Make a plan – The next few months could be crucial

You have survived the last few months, but you are in a different position now and it is not business as usual. So where do you go from here? How do you begin to move your business forward and get back to where you wanted it to be when you started out?  

To refocus your efforts, here are 3 crucial questions to help you plan. 

Ask yourself –

  1. What is the purpose of my company, why does it exist?

Understanding why your company does what it does and diving to the heart of its existence, will help you form a clearly defined mission statement. This will ensure you and your target audience clearly understand what you do and why. 

  1. What are your goals and aspirations for the business?

When you understand what you are looking to achieve over a longer timeframe, it depicts a vision of what the company will look like in the future. Creating a vision statement helps focus you towards longer-term goals and ambitions.  

  1. How do I achieve this?

This is the important part, where you start to develop and build your plan.   

What type of business plan should you build?

This depends on what you want to achieve and where you are now. Below are various types of plans. Which best fits your current situation? 

  • You’ve survived the pandemic quite well and want to build on this – make a growth strategy plan. 
  • You are still in business, but it’s been a tough few months – make a contingency plan.  
  • You are in much the same position as before, but it was a shock how the pandemic hit you –  make an exit strategy to handle unforeseen circumstances.  

The past few months have created an unprecedented situation for everyone. However, there are opportunities and advantages to be gained but it should all be undertaken with a clear view of where you are and how to proceed forward.  

It is not all bad news and the future can still look bright. The upturn could be quick. Some positive news for the North East Region recently published by the Department for International Trade outlined –  

The North East has outperformed every other English region outside London on the number of new jobs created from foreign direct investment in 2019/20, relative to its population. 

The latest figures from The Department for International Trade (DIT) show that in 2019/20 the North East created 179 jobs for every 100,000 people (working age population), placing it behind only London as the best performing area of the country. The sectors that saw the biggest job increases in the region were business services, digital, offshore wind and advanced manufacturing. 

Where do you go from here?

Start to write things down and have discussions around the possibilities of what can reasonably be achieved for your business plan considering: cash flow, order pipeline, prospects, current turnover and secured income, commitments and liabilities.  

Can changes be made and has the lockdown helped to gauge the workability of these.  More remote working, less office space, hiring opportunities, outsourcing?   

All these aspects can be discussed with your CMC Business Advisor who can give an independent overview of the situation and help providinsight and reassurance for the short to medium term outlook. Putting something in place now is essential as the next few months will be very important time. Take control of your business and know what can be done to support it going forward. 

Business recovery observations for SMEs

As 2020 proceeds, the Covid-19 Pandemic has created totally new climates in which businesses must operate. In order to trade successfully and make a strong recovery, these need to be clearly understood by business owners if they are going to lead their businesses into better times 

Our observations so far

Within this blog, we take a closer look at these changes and their impact on SMEs – based on observations with CMC clients across various sectors. It provides an overview of activity across the 4 quarters of 2020, as outlined below, identifying key changes in the new trading environment and how plans have been adapted to fit. 

  • Quarter 1 (Jan – March)   >>>   Pre COVID-19   >>>   Business as usual 
  • Quarter 2 (April – June)   >>>   Lockdown   >>>   Survival 
  • Quarter 3 (July – Sept)  >>>   Post Lockdown   >>>   Recovery 
  • Quarter 4 (Oct – Dec)  >>>   Post Lockdown   >>>   Possible Growth 

Quarter 1 – Pre Covid-19

Business as usual. Slight rumblings about the disease as it hit China, but it seemed to be someone else’s problem’ and wouldn’t affect the UK. 

Quarter 2 – Covid-19 Lockdown – Survival

Almost overnight, Covid-19 was a problem in the UK and lockdown was imposed in Mid-March. Rapidly businesses had to plan for survival. 

During the survival stage, businesses had to implement emergency measures to tightly control costs and to preserve cash. Many businesses were complacent, thinking it would be over ‘by the summer’. However, as the science came to light it was clear that Covid-19 would have an impact throughout 2020 and into 2021. 

Simplistically, there were three categories of client as they went into lockdown. 

1. Companies trading as normal

Clients in software development, IT support, food production, branding/web design etc. worked as normal throughout AprilMay and JuneIndeed, some experienced record trading months! In this stage it was clear that their client base would continue to place orders. 

They did not need to furlough staff and they all learnt to work successfully from home and trade with their clients remotely. This included winning new business and sometimes with new clients. 

