What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

It’s an old saying, and whilst I am not convinced it is totally true, it is a good way to consider the current situation.

As I have watched the way businesses are handling the restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, they seem to fall into two categories:

  1. Those that look short term “we need to cope until things get to normal”
  2. Those who look long term “Things have changed, how do we adapt to the new environment”

As you might have gathered from the title, I would advocate the latter of these strategies. The crazy thing is that both strategies require significant adaption in the short term, but only the latter will deliver benefits in the long term.

To illustrate my point, I would like to use the example of two restaurants in my local town, who have taken very different approaches to business in the pandemic.

Just hang on in until it is all over

The first, shut during the first lockdown, taking the time to put in place procedures to open as a restaurant with reduced capacity as soon as they were able. This they then did, and by all accounts had a good summer as things opened up.  Though I would expect that margins were down due to increased costs and reduced capacity.

Come the second lockdown, they were back to square one. This time they chose to do takeaway, but very much in a way that suggested it was not a long term plan (First come first served, no advanced ordering, take the phone off the hook when they get busy). The impression was that their attitude was. “It is just a few weeks, then we can open as a restaurant again.”

Well, the end of the lockdown came, but restrictions meant that they still could not open. ….even now, the struggle goes on.

Adapt and evolve

Contrast this with the second restaurant. They took a very different approach right from the start.

In March 2020 when they shut their doors, they immediately set up a takeaway system. They posted their menu on a Tuesday. Then took bookings for delivery slots over the weekend. Whilst I would suggest they should look further than Facebook for their marketing, this was a simple solution that worked, and could be adapted further and developed as time went on.

Through the summer, they decided not to make the changes needed to reopen the restaurant, opting instead to continue the takeaway model. As a result, The second lockdown, and the tier restrictions didn’t really impact them too much. They have continued with this model as a platform until they can open again fully, hopefully in the very near future.

Even as the pandemic finally looks like it is coming under control, they have developed a takeaway model that they use to extend the reach of their business into a wider, and more diverse market.

I am sure that for both of these businesses the pandemic has been hard work and stressful. But for the first, the best-case scenario is that they survive. For the second, I think survival should not be an issue. And as the restrictions are lifted, they have evolved and are well placed to go forward strongly.

These are just 2 examples, but have seen many more where businesses taking the second approach:

  • Retailers who have invested in digital focusing on their online offering
  • Conference organisers who have shifted events to high-quality webinars

The list goes on. For these, there is no going back to “normal”. They have moved on, and hopefully, their businesses will be stronger for it.

Embrace change. Make things better

There’s nothing like a refreshing change.

A change is as good as a rest.

We’ve all experienced change this year though I reckon few would relate the change imposed by the pandemic as positive. Yet change can be positive.

In the post linked here, Duncan looks at how the contrasting impact of Covid has been addressed by 2 local businesses.

Here, I want to look a bit more widely and consider the implications of significant change, and how even how change for the worse can open opportunity for better.

Change is often stressful, particularly when imposed. People normally focus on the downsides, how things are going to be harder than before. However, in my experience, if you can see past the immediate negatives,  change almost always also delivers the opportunity for positives too. Furthermore, while the negatives typically become less significant as time goes on, the positives can deliver more and more benefit – IF YOU GIVE THEM A CHANCE.

4 tips for maximising the benefit of change

1 Take some time

Often, change(particularly when imposed) creates more work for less return. You have to work harder and longer to keep your head above water. This tends to make people think only in eth short-term, where things are hardest. By taking a step back it is easier to get some perspective. If things beyond your control impact your business, future success will require you to embrace the change and incorporate it into your work. It’s not going away so you might as well make the most of it!

Tip 1: Take some time to stop and reflect on the bigger picture.

2. Think objectively about the strengths and weaknesses of your business

Look at how you operate. What works well? What is not so good? Every business has elements that the owner is less happy about. If you are facing change anyway, a bit of thought and planning allows you to focus your changes not only on dealing with the short-term impacts and requirements but also addressing weakness and making your business into a better business.

Tip 2: Use change as an opportunity to address weakness in your business

3. Take a holistic and joined-up approach

Don’t just focus on the immediate challenges. Think more widely about your business as a whole. Don’t think about things in isolation. Remember that everything is connected. If you change something, how will that change affect other areas of your work?

If your business was perfect, how would it look? How would it be different to now? Work on achieving your perfect business.

Tip 3: Be joined-up in your thinking

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It may be one thing to identify the weaker spots in your business but another to do something about them. You’ve probably been putting up with things and using workarounds for years. I know I have. (It’s a bit of a pain but not that bad). The problem might not be deciding what you would like to improve but more how to do it. Even in challenging times, it can make sense to get help. If you can see how a change will make things better for you, investing in the skills to make things happen makes business sense. The improvements can yield value and dividend long into the future.

Tip 4: Getting help from someone you trust and who knows what they are doing is the best way to make the right things happen.

Change is good – A BSA example (pre-Covid!)

Our accountant had been threatening to retire for years. Now he was really going to do it! He understands our business and procedures. Having to find someone new is going to be a right pain – and time-consuming – and probably expensive!

I had been using Sage for years. I was never entirely happy with it but I put up with it. I’d been aware of alternatives but it was a case of ‘Better the devil you know’. Now I was being forced into change. There was going to be extra work transferring to a new accountant but now I had no choice.

I took time to step back and think rationally. As a result, I used the change to think more widely about our whole accounting processes. We moved from Sage to Xero (with help from our new accountants who are Xero specialists)

Yes, there were short term costs and frustration but now I wouldn’t go back! I reckon that the accounts used to take up 4 or 5 hours each week. Now it is more like 4 or 5  hours each month. As an added bonus, rather than having to be at my desk, I can work from pretty much anywhere – and I do!

More time, less hassle – and all at a lower cost too! Maybe our accountant should’ve retired sooner.

A final word on Lockdown Opportunities 

Lockdown has affected every business to a greater or lesser extent. We are all having to do things differently and the regime is likely to persist fo at least several months yet.

Use the hiatus as the chance to make your business a better business. Your opportunity is there. Just take it.

As always, if this has resonated, I’m happy to chat.