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 2020.

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 which, if we were being honest was inevitable! 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 4 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. ….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 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  have not really impacted them too much. They can continue with this model until they are able to open again whenever that may be.

Furthermore, when they do, they will have developed a takeaway model that they can continue to run alongside their regular business.

I am sure that for both of these businesses the last 9 months have 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 when the restrictions are lifted, they will have evolved and be 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”. The have moved on, and hopefully their businesses will be stronger for it.

Talk to your customers – it’s important

I’ve been spending a lot of time dealing with suppliers recently and the experience set me thinking. Most of them didn’t seem to be very good at talking to me, their customer. Too often I found suppliers not delivering on what they said they would do. I had to chase.

We talk about the importance of engagement in marketing but this doesn’t end when your efforts succeed and you receive your enquiry which (hopefully) grows into a customer. My own recent experience was disappointing. Too often I got the feeling that a supplier wasn’t really bothered about me, they were focused on my business for the value they would gain. The fact that I (their customer) was trying to get some benefit from the relationship felt incidental.

I believe that a good and solid business should be built on developing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. These are relationships where the trust and confidence bridges between customer and supplier grow ever stronger. Effective communication is a vital part of this development process. Here are 5 tips/ideas that might strike a chord to help you build stronger, more valuable relationships with your customers/clients.

1. Be Responsive

First and foremost, just do what you say you are going to do! This may not sound much but it amazes me how often it doesn’t happen. Of course, sometimes events conspire against us and it may not be possible to do this. If this happens…

2. Be Proactive

If there is a problem, be ready to talk about it. Take the initiative to deal with a situation. Don’t just wait for your customer to call you. Even if you think that your customer will not be happy about what you have to tell them, having the gumption to speak to them and address the issue shows a real commitment to the relationship. It can actually be a great way of making your relationship stronger.

Often it isn't the problem that's the issue - it is how you deal with it!

You never know, you may find your fears of a dissatisfied client are unfounded. Problems happen. Objective, open discussion will resolve most.

3. Is your communication effective

Just because you have said something isn’t the whole story. You may feel you have explained things but has your customer understood what you mean? It can be useful to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’.  Might you have been misunderstood? Likewise, if your customer says something you, could what they say have different meanings. A simple example:

“We will deliver on Friday”

Does this mean the customer will receive the goods on Friday? Or is the supplier actually saying we will ship on Friday. The goods will not actually arrive until the following week. Clarification of this sort of message can avoid a problem later on. In my experience, ignored issues are more likely to get worse than go away. On the other hand, clear effective communication is a great way to build confidence.

4. Be ready to hold your hands up

None of us is perfect. Sometimes, everyone gets things wrong. Yet why are so many people reluctant to admit their failings? Often too much time and energy are spent defending a position or excusing a mistake instead of trying to resolve the matter. This can distract from the business in hand. If you have made a mistake, hold your hands up. Equally, it is reasonable to expect your customer to do the same! The best way forward is to work to rectify the issue and focus on how you can avoid the same problem in the future. If your customer uses the situation as a stick to beat you with, maybe your relationship is fated anyway!

Whether in business or life, some relationships work, others don’t. If you find yourself in a bad one, better to get out.

5. Records are valuable

I don’t know about you but, when you lead a busy life, I find it can be easy to forget things. I have learnt (sometimes the hard way!) that unless I give myself some sort of reminder, tasks sometimes slip my mind, or details of a discussion get blurred. In Tip 3, above, I talk about effective communication. If there is no record then different views about what was said, or even what was intended, become entrenched – and potentially divisive. Sometimes written notes are very helpful. These don’t need to be formal. Just a few words of reminder can be valuable when you come back to a task.

Notes can either be personal, for yourself alone or something you might share by way of confirmation to your customer. There is no single ‘right way‘. It is about finding what works for you and your business. There are all sorts of task and time management tools available. None will work unless you are committed to using it effectively. Personally, I am a real fan of a ‘to-do’ list where I can add notes. Simple, but it works for me.

Build strong relationships – the value will follow.

Focus on your customer, your relationship and delivering real benefit. Make sure you take into account your own needs too. A good relationship is mutually beneficial. Build a good relationship and the value will flow to everyone. The beneficial relationship is the objective. The value is the consequence.

