Over the last few years, those business owners who are still around have been through absolute torment of uncertainty, causing havoc on not just their business but on family and staff relationships, personal finances and their minds.  To their credit they’ve managed to ride the storm, adapting to changing environments, new rules and regulations and political turmoil. UK businesses large and small have shown true determination and spirit, they have overcome adversity and displayed the ‘just get on with it’ attitude that made this country great, and will again.

Despite the avalanche of inevitable business closures, there has also been a flurry of fresh newcomers to the business world. From hospitality to tech, from retail to the professional, high street to business park, Fylde had its fair share of leavers and newcomers. Yet still, despite the unrest, business continuity is often overlooked and played down by SME’s, neglecting to constantly keep tabs on their market and appreciating the finances needed all too often see the demise of small businesses. Ensuring the ducks are in a row at a pivotal time of economic unrest may determine the success or demise of a business.

Here are a few tips on remaining steadfast during the turmoil of economic unrest:

Staying Cool

It’s so easy to become mentally unravelled when the economy takes a turn for the worse no matter your position in the company. We worry about our financial situation, customers, home, staff, and suppliers, how can we keep the plates spinning?  One thing is for sure if you do not remain focused and calm those plates will fall. In recent years the support available for mental wellness has grown, from online courses to meditation, mindfulness apps to health and nutrition experts.

Imagine yourself on the motorway in a traffic queue, from the driver’s angle you can’t see too far ahead. You get out of the car and you can see there is a long, long queue but you still have no idea what’s going on.  You listen the news which tells you a bit more, maybe even watch the news on your phone. However, if you were presented with the chance to get into a helicopter and get above it all you can then really appreciate the bigger picture, the accident causing the havoc, possible exits off and better time appreciation. That’s where you need to be – in that helicopter seeing the road ahead, planning your next move.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Regardless of where your business is at your hard-won-over customers remain King (and Queen), so keep your eyes on the prize. Your regular customers want what you sell or provide but probably know your competitors better than you do. Listen to what they are telling you, by their shopping habits, social media, customer surveys, feedback opportunities or simply a cheery word or two at the till. People buy from people, if the relationship is not tended to from the top down, don’t expect your staff to care either.

Think about creating focus groups to really hone in on your customer’s expectations and desires, concerns and future needs. What price points will they wobble at, are your customers more concerned about the price of the environmental aspect? If price, can you match prices from competitors and encourage dialogue to at least allow you to quote?  Read your sector’s publications, what are the trends, these may create new opportunities later.  Where are your customers going to read all about your type of product/service? Can you become an influencer in your field? Do not rest on your laurels, there is always someone out there ready to take your valued prize from you with a far better offer. Seek out business support constantly.

Get the books in order

Make sure your personal finances are separated from your business finances no matter what type of business you run and live within your means. Set yourself weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual targets for spend and income. Having something like a target board also encourages you and even staff to join in – do reward them for their hard work when you do achieve the targets though! Check your cash flow against your outgoings, can you get better offers from your suppliers including utility companies, loans and card processors? Where is your next customer coming from, what do they look like, where will they get to know about you?

Tackle the debt in your business, allow for inflation in your budget and don’t take any more debt on, call in your debtors. No one can plan in times of crisis but you can save for the rainy day whilst you have a decent income coming in. If you are not savvy with bookkeeping, get savvy, there is absolutely no excuse for a business owner not to have control over their own business finances. If you do need help to guide you go and get it, you will not regret it. Even billionaires have advisors!  There are sufficient books and YouTube videos out there on this subject, events and mentors aplenty offering advice. Can you sell online any extra products? If your business did fail, what is plan B and how much have you set aside?

Remain agile and openminded

Many businesses found out during the pandemic, remaining agile was vital for survivability whether this was a restaurant closing for table service and opening for takeout, a shop owner rapidly learning how to sell online, to cash is king, cards are smarter when it came to handling payments and customer concerns.  Technology did not stop because of the pandemic nor will it through any recession, so keeping an eye on your sector’s news and publications might be an idea.

If you are reluctant to become tech-savvy, think of this, your competition is not. Remaining open-minded to receiving ideas and learning new things is key to an enjoyable life and success in business.  Listening to staff and customers is vital, they may have ideas you’ve not contemplated and might serve you well. Weigh up the pro’s and con’s as well as the financial risks of any new idea before you act on them, treat them as a project and don’t be afraid to call time or change direction if a project’s progress is not proving beneficial to the business.  Don’t pop all your eggs into one basket when it comes to your business, if you can, reduce the focus on one area to a range of diversified income sources, but not so many as to detract from your core strategy.

Two heads are better than one

Networking with your peers can not only lead to partnerships and profits you’d never even imagined, they say a problem shared is a problem halved. Networking also provides reassurance that you are not in this situation alone. Many business owners will be feeling as concerned and nervous. Together air your concerns about footfall in town centres to your local Council, and create events to increase footfall in your shop, which has a positive knock-on effect for your neighbour, your street and your town. Share your experience and expertise, why not join a local business group?

Contingency Box

If your electricity went off tomorrow what would you do? Would you close or try and continue? If you continue have a contingency box of stationary and coloured markers handy with an old manual card machine, a cash box with a float, receipt pads, a stock list, sticky labels, and laminated A3, A3, A2 plain paper to create notices on. Candles and battery-powered led festoon lights are also handy. Have you backed up your computers/EPOS system recently? Are all your key files in the cloud, or do you have some on a pencil drive – just in case? Maybe you need a backup generator for freezers, lights and a socket? Is your premises secure enough – do your shutters have a manual winder handle – where is it – how does it work? Do you have a gas top stove and a suitable kettle – you need to keep your staff happy! What is the plan for your staff?  Can they be working on anything for you – maybe some PR or marketing perhaps, idea-generating? We tend not to plan for the worse, but with the mention of ‘blackouts’ it might just be time to plan for the worse? Be prepared.

Thinking ahead

Many of us appreciate the cyclical nature of life, just as a tree sprouts new growth in the Spring, so does it shed them in Winter. Just as we see the economic highs, so do we experience the economic lows.  At the time it may feel like the world is imploding, but unlike the movies, it generally tends not to and things recover eventually. There are many scholarly articles on this subject, notably Howe and Strauss’s book, The Fourth Turning. By appreciating the ‘cycles’ of life and planning for the long term we can ride the journey so define and focus on your long-term goals.

Create a long-term business strategy, seek out business support and attend a business leaders course – they’re very good! A simple way to devise a strategy is to simply work backwards from when you wish to retire and with how much you want in your bank to live off.

Staffing Inventory

An expert from an article in Investopedia advises “Payroll is often one of the top costs a small business owner has, so seeing to it that the money is well spent makes sense. This may involve a thorough review of the staff—both when a problem arises and during the normal course of business—to make sure the right people are on board and doing their jobs effectively.

Both small business owners and large corporations tend to be penny-wise and pound-foolish when they hire the least expensive workers. Sometimes the productivity of those workers may be suspect. Hiring one worker who costs 20% more than the average worker but works 40% more effectively makes sense, particularly during periods of crisis. By constantly seeking resumes and interviews with new people, business owners can make changes to staff when needed to increase efficiency”.

For further assistance with any of the above measures contact the Economic Development Team at Fylde Council