In light of the economic uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, Paul Whitney, MD of Stockport accountancy firm Hallidays, shares his advice on how to grow a business in a ‘scared world.’
It’s trite to say the world has changed. Some businesses are flying; others are treading water; most are somewhere in between. But the single truth all of them are facing is that it’s now time to put COVID behind us and adapt to this new kaleidoscopic world. At Hallidays, we’ve spent the last few months analysing what this means for businesses in our community. The keyword in business success used to be Stability. Now it’s Agility.
As we’ve seen all too clearly over recent months, in times of crisis not every business suffers the same fate, or at the same rate. Some businesses rocket, some tank and some just limp along, shadows of their former selves.
Those facing an existential threat usually look to liquidity and solvency – and that’s sensible.
We’re involved in all the everyday work of basic cashflow for our clients, in how to pick their way through the furlough scheme and how to benefit from whatever replaces it.
But a bear can’t hibernate for ever. Sooner or later it has to get out and hunt. The snow may be still on the ground, but the smarter bears are already out establishing the territories with the most reliable food sources.
So those of you now poking your noses out of the burrow are finding a very different landscape. But if this is the new world, we must all get on and work out how to live in it. No point moping about it. And that’s where you’ll need a higher level of growth and support.
The next normal won’t bring normality
The keyword in business success used to be Stability. Now it’s Agility – the companies that survive are the ones that quickly find ways to adapt to the new zeitgeist. The “Next Normal” won’t be a stable one.
The world is spinning faster and faster – and every day it turns, it brings a frightening new meaning to the word “revolution” – and you can bet the farm that COVID won’t be the last thing we have to adapt to.
Easier said than done, you say; but what does it mean in real money?
Well, for one thing, digital is a loaded gun – it depends which way you hold it. Before the pandemic, online shopping was being vilified for killing bricks and mortar businesses. Now, many businesses owe their survival to the way online connectivity helped them run things from their various employees’ homes.
But where online made shopping more customer-centric, businesses that were formerly office-based may be forced to be more team member-centric to maintain morale and team spirit – or face higher churn rates.
Productivity will no longer be about how team members can fit into office life, but how the office fits into their life. How do you help people to motivate themselves? Using zoom for real-time sharing of work can eliminate the need for time-wasting “catch-up” meetings. If everything you’re doing is visible in a portal to the whole team, managers can keep a steadying hand on the tiller while the team is going full steam ahead.
We should be saying to team members, “What works for you? Okay, do that then, if it makes you more efficient.”
We don’t all need to be down the digital goldmine
Of course, thanks to COVID, technology companies are experiencing the greatest bull market in the history of great bull markets. But it’s worth considering that in a gold rush, the people making the most money aren’t always the ones panning for gold, but the ones selling picks and shovels. So even if you’re not geared up to produce the next digital world-changer, it’s time to start thinking about how your business can exploit those who are. In other words – tech companies are your best client prospects. How can you tailor your offering to make them need you more?
Those of you who are experiencing booms are probably getting by on your team members’ adrenaline. So how do you plan and remodel for the next stage – where you evolve from a company working at an unsustainable pace to an organisation that’s comfortable operating at higher speed?
Some sectors (and I’m thinking here particularly about construction clients) may have to adapt to a world where breakneck acceleration is followed by dragging periods. The food, healthcare, education and transport sectors have to adapt to a scenario that hasn’t yet played out. The energy sector and its tributaries are in the midst of their own revolution – the decarbonisation of power to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets – in addition to their pandemic adaptations. Other businesses have to deal with physical barriers to business – and between themselves and their customers.
But one of the key factors that unite all the above is that what will make them more agile is their use of data. Knowing your numbers in real time will help you respond faster and more accurately to any new crisis. And business modelling using these numbers is one of the key ways we can support companies in the coming months and years.
And here’s the key. Very few companies have even begun to plumb these depths. Many collect it. But few of us are making the most of its insights to guide us through the forests of product development, team member efficiency and welfare, and customer behaviour predictions.
What’s more, the past few years have seen astonishing increases in our ability to store data, but our ability to manage, analyse and apply it is not in the same league.
Hence the fiasco with the British Government, no less, using Excel spreadsheets to keep pace with a national tracing programme. Spreadsheets are a wonderfully powerful tool to enable amateurs to assess and understand options, but they’re prone to errors, and not all of them human.
Which is why tools giving organisations self-service access to this technology will come to the fore throughout 2021, as small and medium-sized companies seek to hone their competitive edge.
Companies in all sectors will become more agile because they have more vision, can see into the darker places of their own business and see change coming before it becomes a problem.
We’re already helping our clients to acclimatise to this smarter world. It’s not magic, it’s not even rocket science. It’s how the world has always been – adapt and thrive.
Stockport based accountancy and business advisory firm, Hallidays, support and inspire businesses to grow from where they are now to where they want to be. For further information about their services, contact their team.