Are analytics killing creativity?

I have a dilemma! I am a firm believer in the power of analytics for monitoring and managing your marketing. But I also believe that we live in a world where we tend to overuse analysis tools. The key to reconciling this dilemma is the word OVERUSE!

Whilst I firmly believe that analysis is a key business tool, its overuse is a bad thing. Furthermore, analytics rarely give definitive answers and issues arise when indicators presented through analysis are presented as fact.

In my experience, one casualty of over analysis is creativity. Creativity takes time, and is inherently inefficient. If you are being truly creative, you can’t expect all of your output to be brilliant. It is likely that some of your work will, whilst important in the process, come to nothing!

Over analysing can lead you to kill creative projects that are not going in the direction you expect. But given time these projects may actually deliver great results.

John Cleese on Creativity

I grew up with Monty Pythons Flying Circus, and I believe that they were and are creative genii. I think (maybe because I took Latin at school) the graffiti sketch in the Life of Brian is one of the funniest bits of film ever! But watch full episodes of the Monty Python TV show. Much of it is not very funny, and that’s the stuff that made the screen!  My point is that even talented people like the Python’s don’t hit the mark all the time. But they need the freedom to produce the dogs, to allow them to hit the comedy gold like the graffiti sketch!

Search YouTube, and you will find John Cleese talking a lot about creativity. One point he makes is that to be creative, you need to create space and time “to play”. Analysis may suggest that much of this time is not very productive. Whilst this may be true, it is needed as part of the process, and your analysis needs to recognise this fact.

Its not the Analysis that’s at fault, its how it is used

Analysis itself is not at fault here, its how it is used. It is my view that analysis should be used to inform decisions, not make them. The danger where creativity and innovation is concerned is that the ability to analyse and measure things in detail, encourages a process where decision making is primarily evidence based, driven by data of what has happened/worked in the past.

However by definition, being creative means pushing the boundaries & trying things that have not been tried before. These activities are very difficult to justify based on evidence of past activities.  As Henry Ford is quoted as saying “If I asked people what they want, they would ask for a faster horse”. Whilst it is widely acknowledged that Mr Ford never uttered these words, it does illustrate the issue. If you base creativity purely on research looking to the past, you are never going to be truly creative.

So how do we square the circle?

As Einstein pointed out “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane”. As such using past activities & results to inform future actions can prevent you repeating old mistakes and thus is a vital part of business. But the flip of this is that just because there is no evidence to suggest something new will be a success, does not mean it is doomed to failure. Creativity requires you to say “That sounds interesting, my gut tells me it has potential, and there is nothing to suggest it has been tried & failed before and failed so lets give it a go and see what happens!”

Being creative is a punt!

Yes you weigh up the risks & rewards, but ultimately you have just got to put analysis to on side and jump into the unknown!

 

Working from Home – Opportunities Arising

On 18th March the Government told us to stay at home (well, most of us). It was OK to carry on working so long as we didn’t have to go out. Working From Home was born! OK, there were homeworkers before this but now working from home became normal for most. At first, it was novel, then it became more challenging but now, 6 months later when most of us are ‘back in the office‘ I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the experience, not just as a reaction to lockdown, but more widely.

Lockdown forced a new way of thinking and operating but I reckon it has shed light on opportunities that can have a profound and long-term impact.

Working from home. Not for everyone

For some people, the shift to working from home was pretty straightforward. For others, it was more difficult, even impossible. The split between theses 2 groups really depends on the nature of your work.

1. Dealing with Data

These days, data means computers, devices and the internet. I know people who still swear by paper files but the fact is that the days of paper files are numbered. If you work with data that means you work on a computer of some sort and with the steady march to Cloud storage, it’s all about internet connections.  If you work with data and you have a reasonable internet connection, you can work anywhere.

There are other considerations which I will look at below but in principle, if you work with data, you can work from home – or the beach!

2. Dealing with stuff

The story is quite different if your work involves ‘stuff’. You have to be where the ‘stuff’ is. This may be a factory or field, a warehouse or cafe. Unless you can get the stuff you need at home, you have to go out to work.

While working from home is not an option for everyone or even the majority, there are millions of people who can benefit from the opportunities that the ‘Working From Home’ experience has opened up.

