they realised that they would need to expand. “Selling coffee from a gazebo in winter in the pouring rain wasn’t easy,” says Johnson.

Quickly signing a lease on a permanent space, they worked with Millie Humphries, a local interior designer from Back to the Future Interiors, to create an aesthetically enticing and chic space. “I knew that our products were good,” says Johnson, “but … people are also looking for somewhere that looks cool, too.”

Quote from Mika Johnson: "Don't get me wrong - selling coffee from a gazebo in the pouring rain wasn't easy"

Once the coffee shop was decorated, Johnson began a push to get the word out.
He started a Google Business Profile for Yas Bean, uploading key information and some inviting shots of the cafe’s retro pink and teal decor. “It was easy to get to grips with, it’s very user-friendly. From the business end it helps you step by step, whether that’s allowing you to post your opening times, your menu or your photos, it’s pretty straightforward. So you can now search for us and it looks legit. Also, having the images there makes people want to engage with us,” he says. “We’ve had the shop for under two months and we’ve already had so many reviews on Google, which is fantastic.”

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Johnson can’t stress how important it’s been for Yas Bean’s growth to have a digital presence through social media accounts and a Google Business Profile. “Word of mouth for our produce is great, but, visually, people really grab on to our colours and interiors,” he says about sharing pictures online. “You might have a good product, but that only goes so far. But if you can share a really cool interior or a cool coffee cup, it spreads so much further.”

Hardman and Johnson have already had young LGBTQ+ people come into the cafe. Reflecting on what this means to him, Johnson says: “So much of queer life revolves around clubbing and drinking. Part of the next step is that I would love to run some queer sober events.” They’ve also started selling locally made arts and crafts, something they hope to do on their website, too.

More than anything, though, they are just glad that their lockdown gamble paid off. “We always wanted to do something together,” says Hardman. “Now that we’re doing this, it’s the dream.”

To discover more, visit yasbean.co.uk

‘Women are not being provided for or understood’: the startup helping to tackle health inequality

Emilie Lavinia.

Determined to address the biases in healthcare, Emilie Lavinia started her own wellness business

Emilie Lavinia set up EKHO Wellbeing to help address inequalities in healthcare for women. In a paper published by Europe PMC, it was found that critically ill women older than 50 are less likely to receive life-saving interventions than men of the same age. EKHO Wellbeing’s website delivers health resources that focus on reproductive, hormonal and sexual wellbeing to help empower women to advocate for themselves, while also working with corporations to ensure that health inequalities are a thing of the past. Here, Lavinia explains how using Google Digital Garage tools have helped her build her business’s visibility online.

What is EKHO all about?
The idea was to create an educational platform for women who felt like they had gaps in their knowledge about intimate health issues – members can access the content for a monthly or yearly fee. Women are consistently in a position where they’re on the back foot in terms of healthcare discrimination. That’s even worse for women of colour or trans women. That’s why we decided to also look at the systems and processes that allow health discrimination to occur, such as workplaces. That inspired us to go in and teach C-suite executives how to advocate for their staff.

What gave you the idea?
I’ve had my own experience of health discrimination. But as an able-bodied white woman, I was thinking about what I had been through and what it must be like for black women or women who don’t have any education about their bodies. Then you look at things such as menopause campaigns, maternity and postpartum leave, and you realise that women are really not being provided for or understood.

Quote: "Reaching a larger audience and making ourselves visible was a challenge."
Emilie Lavinia

What hurdles did you face developing the product?
It was quite difficult to know how accessible the videos we made should be, whether we should be doing audio bites and offer language options. When it comes to women discovering and interacting with us online, we only really had the website and our private social group to grow the community. Reaching a larger audience and making ourselves visible was a challenge.

How has this been addressed?
I’ve attended Google Digital Garage training on how to build a business online, how to be visible and how understanding SEO is so essential for a content-based company, as is understanding how to reach niche communities with short, sharp Google Ads. It’s been really, really useful for us; Google even tells us what images we should be using.

What has the response been like from EKHO users?
We check in with our users to make sure they’re happy and that everything works. As a result, we’ve changed the product here and there, which is great because it’s all learning for us. Mainly it’s just been women saying: “Wow, I didn’t realise how little I knew.”

How would you like to see EKHO grow?
We’re hoping we can continue to create these courses, so we end up with a library that is accessible and affordable. We also want to partner up with other like-minded organisations and grow beyond the UK so we can enact change on a global scale. That also depends on our partnerships and on how many people get behind the idea. I think we’re on the right track.

To learn more about EKHO, visit ekhowellbeing.com

Discover the tools, training and support Google provides to help businesses across Britain grow at g.co/growbritain