Companies are once again opening for business, but it’s a very different world to the one when lockdown began.
Many businesses find themselves on the brink at the moment, with survival dependant on how well they can adapt to both new government guidelines and relatively low consumer confidence.
With this in mind, here are some of the best ways to help your business survive and prosper coming out of lockdown.
1. Safety first
It goes without saying that people’s safety is paramount at the moment. Many businesses have started this process, but it’s important to realise this may need adjusting on a regular basis. The legal requirement to wear face masks from late July, for example, will impact many businesses coming out of lockdown.
So, the first piece of advice is to examine the changes that will need to be made to make your business safe for both your customers and employees.
Firstly, customers need to feel safe if you want them to come back anytime soon and encourage repeat business. What can you do to make it as safe and easy as customers to buy from you?
Several cafes have brought out their own apps to allow table ordering and payment with minimal contact for example.
Your employees need to feel safe to come back to work, and can legally object if they don’t feel this way. The way this is handled will have a huge impact on the future of your firm. If you want to keep your business afloat you need a workforce that’s behind you, and wants to help you succeed. You can’t do this if there’s fear or anxiety from the team. If they’ve not been treated well, post lockdown you’re also much more likely to see them seek work elsewhere.
In addition, we’ve already seen how damaging it can be for both a firm’s bottom line and image if employees aren’t protected and catch Covid-19.
If you have furloughed staff in the period you also need to give serious consideration to:
- Which members you bring back straight away to get up and running.
- This may mean bringing them back in stages.
- Remember you can now bring staff back part-time and still get government financial support to cover wage costs.
It’s key to be both decisive and completely transparent when communicating this to employees about the decisions you’ve made, and the plan to return to ‘normal’.
There may be a cost for PPE to consider as well as additional training time for the team to get new processes up to speed. It would be a disaster for a business to try and do this too quickly.
In addition, there will almost certainly now be a much lower capacity limit to how you operate, whether you’re in retail, manufacturing or work in an office. Therefore, you will absolutely have to plan ahead, both from a process and financial viewpoint.
If there was ever a time to work differently, it’s now. It’s crucial to think about how to adapt your services to our new way of living.
Many firms have already made more of a move to online channels to deliver sales and increase brand awareness. You will already have seen many restaurants now offering takeaway that didn’t previously, but it can go further than this. Perhaps you have a Spa business: could you sell the creams and serums direct to your customers for example?
Also, are there any other services that could be added to upsell the existing offering? Many farm shops, for example, are selling hand made masks in addition to food supplies. This extra revenue can make all the difference.
3. Capitalise on digital marketing channels
Digital marketing can be an incredibly cost-effective way to reach your audience, particularly as we are now spending more time online than ever.
Social media channels are often under-utilised by small businesses. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram are a great free way to increase brand awareness. You only need to look at PE with Joe Wicks to see the potential reach of these platforms.
The key is not to ‘sell’ your product or service on these channels, but rather add value or interesting content to draw people to you.
Pick the right channel for you. Accountants, for example, generally find LinkedIn to work best. One accountant has seen revenue of over £500,000 in the last six months come from this channel alone.
This has been especially useful for charities or PR/event companies whose current business model has been altogether frozen with mass gatherings banned.
Don’t discount the effectiveness of email marketing to promote your business, either. Email remains a cheap way to drive business from new and existing customers provided you balance sales messaging with interesting content.
4. There’s still funding and government support available
An alarming number of businesses still haven’t applied for coronavirus grants and support they are entitled too. While some schemes have now closed there’s a number still open for applications. This varies between local authorities, but it’s well worth having a look online or getting in touch with your accountant if you haven’t already.
There’s also more support in the form of bounce back loans, which can see up to £50k in your bank within 48 hours of applying. Obviously, you need to think carefully about the repayments but these have been life saving for many businesses.
The new kickstarter scheme also launches in August, allowing you to employ an apprentice between the ages of 16-24 for up to 25 hours a week for the next 6 months which is funded entirely by the government. There’s also no limit to the number of apprentices you can hire.
If you’re running a restaurant business you can also register for the Eat Out To Help Out scheme which starts in August, enabling customers to get 50% off their meals between Monday and Wednesday.
5. Always review overheads and talk to suppliers
Chances are you’ve reviewed costs the moment lockdown began, but this doesn’t mean this should be a one-off exercise. And this should go beyond just business expenses and include personal too. The less owners need to take from the business the better right now, so any subscriptions that aren’t in use should be cancelled or frozen.
Quick wins can often be moving energy suppliers and telephone and internet suppliers that often move to a more expensive rolling contract if you don’t get in touch. Also think about switching bank accounts which can often result in better rates and a cash incentive to move.
Talking to and negotiating with suppliers sounds obvious, but it is often much easier and much more common for businesses to simply ignore payments due in difficult times. Many suppliers will happily set up payment plans to help ease the financial burden and this avoids damage to credit scores should suppliers take action against you, which could make life more difficult down the line.
6. Be up to date with data
Knowing your numbers is critical as we move out of lockdown. At a minimum you should be able to review your profit and loss WEEKLY, if not DAILY. You therefore need to keep your bookkeeping up to date. If you’re not already using cloud accounting software and are instead using Excel spreadsheets, move now.
You need to know more than just the sales and costs, you need to know what’s driving the pipeline. So, for example, you might want to monitor website traffic on a weekly basis, or virtual events attended, 1-to-1 meetings or number of customer complaints. These figures can help forecast next weeks/months P&L, so its important to take action if these numbers move in the wrong direction, if you wait until they affect your bottom line, it too late.
7. Technology doesn’t stop at Zoom
We’ve all seen how Zoom has changed the way meetings run forever, but this tech has been around for 15 years+.
There’s a wide variety of business tools out there that can make you more efficient, give a better customer service and in a lot of instances may be cheaper than your current solution.
- Microsoft Teams: way more than video conferencing and included within an office 365 subscription.
- Futrli: One of the best cashflow forecast apps on the market, which you can get free from most cloud accountants.
- iZettle: One off fee of £29 for the card reader and reasonable transaction fees. Often much easier and cheaper than traditional card terminals.
8. Talk to your accountant
If you’ve not heard from your accountant during lockdown, find a new one. Any accountant worth their salt will have been in touch on multiple occasions in the period. Not only can they help you prepare cashflows and know the numbers, they will also be up to speed with the latest government announcements to ensure you get everything you’re entitled to claim.
They are also keepers of masses of data. Without breaking confidentially, they should be able to advise you how your margins and numbers compare to those in the same industry. This information can be golden. For example, you might discover your margins are ranked 39 out of 40 restaurants and bars. Your accountant may be able to access this data and advise how you can take positive action.