My own experience

Perhaps the best way to look at the practicalities is to reflect on my own experience. I worked from home exclusively from late March to early June. I do admit that there were factors that made my experience easier:

  1. No children – the demands of children at home can make working from home challenging
  2. A separate workspace – having to work on the dining table can make it difficult to separate work life and home life
  3. Decent internet – to be effective, your home internet connection needs to compare well with your work-based internet speed

Risk of isolation

With grown-up family at home, I wasn’t isolated but it is easy to see how isolating working at home can be – particularly if you live alone. I feel that working from home should be an option rather than a necessity. Being able to work from home when it suits and at the office, or elsewhere, at other times, maybe gives the best balance.

Importance of breaks

With fewer distractions (daytime TV excepted!), I found it easy to get lost in what I was doing. My home office is in the cellar so I can’t even look out of the window! I did find the lack of daylight to be a difficulty. For these reasons, regular breaks are important. My solution was walking. I tried to get out for fresh air every day.

Zoom is just a tool

Zoom (or Teams/Skype/Google Meet) are just tools allowing 2 or more people to meet remotely. I find them really useful but online meetings can be intense and certainly not the same as a real face-to-face meeting. Personally. I don’t like remote meetings (as opposed to webcasts etc.) for more than 4 or 5 people. There can only be one conversation at once. You simply don’t get the opportunity for ‘side chats’. Just like Homeworking itself, online meetings are now a mainstream addition to the world of work. I would hate to think that every meeting I have from now was online but sometimes, the video meeting is ideal (for modest numbers of participants!).

A change is as good as a rest

I must be honest. By early June, working in a daylight-free cellar every day was beginning to pale somewhat. There was no-one else in the office at that time so it was no big deal to go back to work. I was as socially isolated at Glossop Gasworks as I was at home – if not more so.  Nevertheless, there were some of my lockdown working experiences that I didn’t want to lose.  I have continued to find time for an hour or 2 walking most days and I am now working fewer days in the office. I know I can work effectively from home and I love the flexibility.

The value of convenience

Commuting is a pain! I am lucky as my commute is now only 10 minutes in the fresh air by bike but I have experienced the daily slog into the city centre where it can take over an hour to travel 10 miles. Many people spend even longer commuting to and from their work every day.

One of the real benefits of homeworking is that it is so darned convenient! Every week, working from home can free up a whole extra day to use as you wish. Never mind the savings in fuel, fancy city-centre coffees and that luxury £10 sandwich at lunchtime.  Sure, the shift to homework presents challenges to the coffee bars and sandwich shops that thrive on daily commuters, but I suggest this is only a temporary problem. Coffee bars and sandwich shops are just businesses set up to serve a market. If that market shifts from the city centre to the suburbs then the businesses will follow.

A new approach

I now split my working hours between the office and home. As they are only 10 minutes apart this is easy. I get the benefit of an office environment when I choose and home-work at other times. It is convenient and flexible. I can see the potential for real growth in demand for flexible office space closer to where people live. (Quick plug – check out Glossop Gasworks Workspace) I have heard numerous anecdotal stories of large office-based businesses planning to significantly reduce their reliance on large, expensive, city-centre offices in favour of a more flexible approach based on efficiently interconnected, practical suburban workspaces with a smaller, prestige city-centre location for when it is needed.

People like convenience and flexibility to work the way they choose. Undoubtedly, the lockdown has forced change to be brought on quickly but as new working practices become more normal, there are many effective tools and more options for efficient working than many had appreciated.

We are still in the early days of the new working world and it will be a while yet before the ‘new normal‘ becomes normal. Even so, the opportunities for a more attractive way of working will be hard to ignore in the long term.

Interesting times ahead. If you’d like to talk, do get in touch

The Social Dilemma – Are we part of the problem?

In this week’s podcast we discuss the ethics of marketing on social media. This comes on the back of a recent documentary “The Social Dilemma” where ex social media execs from the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook talk about the way that social media company business models are impacting on the way we think and live our lives. In essence the model is that they sell our attention, as users of their platforms, to the highest bidder.

On the face of it this is a great model! It allows them to give away their services to the general public and then to make their money from advertisers. But as users we have to remember that as the saying goes “If you are not paying for the product, then you ARE the product!”

