IF the pandemic has underscored one thing for a Cork businesswoman, it’s how much she values her staff.
With remote working becoming the norm during a very abnormal time, WeddingDates.ie founder Ciara Crossan told The Echo how uplifting it has been to see her team adapt so well to the changed circumstances over the past year.
“I think a lot of employers, in the past, would have been afraid about people working from home.
“There would have been a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty around it, but my experience is productivity has not decreased, it has increased.
“I feel like my team has never worked harder than they are now from home and it’s just been really heart-warming to see people’s commitment and to see my staff row in behind me when they knew it was a really challenging time for the business and a really challenging time for me personally as the business leader,” she said.
“We’ve had to adapt a lot, but we’ve learned some really good lessons and I do think there’s some really positive things we’ll take from this Covid period in terms of efficiencies about the way we work and the way that we can have employees based anywhere working from home.
“It’s been a game-changer for a lot of people and we know now it can be done really effectively.”
Seeing a gap in the market, Ms Crossan launched WeddingDates.ie over a decade ago and her venture has grown exponentially ever since.
“It basically allows couples planning their wedding to find their perfect venue and perfect wedding suppliers on the date that they’re looking to get married, so it’s all about the date.
“I started it 13 years ago this year. It was before social media had really taken off, there was no such thing as Instagram or Pinterest or TikTok or any of that back then. Planning a wedding was still a very traditional, manual process.
“I just saw a gap in the market for an online place where you could actually find hotels and venues for your wedding and check date availability,” she explained.
Whilst the last 13 years have been marked by some incredible highs, Ms Crossan said the past year has been a real challenge.
“Our service is free for couples to use. For us, we generate revenue from the hotels and the venues and the suppliers that are using our system and generating business through it.
“So, with hospitality closed and weddings not taking place, it put all of our customers in a really bad position.
“Obviously for hotels, if their doors were closed, they weren’t making money and then as a result they were looking to save costs on their side. So it’s been a real challenge.
“One thing that we’ve done is to really just reach out to our clients and try to support them as best we can — with things like webinars and we’ve produced two industry reports in this time where we surveyed couples and wrote up the findings into 25-page reports.
“We did one in June, just after Covid hit and we did another in January, really just trying to help our customers get into the minds of what’s going on with couples at the moment and just doing what we can to support the industry during this really difficult period.”
One channel of support which has been invaluable to Ms Crossan, particularly during these challenging times, has been Network Ireland.
She joined the Cork branch after moving home to Ireland about seven years ago.
“We expanded to the UK around 10 years ago.
“So, for a good chunk of time, I was living in the UK, I was doing a lot of networking over there trying to grow the business there and then I moved home just before I had my twin boys — they’re seven now.
“I found that I felt a little bit disconnected because I had been away for a while. I just wanted to connect with a tribe of like-minded individuals.
“It was really important to me to have some business friends and that’s what I really found in Network Cork.
“I’ve made really good business friends and of course that leaks into friends’ friends — we’ve had a few boozy zooms on Friday nights,” Ms Crossan laughed.
“There were stages of the pandemic where we were nearly counselling each other through it.
“It’s been really important, especially when times are tough like now.”
In 2019, Ms Crossan not only won the Large Business category at the Network Ireland Cork Businesswoman of the Year Awards, she also won the overall Cork Businesswoman of the Year 2019 Award.
“It just absolutely blew me away to win one award, but then to win the Overall Businesswoman of the Year in Cork it was just phenomenal. I was on a high for probably a month after,” she laughed.
“Something like an award is great validation.
“A lot of us can really get stuck in the day-to-day.
“It’s really nice when you can get some recognition from a group that you really admire and value and the judging process with Network Cork is really rigorous.
“They have judges who aren’t in Network Cork.
“That was really important to me — that it’s not just a popularity contest,” she said.
“It can be a lonely road to be in business.
“It is really great recognition and validation when you do win something like that and it gave the business a boost and it gave me a real personal boost — it was really meaningful.”
The closing date to apply for the Network Ireland Businesswoman of the Year Awards is Friday, April 16 at 5pm.
To find out more, visit www.networkireland.ie or email firstname.lastname@example.org