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From Pandemic to Profit

Optimum Finance CEO Richard Pepler offers strategies to SMEs in planning for recovery

I’m not pretending any of this is easy. The situation we have found ourselves in personally and professionally is like nothing else.

The one vital thing to remember is that the economy will recover, the question is more ‘when’ than ‘if’.

This is the crux of the matter – we as business people don’t like uncertainty. It gives us the jitters. Lack of confidence is not our friend. But we can’t change the wider economic response on a macro level so we must focus on the micro – your own business.

Things have moved so quickly in the last few weeks. February was still relatively ‘normal’ for most of us. March 2020 changed everything. We are now in a new type of normal and if you’ve got this far, congratulations. Now is the time to invest in recovery planning.

We’re likely to be days away from starting to hear what the Government’s exit strategy is. SMEs I’ve been speaking to are simultaneously hoping for a relaxation of the rules and dreading the next challenge this will present.

Here’s my take on key areas of business focus to give you the best chance of long-term survival and profitability.

  1. People and culture

You might think my first area would be finance. Wrong. I’m advising companies we work with to make their people the primary focus.

The reason for this is that almost no matter what sector you are in your people really matter.

Preserve your talent at all costs. They will be the secret to your future success.

Isolation breeds uncertainty. Do you know how your team members are feeling?

While you might not be feeling entirely confident for the future, it’s vital that you maintain an air of positivity. Employee engagement should be a strong focus area for you. Give this some thought think about how you can instil enthusiasm, a team spirit of pulling together and crucially, a strong and clear internal communications strategy. Don’t just rely on email; pick up the phone to individuals, make sure your video calls aren’t always focused on work and, importantly, have a laugh together.

Once we are given guidance on the lockdown exit we may find an element of home working and social distancing means that getting together as a team is not possible – start planning for this now and be mindful not to create team silos within your business. Now, more than ever, is the time to be united in company culture.

  1. Product

According to the Government’s ONS fortnightly business survey on the impact of the crisis, 24% of businesses have paused or ceased trading temporarily with 75% continuing to trade.

 

It’s likely that you will have adapted your product or service if there has been potential for this. But now, look to the future. In a world which is likely to rely more on digital infrastructure how will this affect you long term?

While investment in research and development might feel counter-intuitive, don’t rule it out. There will be funding out there for innovation so, go back to basics and really look at your business offer to see if there might be a new direction for you.

  1. Cash

Finally, we get to the money. The reason this is my third point is that many of you I know have done very little but focus on cash in the last six weeks. Pouring over spreadsheets, managing falling sales alongside cash flow forecasts, applying to furlough staff, arrange overdrafts – the list goes on.

Obviously, cash will always remain king in your business. You need to have robust forecasts focused on today’s reality but importantly on tomorrow’s potential. Be prepared to visit these spreadsheets on a weekly basis and be disciplined about your cash position.

There is help available so, if you haven’t already accessed external advice, do so without delay. We have put together a panel of people who work across a range of services and can signpost you if needed.

Consider applying for a CBILS loan – or the newly announced ‘bounce back loan’ (27 April) – I strongly advise you to consider this. Cash in your hands now will give you choices and the best chance of long-term success and recovery for the future.

Good luck and feel free to share your stories and ideas with us as we all strive to navigate this new world together.

Useful reference sources:

Federation of small businesses:

https://www.fsb.org.uk/campaign/covid19.html

British Business Bank:

https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk

Government guidance:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/financial-support-for-businesses-during-coronavirus-covid-19

 

Categories: Blog, Coronavirus, In the News