The suggestion made by the documentary was that this model was creating a situation where algorithms driving social media platforms were focused on keeping people’s attention, subtly and gradually changing the way they perceive the world. Creating systems where advertisers could use this process to shift users towards their point of view and make them more likely to buy their products or support their activities. One end game of this is that as users we become simply drones plugged into “The Matrix” with the sole purpose of creating value for the social media platform.

On that basis as advertisers, by buying advertising we are encouraging this business model, and we become part of the problem. But as with most things, it’s never that simple!

Things themselves are neither good nor bad

The way I look at it is that the platforms themselves are not good or bad, they are simply tools that do a job! In principal the idea that you have a tool that allows you to shift peoples perception, drawing them in to your point of view is not an issue and as a marketing tool it is powerful. The idea that you can target people very accurately, allowing you to focus your efforts in directions that are most likely to deliver results, means your marketing will be more effective, and you are less likely to irritate people by pushing your message at people where there is little or no relevance.

These algorithms were set out to do a job and they do it very well. As always with these things, the issue lies with what we do with the tools we are given.

It’s all about motivation

Look at any invention or discovery trough history, drugs, splitting the atom, genetic engineering… the list goes on, and there is a debate as to whether its invention was good or bad for humanity. The reality is that in all cases these inventions have brought both good and harm. But once invented, you can not put the genie back in the bottle. As individuals our responsibility is to make sure that we personally use them for good. We can not control what other so with them. That is the job of regulators and governments.

In the case of social media, as marketers we need to explore our motivations. Our role is to promote our point of view/service/product, and convince others that it is in their interest to buy into what we are offering. The question we must ask is – On Balance:

"Are we doing this for their benefit or our own"

I say “On Balance” as in reality it will be a mixture of the two. In most cases, you go into business because you see a benefit to yourself for doing so. But good business should be  Win:Win, with both you and your customers gaining benefit. In some cases it’s clear cut, but in others is it not.  Especially where you are aiming to convince people that your way is better than the status quo. Here you have to be sure that your way is truly better. And not just “better for you”!

Only you can decide

The bottom line is that as a business owner, only you can decide. The important thing is that you actually recognise the potential issues, and take them into consideration when making your marketing decisions. The social media genie is out of the bottle. As a society, the challenge now is how we use it for good!

Social Distancing Threat or Opportunity?

Keeping your customers and clients and arms length is likely to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. As is providing an environment where your customers stay apart. But should you see this as a threat or an opportunity? And more importantly, how can you adapt your business model to the new trading environment?

Whilst the obvious impact will be felt by the leisure &hospitality industries, where social interaction is central to their offering, it is going to change the environment for most businesses. With this in mind, I would like to look at how the ability to adapt to new scenarios can really deliver opportunities.

Adapt Adapt Adapt..

Adapting to new environments is critical for survival across pretty much every ecosystem. This is no different in the business world. There has undoubtedly been a seismic shift in the trading environment and the successful businesses will be the ones that are able to adapt their models to this new environment. The good news is – We are already seeing this happening:

  • Conferences and events are going virtual
  • Restaurants and pubs are moving to high quality take-away delivery model
  • Craft food & beverage producers are moving from wholesale to online retail models serving local markets

And those are just in our local area, and are all doing OK.

Opportunity or Threat

Assessing opportunities & threats is a classic part of business planning – I am sure most people will be familiar with the SWOT analysis.

Taking this approach to the current situation its easy to focus on the threats, as they tend to be stating you in the face, but in most cases there will be opportunities too.

Take craft F&B who have relied on wholesale markets, those markets may have shut down, but new retail markets have emerged. Conference & event organisers are seeing the demand for online events is growing rapidly. The key is to identify these opportunists and adapt quickly to deliver.

Being Small and independent can be an advantage.

In this rapidly changing environment agility is key. As such small independent businesses who have a short decision making process and who can react quickly to changes will have a distinct advantage over larger business with more complex decision making processes.

Take the current 2m rule. Businesses have had time to develop and adapt their business models to cope with this new regulation, but now they are open. If this changes and for example moves from 2m to 1m then that will deliver opportunities. Big businesses will take time to adapt and communicate these changes through their organisation. Small independent businesses on the other had can quickly adapt and reap the benefits.

