The Entrepreneur Club is working hard to support businesses through these challenging times and that includes our complimentary web-based advisory service that gives businesses the opportunity to get the guidance they urgently need from SME specialists.
These sessions are run by business growth advisors Elephants Child. CEO Martin Brown explains: “On any given day we could speak to three, 30 or even 60 companies, all of which are trying to furlough people or leverage government grants or in short survive. The notion of social distancing is very real, so we’re doing most of our work on Zoom or Teams or whatever medium entrepreneurs prefer. I’ve just talked to one company that wants to realise £3m in January 2021 and another that wants to ramp up operations and needs to put together a budget for that. These are organisations doing very progressive things in very challenging times.”
If you’ve like to book a virtual session with an adviser, you can do so through your St. James’s Place Partner. In the meantime, we’ve asked Martin to answer some key questions that could help companies struggling through the Covid-19 outbreak.
What are the most common challenges during the crisis?
Some businesses were decimated almost instantly, losing all or the vast majority of their business very quickly, so their challenge is very much about keeping the lights on and surviving this initial sharp, intense impact. There are others we talk to who are still not taking action; they are still taking it all in and considering things and wondering what they should do next, which I think is a particularly dangerous approach. And others are taking the opportunity to spend time working on the business, plan and find a way through.
I think a useful way of looking at it is as a three-stage process: first of all being able to survive, then stabilise the business and then thrive and grow the business going forward.
What advice are you giving businesses?
What is crucial in this situation is how you act as a leader. So, the message is, think about yourself first and then the business. Identify what help and support you need – whether that’s for your own wellbeing, your own health, or mental clarity. Then you can think about your business. Take a step back, think, then go and communicate your plans and how you want to move forward.
Of course, when we normally plan, we think about a three-year strategy and then an annual operating plan and then turning that operating plan into half years, quarters and daily activity. In a crisis situation like this you’ve already got to flip that plan to a 90-day horizon and become very granular, doing things hourly and daily. And you need to manage liquidity and cashflow and what you can do to preserve cash and bring more in to survive.
What support is available to businesses during the crisis?
Our offer in the first instance is about just being there for clients and potential clients so they’ve got somebody to lean on, who can bring them a bit of balance and perspective. That starts with a telephone call to understand what the business situation is and what they’re wrestling with. We also help them understand the raft of support measures the government has put together: job retention and deferment and various grants and business interruption loans they might be able to access.
How can businesses make the most of opportunities during the crisis?
Use this time to think about and address all of the things you can do to improve your business and make it relevant when we come through the other side. Start by supporting your clients, helping them and being generous with them. Even if that doesn’t lead to billable work, hopefully when the recovery comes, you’re top of mind. Communicate well and get brand messaging out to a wider audience. Have good positive conversations now, and if your business model is right then over time that’s going to stand you in good stead.
Are there any reputational risks business to be aware of?
Businesses are trying to balance what’s right for people in terms of keeping them healthy and gainfully employed versus what’s right for the business, the brand and the brand values. It is these judgement calls that amongst other things require those strong and competent leadership traits; authenic, forward thinking and the ability to leave all key relationships and situations in a better place than when you started.
What learnings can business leaders take from the crisis?
The global effect is so significant that a lot of businesses in real trouble now couldn’t have done anything to protect themselves. But others that had a contingency plan in place have experienced an impact, but are trading through it as a result of planning they did two, three or five years ago.
Businesses that don’t have a plan or are early in that process are being hit particularly hard because everything is a challenge and a variable and they don’t have a clear path through it. Many are seeing themselves fall over in the area of technology, for example, because they haven’t invested in it over the past two to five years and now it’s really biting them. So, I think the message is about planning, working on the business and taking the time to do that rather than being swept along. Their will be positive changes to businesses from this crisis.