Information and Advice for Local Business's during Covid 19 Outbreak

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Working from home with children:

With the prospect of many of us working from home, some with children also in the house - may I suggest the following approach … If, whilst on a video conference or call, said children coming to the room, rather than being embarrassed and rushing them out of the door, can we all agree to say hello and let them meet colleagues, clients and stakeholders and ask questions about what we are all doing
Couple of reasons:
1- It is a great opportunity to experience what we all do and what work is about. Why not demystify that thing mum/dad/carer does all day?
2 - It helps colleagues, stakeholders and clients understand more about who we are - it is humanising and reminds us we all have the same stuff to cope with.
3- It is going to happen a lot, so maybe a chance to lighten up and have some fun?
4 - Nothing better than a child for calling out any business BS - maybe meetings may become more productive and useful if we all have a little voice saying 'What are you talking about!'
(Added thought - can we also agree it is fine that we have not cleaned up so we don't have to spend an hour getting our home work space show home ready)

How to keep your business out of the black hole and leave this sh*tstorm stronger than you started. 

We get the media that we deserve, there’s no point in blaming them, the poor hacks.

There are no good news stories because we don’t want them. Not yet.

We’re in a malaise, we await bad news, we want it.

Bring it on.

The conspiracy theorists sit behind their keyboards and join distant dots. The media is hysterical, the media is to blame. The governments started this, it’s a man-made virus. We’re all going to die and it’s because of Breakfast, or Boris, or whatever.

Business owners and leaders soak it up. Information is power.

We need to be informed. Need to understand what’s going on and how it’s going to affect us. We demand more updates from Boris. Increased transparency. Daily briefings. Minute-by-minute newscasting.

The all-powerful algorithms mean there is no end. Finish reading one post and a new one takes its place. The algorithm gives us more of what we want, and our appetite is insatiable.

We are so busy keeping up with events that are swirling around us, that we stand still. 

We do nothing.

There is so much going on, so much happening right now, that we slow down. We let ourselves be overtaken by events.

And if you’re a business owner, you cannot afford to let that happen. 

Stand still and you will be overtaken. Not only by events, but by the businesses who are making plans and implementing them, by the leaders who are galvanising their teams and doing the things that will make a difference in a few short weeks.

I’m not an expert in infectious diseases, but I do know that this isn’t the end of the world.

The situation has got darker and darker over the last few days, but we’re not falling into a black hole, we’re simply entering a tunnel.

And the light is visible on the other side, our friends in China prove it. We were living our best life in February, doing whatever we wanted to, shaking hands with gay abandon and only buying as much toilet roll as we needed.

Now it is China’s turn to watch us.

They are coming out of the tunnel, closing down their temporary hospitals, taking off masks and opening up factories. All 42 Apple stores in China flung open their doors last week, a month after shutting up shop.

While the media keeps most people focussed on how dark it is, we must not get pulled into their black hole of bad news.

Yes, the news is bad. No, it’s not going to be better tomorrow. 

But it will be better, and quickly.

Just as fast as the lights have gone out, they will be back on.

And the media will change its tune just as quickly.

It’ll start slow. A flight route opened up again. FTSE up slightly. West End shows on.

We’ll read those and share them. The algorithm will kick in and editors will demand more good news stories.

Suddenly, our newsfeeds will be wall to wall positivity. 

Outside, the sun will be shining.

This dreamy utopia isn’t months away. It’s just around the corner. A few weeks if we’re anything like China, a couple of months at most if Boris’s boffins have misread their model.

Our world will quickly return to normal. We’ll be standing around in pub gardens drinking bottles of Corona making terrible virus-related jokes all summer and then it’ll be done and dusted. As relevant as swine flu by Christmas, relegated to pub quiz answer, maybe a ‘what happened next’ on A Question of Sport.

That is what’s coming down the line. The short-sighted are pre-occupied with what’s happening today and might happen tomorrow, leaders building long-term success have got their heads up, they’re focussing on what’s coming next.

And what is coming next? 

Well, in most markets, Coronavirus is a bottleneck, not a cork.

Stuff isn’t being cancelled; it’s being postponed. 

Brunch 2020 has become Brunch 2021.

Smaller events will be pushed back towards the end of the year. An event we were going to with a bunch of clients this month looks like it’s going to be in December now.

Easter Sunday is now scheduled for 28th June.

I’m joking about that one. 

But the point is that nobody has pressed stop. We’re on pause. 

People still have hopes, dreams and plans for the rest of the year, and as soon as we’re out of the tunnel they’re going to start work making them happen. 
•    The couples who have been saving for a new kitchen or car this year aren’t going to get it done in the next few weeks, but they will still want to get it done by Christmas.
 
•    Divorce lawyers aren’t going to have a busy month because everyone is staying home, but after a few weeks of couples locked inside the same house, they might yet have a very busy year.
 
•    Venues who are completely empty this month will struggle to find dates for every postponed event that needs to happen during the rest of the year.
And so on.

So as a business owner, what’s the best course of action?

What should you be doing right now? 

Well not what most people will be doing, that’s for sure. 
•    Most people will be running scared, they only see what the bad news media is pumping out and they’ve mentally shut up shop already, resigned to a future of shit hitting fans.
 
