My Swedish Business: ‘In March the phone just stopped ringing’

My Swedish Business: 'In March the phone just stopped ringing'
Clare Lindstrand and her husband Axel run a small island business. Photo: Private
Clare Lindstrand and her husband run a small business on the archipelago island where they are two of just seven permanent residents. So far, island life has changed surprisingly little, but they have concerns for the future.

They've been living out on Orrön, close to Nämdö in Stockholm's archipelago for seven years, after first moving for a year when Clare wanted to spend time in her husband's family cottage through all four seasons. Now, she says she couldn't return to the “real world”.

“To live out here you need to do a number of different things for work, your life is very different at different times of year. I worked as a marketing consultant before we moved and have now completely changed what I do for a living; I'm a gardener, yoga teacher, a caterer, I restore windows, and my husband is a carpenter,” explains Clare.

The couple haven't needed to apply for any business support due to the pandemic so far, and nor have they lost income to a significant extent. But they tend to book work a year in advance, and have no substantial projects arranged for the next 12 months.

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Most of the work on the island revolves around helping out either the small but aging resident population, or the temporary summer residents. Spring and summer is usually the busiest season for purely practical reasons – longer hours of daylight, and greater ease of travelling between the islands before the water starts to freeze over, as well as the jobs of preparing for guests who usually arrive each Easter and then in a steady stream from Midsummer onwards.

It was only around Midsummer when Clare says she really noticed the reality of the virus as the usual wave of guests didn't arrive.

Life on the island usually means booking work well in advance, with summer guests meeting Clare and her husband for consultations on work to be done the next year. In March, as the pandemic swept across Europe, the phone “just stopped ringing”.

“We're OK now because we have work to do that was already booked, but it depends what happens over the next year,” she says.

“Autumn and winter will be slow, but that's due to weather and living conditions here rather than the virus. I don't think that will impact us until maybe 12 months' time. I cater parties and events and they've all been cancelled – I had two weddings, a 60th birthday and a christening planned, so I've lost a bit of work but not to the extent that I'm worried.”

 

If their usual sources of work do tail off, Clare says it will be relatively easy to adapt as a small business.

“When we first arrived, we said yes to every job, we did all sorts to earn money and build up a reputation, but over the years I've adapted to the things I enjoy doing. There's lots of work if you're happy to be flexible with what you do, because it's a very small working population who live here. What the virus may mean for us is that we will have to do work that wouldn't be our first choice.”

Clare's suggestion for what the government could do to support small businesses in the long term is to expand a scheme that's already in place: tax allowances for work by tradespeople.

Sweden's so-called 'ROT & RUT' deduction allows people to get part of the cost of work like cleaning and gardening paid for by the state. Currently, deductions are available for up to 30 percent in the ROT category (repairs and construction), and 50 percent for RUT category (including household services such as cleaning).

“I think people will be terrified to spend any money for a while. These deductions are a really good way of stimulating people to spend their money again, and we use them a lot, I think this kind of allowance is what will be needed in future to keep businesses like mine going,” she says.

But she also believes the virus could bring about a change in perspectives.

“We live a very simple life in a tiny cabin, pull water from a well, grow lots of our own food, catch fish, hunt deer. That simplicity means we don't need much,” admits Clare. “Money is not very high on our list of important things so we are happy to go without. Simple is good, and coronavirus has been able to rock the world because people make extraordinary demands upon it.”

If you run a small or medium-sized business, please fill out our short survey to tell us how you've been affected by the pandemic. If you own or know of a business we should be showcasing on The Local, you can get in touch with our editorial team.


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