Over the coming months this ability to quickly adapt as the situation changes will give smaller businesses a real advantage. The key is to jump on the opportunities as they arise.

Think long term

I just want to finish by encouraging people to think long term. Rather than thinking “How do I adapt and cope until this is all over”, think about how adapting to the the new environment could improve your business into the long term. Some  things you are having to do now, could actually reap benefits to your business long into the future!

 

Your business philosophy? Does it drive your business?

Building and running a business is challenging and can be hard work, but it can also be very rewarding.

We all do things for a reason. Running a business is no different. Here are 3 questions:

  1. Why do you run your business?
  2. What is your business philosophy?
  3. Does your business philosophy connect with your customers?

Of course, a business philosophy should aim for personal success and fulfilment, and providing for you and your family. However, it is important to balance your own wishes with a desire to deliver real value to your customers and clients. Furthermore, getting this balance right can be the key to long-term success where everyone wins. Too much focus on either your own needs or those of your customers upsets the balance and the business risks failure.

An honest and well-balanced business philosophy can also be a great marketing asset.

What is your business philosophy?  Do you tell people?

My BSA philosophy

To explore this idea further, I think it is only fair to look at my own philosophy for BSA in terms of the 3 questions I pose above

1. Why do I run BSA?

To be honest, running BSA was unexpectedly thrust upon me back in 1986 following the sudden death of my father. I never took the decision to start a business. I literally woke up one day to find myself in charge!

The following few years were stressful I didn’t have a plan. I had a team to motivate and expenses to cover – not to mention a mortgage! In the end, I did the only thing I felt I could, I put my head down and got on with it! Although I was only too aware of the bills and wages that needed paying, my philosophy from the very start was that the best way to meet my own needs and obligations was to deliver the very best we could for our customers.

2. What is my business philosophy?

34 years later, we are still here so I guess we have been doing something right!

At its heart, my business philosophy is all about partnership.  In my experience, simply supplying a service to a client at arm’s length works well as a one-off but is less effective when we are trying to build a longer-term relationship. Our aim is to engage with our clients to deliver real benefit – to improve your business. We can only do this if we properly understand a client’s own philosophy and objectives.

I am proud that we have been working with most of our clients for many years. A client relationship can be based on no more than proactively and intelligently hosting a website. With other clients, we are actively developing and implementing ongoing marketing communication programmes, including exploring, developing and advising on new ideas and opportunities.

We bring together our own experience and skillset to work in partnership with the knowledge and capabilities of our client.  Getting the partnership right means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. My business philosophy is focussed on getting the partnership right.

We want to really help our clients, both in planning AND implementation. It is important that we help to make things happen, all as part of a bigger picture to drive and improve your business.

It is not about turnover. If a partnership is right, it is right, however modest or great it may be.

3. Does the BSA business philosophy connect with our customers?

In short, I hope so!

We recently did some customer research and, while the results highlighted some novel and valuable opinions, the core response does fit with my philosophy. Our clients see BSA as experts who effectively integrate this knowledge with the expertise of our clients to work together to deliver a better outcome for us both.

However, this led to another consideration: do we tell our prospective customers about our philosophy? I’m afraid to say that when we took a critical eye to our core marketing message on our website – we came up short. We had fallen into the classic marketing trap of discussing features rather than benefits!

I am a fan of the saying that ‘Every Day is a Schoolday’. No matter how much you know, there is always the opportunity to learn

Needless to say, we took the opportunity to make some changes.

Hopefully, our philosophy is becoming more apparent.

So what is your business philosophy?

So, what is your business philosophy? Does it effectively drive your business?

Might a partnership with BSA bring something to your party?

Let’s chat and see…

Reflections on Lockdown

It has been an interesting 3 weeks. On 17th March I was sitting in a hotel in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. I had been out of contact on an amazing trip to Galapagos since the beginning of March and now, I was trying to get home as the normal world started to unfold around me. I didn’t appreciate the full impact of what was to come. As it transpired, I caught the last scheduled international flight out of Ecuador before everything closed and the tragedy of coronavirus in Ecuador started to hit the news the following day.

I was lucky. I made it back to the UK relatively easily. There are still thousands of travellers trying to get home and I wish them well.

