I have used the analogy ‘Don’t wait for the cavalry, they’re not coming’ before in an email but it seems appropriate to do so again as the government support schemes hastily put in place to stave off the worst economic affects of the pandemic gradually peter out.
Businesses that have managed to hang on into the autumn with public sector support now face a winter on their own. Those that are still around in the spring will have shown an ability to adapt and innovate their business models and working practices.
They will start by asking two questions: how can I increase my sales and reduce my costs?
The first question – how can I increase my sales – will need a focus on their business model and distribution channels. There is pent up demand from consumers in most sectors, whether it be retail, hospitality or leisure, and with Christmas just over the horizon there are numerous opportunities. Restaurants and bars that have migrated to virtual events and online delivery are already reaping the benefit.
In retail those businesses that have switched to online-ordering, home delivery, click and collect and drive-thru services (for everything from furniture to appliances) have seen savvy customers seeking them out over their less nimble competitors.
These same opportunities exist in B2B as business customers look at ways to shore up their supply chains before the inevitable threat to imports from Brexit.
Cost reduction often presents a more difficult decision for some business owners. The easy option is to reduce headcount and discretionary expenditure such as marketing and training, but this is usually a mistake.
Businesses need to get their staff back to work as soon as possible but, if anything, the government is making this even more difficult with confusing rules regarding lockdowns and distancing. Employees, too, are fearful of returning to workplaces which they may not feel are safe.
Work from home has, of course, become a part of daily life for millions of workers. Those bosses who would never even consider it before the pandemic are eating humble pie as they see productivity increase and a less stressed workforce emerge. There is no doubt that working remotely will become a feature of many workers lives in the future.
But if I don’t need my UK workers to be in the office and they can work just as effectively remotely, maybe I can employ even more remote workers overseas?
Or maybe I can use this opportunity to outsource, systemise or automate my processes; businesses are finding that with the forced absence of staff, supply chains, customer service and financial transactions still have to be executed and are finding ever more innovative ways to do so.
Businesses can no longer rely on the government to help to get the job done and need to adapt to their changing circumstances. State-backed grant and loan schemes have lessened the pain during the spring and summer. As a bleak winter stretches before us, they will need to draw on their ingenuity to survive.