Furtureproof your business

Metro asks the experts how businesses can play the long game in a landscape dominated by Brexit and coronavirus uncertainty...

IT HAS been an incredibly tough year for business and there are still so many unknown quantities on the horizon. But that does not mean strategising should go out the window. Now is the time to plan for all eventualities and put processes in place to adapt to the unsettled months and years to come, rather than make a snap decision when things change.

‘Lots of people came to me in knee-jerk panic mode this year. We tend to leave it until our backs are against the wall, but we should be doing everything that we can now,’ says award-winning business growth strategist, Joelle Byrne.

Short-term

When looking ahead to the next three to six months it is important to stay visible to clients — and even if your business is unable to operate to full capacity it is important to keep the cashflow coming in.

Digitisation of booking systems can be a huge help as it allows firms to take bookings for the future, which keeps the money coming in. Discounts and gift cards can also be a great incentive to convince customers to spend their money now rather than in the future.

‘The mistake some businesses have made is that they have disappeared. They should be getting on social media and staying in front of the eyes of their clients,’ says Joelle.

Wherever possible companies should be ready to pivot to a digital offering very quickly by giving online classes or events. And creating passive income streams — those which can be created once and sold time and again — is an effective way of filling short-term gaps in revenue. This could be digital courses, e-books or live events, which are scalable and have no capacity limit.

And with Brexit just a few weeks away it is vital that you make those contingency plans now.

Find alternative UK traders to use for supplies and market this as a selling point for your business because you are sourcing from Britain and reducing your carbon footprint.

‘With Brexit you need to understand where it might impact your business. If you import or export then you need to plan for every eventuality, like delay and additional costs. Those who sit and wait are going to struggle,’ says business consultant, Emma Mills-Sheffield of Mindsetup.

Medium-term

It is crucial not to forget the impact of uncertainty on your staff and over the course of the next year you should set aside dedicated time for managing and supporting employees.

A recent Qualtrics survey revealed that almost 50 per cent of employees were experiencing mental health issues and 75 per cent had experienced increased anxiety, while 60 per cent felt that they were not properly supported by their boss or employer.

‘This means group and personal check-ins, supporting people, and constantly gauging how people are doing,’ suggests business leadership expert and author R Michael Anderson.

Another key recommendation is not to cut back on marketing, even during a downturn.

Analysis of business ‘winners’ coming out of past recessions by R Michael Anderson and Dr Nick Quinn of the University of Glasgow found that cutting back on sales and marketing was ‘the kiss of death’.

And while planning your mid-term growth it is important to consider not only what is working well and to be able to scale it up, but also to ask clients and the market what they would like to see more of.

‘It is also important to ask yourself, “When do I need to pull the plug on something?” If something is not going well, let go of it,’ advises Emma.

Long-term

Planning for the future actually starts with what you can do now.

Emma suggests starting with a two-year plan and working backwards from there.

‘Then look at a monthly target and what you need to do each week to get there,’ she says.

Look at every part of the business and review it by measuring everything — whether that is by cashflow, sales figures, targets or key performance indicators.

‘The more you understand what your business is doing now the more you can project into the future. It can reflect what you need to change. You also need to have an ideal growth plan and a realistic plan,’ adds Emma.

But be aware of whether recent growth has been opportunistic due to a sudden surge in demand — such as has been seen with PPE — or whether it can be sustained or broadened over the long-term.

And when it comes to digitisation think about how you can scale everything up in the next few years.

‘Set up recurring membership models or subscriptions so that it doesn’t matter if you are isolating for two weeks, you will still have money coming in,’ says Joelle.

And think about the people who are watching you, but not buying from your company even though they may want to.

Joelle explains: ‘Is it because logistically they can’t come to you? If so can you change that in the future? Or is it because they can’t afford you — in which case can you offer something else they can afford?’

‘It is important to use technology to your advantage; if you’re in events don’t just do events’

Change of plans: Jim branched out when lockdown saw business grind to a halt

HAVING a diverse range of income streams has helped businessman Jim Chetwode future-proof his earnings.

Prior to the pandemic, Jim and his business partner Rupert Brown had a vibrant events business selling trade stands and sponsorship for three country shows.

But when they lost all their contracts overnight in March they decided to fall back on their side hustle; an e-commerce agency.

‘It is important to use technology to your advantage. And if you are in events, don’t just do events,’ advises Jim.

The pair helped more than 50 shops in their local area set up online before launching a separate arm of the business called Design In Dorset.

This is an online marketplace selling products made by local companies, from which they take ten per cent commission for each sale. And realising that dog products were ‘recession-proof’ they also launched a website selling dog beds and accessories.

Jim and Rupert currently ship to different parts of the European Union but plan to put this on hold and simply focus on UK sales until Brexit regulations become clear.

In the short-term the plan is to continue running all of these ventures but they hope that, in the medium-term, they will be ready to ‘jump back in’ to events. ‘We were planning to have ten shows next year so we are keen not to lose the contacts we made and we will be taking people out to lunch when we can,’ says Jim.

Longer term they plan to expand Design In Dorset to other counties, to sell their dog accessory business and launch an outdoor goods website.

‘We believe that customers will want more closeness to products’

A CHANGE in workforce attitude together with a distributed supply chain has accelerated the long-term strategy of tech start-up SoftIron.

The company, which manufactures equipment for data centres, is taking a globalised approach to facilitate its growth plan.

In response to coronavirus the company reviewed its plans in March and brought forward its long-term goals. ‘Covid gave us the reason to accelerate our infrastructure plan which will give us agility and the ability to grow quickly,’ says Andrew Moloney (above), SoftIron’s VP of strategy.

The first change was to hire experts from around the globe rather than expect them to move to one central location. The company currently has fewer than 100 employees who are spread across the USA, UK, mainland Europe and Australia.

‘We believe the engineers we want to hire will not be prepared to move across the country, or to another country, anymore. We are now actively building the business and structure so that we can hire on a global basis,’ explains Andrew.

The company currently does its manufacturing in Silicon Valley but, as it expands, it plans to set up smaller factories across the globe rather than one superhub. ‘Our plan is to have people, structure, processes and factories across multiple locations. We believe that, due to the disruption of the supply chain during Covid, customers will want more closeness to products. Our aim is to be geographically independent across the business.’