Lockdown Realty

Once home it was back to the office and a return to work – or so I thought! The following day, all restaurants, pubs, clubs, and indoor sport and leisure facilities across the UK were ordered to close, and then on 23 March, the lockdown was imposed.

It'll be OK. I can work from home. It wouldn't be the first time.

When I have worked from home in the past, it has never been for any length of time; the odd half-day or day here and there. We are fortunate that we have good internet connections and VPNs allowing full access to our work systems and data. With our growing use of cloud-based technologies (I talked about our move to Xero accounts a while ago) and our switch to a VOIP telephone system in January, BSA is technically well placed for remote working. It is the emotional and mental challenges in this surreal environment that are having a significant impact.

Am I on holiday?

Having just returned from an actual holiday, my first feeling was that I was still on holiday!  I always find it a challenge to get back into the work routine after being away. Now there was no routine to return to! No office to visit, no working day at the office. Am I still on holiday?

Yet there is work to do! Marketing and staying engaged with your customers and contacts is important, particularly in these strange times. We have clients who are very busy, actively involved in the fight against the pandemic and other clients who are seeing their e-commerce sites which, to date had been a minor supplement to bricks and mortar retail businesses, suddenly becoming the heart of plans to sustain business during the lockdown.

There was clearly no time for holidays! BSA’s experience and practical support are in demand.

Let’s Zoom

Two years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to make more use of remote meetings technology – I really don’t like driving to meetings if I can avoid it! 3 months later, after numerous unsuccessful trials with Skype, I gave up. The technology wasn’t up to the job. I don’t know whether it was the software, the bandwidth, the internet connections, or what, but it got in the way of the meeting. Remote meetings were on the back burner.

Although I had heard of Zoom, up to 3 weeks ago I had never used it. I was still disenchanted about the whole remote meeting thing. But with the lockdown, travelling became virtually impossible and so if I was going to meet with people, it would have to be on-line. Remote meetings were back on the agenda. I tried 4 or 5 different tools and by some margin, the best is Zoom. What a revelation, it just works. I have been involved in meeting with up to a dozen people for up to 2 hours. OK, there has been the odd occasion when the line quality wasn’t brilliant but overall, it looks like remote meeting has come of age – and just in the nick of time!

I am sure that even when the coronavirus lockdown of 2020 slips into history, online meetings are here to stay as a feature of the modern business world.

The new normal

While lockdown persists, I am seeing a sense of common purpose, a new normal. Sure, we are all still in business and it is vital that the economy is not allowed to stall. It remains appropriate to charge for products and services but this is a time for support, not profiteering. Some businesses are booming while others are struggling. A bit of flexibility, support and give & take can hopefully level things out for everyone while we try and make sense of our circumstances.

In fact, perhaps this the basis for good, sustainable business at any time?

Personally, one of the biggest challenges I am finding is to know what day it is! I have always tried to work Monday to Friday then have the weekend off. But do we still have weekends? I am starting to wonder! Does this matter? don’t get me wrong, having time off from work is essential (IMHO!) but does it need to be a working week followed by a weekend?

Working from home makes it easier to be flexible. I am trying to take time every day to get out and explore my local footpaths. this is time I would previously be stuck at my desk but it feels good to swap this for an hour or 2 work on a Saturday or Sunday, if necessary. I am seeing a new flexibility – I can work by hours not days.

This approach may be more challenging for employees – though flexitime has been a ‘thing’ – particularly in larger companies – for many years. Maybe our lockdown experience is showing the way for more flexibility in smaller businesses too.

I am sure that none of the things I am talking about here are new. People work in many different ways but alongside the challenges of lockdown, I am seeing some real positives and opportunities to do things different – and better. I am looking forward to exploring the new future.

I’d be interested to hear your experiences of the lockdown. Feel free to drop me a line – or why not join me on zoom for a chat.

Lockdown. Is there a silver lining for business?

These are strange times.

Everything, including the world of business, has been thrown up into the air. As they land, things have changed – or have they?

Yes, we are being asked to work from home if at all possible and always ‘socially separate’ but the vast majority are healthy, and the measures in place are designed to keep us that way, hopefully avoiding unbearable pressure on the NHS, keeping resources available for those who are in need.

