Small Business Survival: How this Caerphilly Start Up is Conquering COVID & Cancer

Anyone will tell you that running a small business presents many challenges. But nothing can prepare you for the challenge of running a small business in the midst of a global health pandemic, alongside Brexit.

A new survey from business insurance firm ‘Simply Business’ has found that COVID-19 could see two-fifths of UK small and medium-sized businesses close permanently and could cost the UK SME sector as a whole more than £69 billion.

Jo Riley runs CancerPal, a small business based in Caerphilly. CancerPal is an online hub that supports the family and friends of those going through cancer which Jo set up in 2019 having supported her Mum through a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Product deliveries, shipping delays and a Global packaging shortage have made the day to day running of CancerPal more challenging than usual and Jo explains some of the recent issues her small business has faced.

“Although CancerPal is an online platform, our Head Office is in Caerphilly. We have a shared office space in a Welsh Government co-working space, Welsh Ice, but COVID-19 has made this difficult. Because it’s not our own office, every time we’ve gone into lockdown the office has closed and I’ve had to work from home. I’ve just taken on my first employee (super exciting) but we haven’t been able to meet in person – we’re having to do everything via zoom which just makes things slightly more complicated.”

CancerPal’s first year, 2019, was spent putting the foundations in place and building networks etc. The plan for 2020 was to develop relationships with cancer hospitals, treatment centres and support groups, but Coronavirus put a stop to that. “We can’t currently get into hospitals, and most hospitals are no longer allowing family and friends to attend appointments anyway, so we’ve had to seriously rethink the ways in which we spread the word about CancerPal. We’ve also had to put in place some really strict coronavirus protocols, because the majority of our customers have a compromised immune system.”

CancerPal stocks a number of products that can help ease the side effects of cancer treatments. We knew Brexit was coming, so made sure that we stocked up on any of the products that we imported in from Europe. What we didn’t anticipate was that there would be such a knock-on effect from the products coming in from the USA. At one point the whole of the UK supply of Udderly Smooth Cream (a moisturising cream that we sell a lot of to cancer patients to help them combat dry skin) was sitting in the docks for 3 weeks waiting to be released from quarantine.

Our latest challenge is around the supply of our cardboard packaging boxes which are in short supply as more and more people turn to online shopping. Plans have been amended and Jo has made many adaptations to keep CancerPal running successfully. “We’ve had to become much more creative and it seems to be working. I’m confident that CancerPal will survive, because I’ve worked too hard to let it fail. But I’m not going to lie, it’s been incredibly hard and it’s certainly not an experience that I want to repeat – ever!”

If you want to find out more about CancerPal, as well as supporting a small, local business please visit www.cancerpal.co.uk