•    There are businesses behaving like this is the new normal, and it isn’t.
 
•    Some businesses are noticeable by their absence. They’ve spent years building and nurturing relationships, and then they’ve suddenly stopped.
These are mistakes. If you’re making them then you need to take stock and lift up your head. 

We are not entering a black hole. We are going through a tunnel and when the light arrives, you need to be ready for it. Things will have changed, in psychology and balance sheets, in changed business models and new customer habits.

Your competitive landscape might well have changed too. Old competitors might have left your market, new ones may have arrived, your position in the pecking order might have changed.

Some businesses are already preparing. They know that when the light arrives, it will arrive swiftly and with little warning. Phones will start ringing, who will answer them? What will they say?

There are three main phases to consider when it comes to creating your plan.

Phase 1 – The Tunnel
This is where we’re at right now. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Buying pasta and toilet roll. Awaiting the daily updates, waiting for more direction.

Phase 2 – The Light
Like China, we will race out of the tunnel. We don’t know when, but we know we will. We will return to our old routines, football fans at football matches, theatre goers going to theatres.

Phase 3 – The New Normal
Some industries will be changed forever, the way that many of us work might well be too. We’ve been able to work from home for years, but many haven’t embraced it, preferring the familiarity of an office. We’ve been able to hold meetings really effectively using technology like Zoom ages, but we have chosen not to.

Will this be the catalyst for change? Fewer commuters, less business travel? 

Planning for phase 3 doesn’t need to happen yet. Planning for phases 1 and 2 is critical. You can’t lead without a clear vision and plan, and even though we’re living in the middle of a shitstorm, it’s much more important that you have a strategy for what happens at the end of the storm than spending your time understanding what colour the shit is today.

Every business will need a unique plan, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ here, but as you pull your plan together over the next few days, here are four areas to consider:

1 - How Should You Be Working? 
The technology is there for us all to work differently. Online, at home, collaboratively, not just within our teams but with our customers, clients, patients and partners too.

Which are the right tools for your business to be using right now, are they the right tools for you to use in the longer term? 

2 - How Should You Be Communicating? 
People like to do business with people that they know, like and trust. That’s not going to change, and that’s why increasing your communication right now is the right thing to do.

Your team needs to understand what’s going on, they need to know that you have a plan and what their part is. They need to be led, and they want you to lead them.

Your customers need leadership too. They want you to tell them what they should be doing. They want re-assurance, they want transparency. They do not want unanswered calls and emails. 

If you’re going to springboard out of this, then you’ll need to maintain your relationships with your suppliers and partners. You’ll need their help soon enough. Lots of businesses won’t be paying suppliers or communicating with them, those trusted partnerships will be worthless very quickly. This is your time to show what a trustworthy, open company you are to work with.

3 - How Should You Be Marketing? 
Whether you’re dependent on new customers coming into your business or repeat sales to existing customers, most businesses don’t market now for immediate customers, the marketing they do today creates customers next month, next quarter, next year.

Taking your eye off your marketing right now won’t hurt you today. You might not feel it for ages, but just when you need them most, you won’t have prospects to sell to, your customers will be buying from somebody else.

You need to plan to keep generating leads, and for most businesses, expect a low conversion rate while we progress through the tunnel. Double-down on nurturing them instead, build relationships, build trust, and be ready to convert them in a few weeks’ time.

(Some businesses, and some clients of ours, are generating MORE leads, more easily right now. The temptation is to ease your foot off the marketing gas, but that might not be the right thing to do, the competitor who has mashed their marketing pedal to the metal is eating your lunch.) 

The businesses who grab a load of new customers this year will be those who have built and maintained relationships with their lists, have offers and sales material ready to go, and have their websites sharp and up to date. 

They’re ready for business, they’ll win.

4 - How Should You Be Changing? 
Businesses make money from creating value, the best entrepreneurs find ways to add value to their customers (or somebody else’s customers).

In your planning you should consider what you can do as well - or instead of – what you’ve been doing. What else do your customers need? What would they value? What would they pay for? How can you deliver it?

Summary 
When shocks like this happen, problems and opportunities are both created. Most businesses readily see the problems, but the opportunities are unseen.

If yours is a local business, for example, reliant on your customers coming to you or meeting up in person at local events or meetings, and one of the outcomes of this shock is that people get used to not attending events, to online meetings and one-to-one video calls, then your value proposition is significantly changed.

Stay with the old model and you’ll lose customers. Embrace the change and you could reduce costs and deliver value to customers from all over the world. 

Strategic planning is particularly hard to do when you’re under pressure, and much easier for someone who is at least partially detached from your business, with enough knowledge to ask the right questions, but not so involved in your day-to-day that they fail to think strategically enough. If you can find that person, then you stand a good chance of creating a better plan.

Focus your planning around a small number of critical areas, rather than a list of Action Points that could easily have sat in last year’s strategic plan. 

Most of all though, create the time over the next week or so to craft and tweak your plan, to sense check it and polish, and then to start work. 

When the water is calm a half-decent plan will get you to where you want to go, but when the storm is thrashing around you, you need to get crystal clear on your strategy.

Written by Mark Creaser. Business Consultant

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