Running a business has challenges all the time, COVID-19 is just another one that happens to be affecting most people all at once. If I have learnt one thing from over 30 years in business it is that challenges encourage adaption and adaption can deliver real benefit.

So how can you adapt to see the real benefit for your business when the dust settles? Here are my thoughts….

1. Don’t panic

Suddenly being told you can’t go out to business and finding clients cancelling or postponing the projects you rely on is a real shock. It is easy to be like a startled rabbit in headlights and just freeze. Perhaps this is a natural reaction but take a deep breath and count to 10. Business is a long term proposition and any successful business should plan for knock-backs. The unexpected can happen at any time. It is good to have a ‘rainy-day’ fund. The rainy day is here but there is no need to panic. Better to plan.

The essence of business is cashflow. So perhaps the first step is to address cashflow concerns. The government has already stated that they want to protect businesses from the impact of Covid-19 and have announced extensive measures to provide direct financial support through a mixture of Grants and Loans. Details are still sketchy but probably the best source of information is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

This page is being updated pretty regularly.

For the self-employed it has just been announced (in the past few minutes!) that support will be broadly in line with that already announced for emplioyees on PAYE. Implemetation will inevitably more complex.

Beyond direct government support, you may also be able to make arrangements with customers and suppliers to ease you own financial path. Banks, lenders, mortgage companies etc. are all offering support.

Naturally, some businesses are more vulnerable than others but as the adage goes: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Don’t panic. Don’t be the rabbit in the headlights. Take control and make a plan (where have I said that before!). Your plan can be your salvation.

2. Work on your business

It is often quoted by SME owners that they are too busy working in their business to work on their business – not any more!

The optimists can see the current situation as a real opportunity. Your business fundamentals haven’t changed. If you had a good business on 1st March, you can still have a good business when the crisis abates. OK nobody knows the full timescales but taking a 3-6month view seems reasonable in the light of the available evidence.

Once you have your plan to ride out the storm, you can look ahead and work to make your business a better business, ready and stronger for when the economy reopens.

3. Tap into your expertise/experience

We all try to  run our business in the best way possible but inevitably you sometimes have great ideas but never find the time to implement them. Now you can!

Also so you may see ways that others operate and think ‘That’s a good idea, I could learn something from this‘. They may be customers, suppliers, competitors, or others. There can often be ways you see others operate that could work in your business and make your business better.

Now you have the time to tap in to this knowledge/expertise and do something about it! Have confidence that your successful business in February is still sound – and now you have time to make it better. The work that isn’t being done now will need to be done later so make sure you are ready for it – and ahead of the pack.

4. Stay engaged with your customers and markets

When things get difficult, inevitably, business owners tend to focus on their own needs but, as I have talked about above, it is great if you can get your head around accepting the short-term situation and return to thinking longer term. Don’t forget the infinite game that we are still playing. Many people may be focused on their own needs but it is still good to talk.

Stay engaged with your contacts. There are lots of ways to do this and technology offers some great opportunities. We look at some in this post.

Remember though that engagement doesn’t mean selling. Many businesses blur the lime between marketing and selling, seeing any communication as sales promotion. I don’t belive that now is the time for the hard sell. It is about us all trying to work together to get through. Better to focus on help and support. Make sure people know where you are if they need you.

Try to be helpful. Many business owners are understandably anxious. A bit of altruism in challenging times can pay real dividends in the long term. We all know we are in business. Our business is our livelihood and we don’t suddenly have to do everything for nothing. It is about mutual support and balance.

5. The way ahead

Things have changed – there is no going back.

The current pandemic was previously only in books and Hollywood – now it is real and affecting everyone.

We should be thankful that it isn’t worse than it is. SARS and Ebola are significantly more deadly even if they proved easier to contain.

We are being forced to think differently. Some things will be harder/slower/more challenging but others will be easier/faster/better. By first addressing the immediate adversities and clarifying your strategy for the coming months (essentially a cash-flow plan) you can then start to look ahead to prepare to your business, ready to make the most of the opportunities when the world re opens to what will be the new normal.

As with any significant change. Some will benefit and some will struggle. A bit of objective thought and planning can help make sure there is a silver lining to this strange, locked-down world for you and your business.

As always, I am happy to talk.

Stay safe and stay positive.