2. Companies trading in much tougher markets

Clients in construction or manufacturing or service businesses exposed to catering, events, sports, hospitality and travel had to act rapidly. These clients used the furlough scheme selectively and traded on revenues up to 50% below normal. Survival meant trying to reduce overhead to match the loss of revenue. Many took advantage of government loans to bolster their balance sheets. 

Many clients in this group, repositioned the business into new sectors or servicing new types of clients. This happened with remarkable speed. For example, a client designed a range of face shields, got them approved and out to market within this three-month period. Another client in consumer testing perfected home testing with deliveries by courier. Many took advantage of competitors who had removed themselves from the market by shutting down completely. 

3. Companies zero trading

Clients in sectors completely exposed to air travel, holidaysfood service or hospitality had to lockdown their businesses. These clients furloughed all their staff and as much as possible ‘mothballed’ their companies. For these companies the owners and directors were left to keep a presence in their marketplace ready for any upturn at some unknown point in the future. 

Quarter 3 – Post Covid-19 Lockdown – Recovery 

Moving from June to Julyelements of the lockdown were being relaxed. Survival was still a major issue, but equally there were green shoots emerging in the economy. 

Looking forward the balancing act is to start trading again in existing and new markets and to balance the resources needed to service these markets. Cash flow will be tight as companies come out of lockdown with reserves depleted, so good data management is essential to identify the peaks and troughs of activity. 

As people come off furlough there are some very difficult decisions about redundancies. Many clients have taken the opportunity to restructure their businesses and take out layers of management. People working from home have shown a remarkable capacity for self-management. 

Many companies have decided to stay working from home for the foreseeable future, potentially getting rid of their office space or reducing it dramatically. 

All this has placed pressure on the IT systems of companies. Many clients are looking at the recovery stage as an opportunity to start upgrading their IT capability, cutting out clerical jobs which can be automated. Electronic Data Interchange between company and client, ordering items and paying invoices, will be the new norm for doing business. 

The sales cycle in many clients is also challenged. Instead of sales people being on the road in their cars meeting clients facetoface, clients have found that they can successfully deal with customers through a centrally based, graduate level sales person. They sell by researching the requirement, making contact through social media and using video conferencing to get to the decision makers. Often more can be achieved in a half hour VC call than an extended facetoface sales call. 

Marketing has been the common point of success across all companies and particularly digital marketing. Many of those sceptical of how the web can be used alongside social media have been convinced. Digital marketing has provided a very effective way to keep up ‘appropriate’ messaging during lockdown and will be used by many clients to further communicate with the client base as they start the recovery stage. 

Quarter 4 – Post Covid-19 Lockdown – Growth

We have hypothesised that for many sectors still struggling, September/October will mark the transition from the recovery stage to the growth stage. Many companies will not have made it to that time. Often, they will be good, sound companies, blown to the edge by the circumstances of Covid19 and therefore there will be opportunities for acquisition or for strategic alliances to be formed. 

There may yet be another general lockdown. So, companies will have to maintain their resilience, preserve their finances and continue to develop their ability to rapidly evolve and adapt to new markets and opportunities. 

Our recommendation: Plan for the worst, hope for the best! 

Are you having a good pandemic?

The question isn’t as daft as it sounds. We’ve all heard about the industries that are having great difficulties (like Leisure and Entertainment), but ask the same question to the big supermarket chains and you will get a very different answer! And those supermarkets which geared up quickly to meet the huge surge in online demand have done especially well, as have local farm and corner shops.

At times like this, business owners experience successive waves of optimism and pessimism; the furlough scheme came as a huge relief, which was soon dissipated by worries about what happens further down the track.

The stress of making loyal staff redundant has never been so great, but the focus is inevitably on short-term survival. Try to balance the books the best you can and await developments…

There’s plenty of good advice out there on what you must do to keep things tight, and I do not propose to repeat solemn words about cash flow, overheads, and profit margins.

My point is that the worst battles lie ahead and are already raging within the business owner’s mind – centred on the question:

Now what?

I have heard some business owners say things like:

‘Our customers know where we are, and we don’t want to bother them, so we’ll just sit tight and see what happens’ or…

‘I’ve mailed all my customers and will see what comes back’.

The key lesson from this pandemic: ‘It’s good to talk’

We have seen how important it is to maintain the strongest possible communication links throughout this crisis. But that is a good habit at any time, so what is new?

For business owners, it is crucial to avoid obsessive contemplation of your own problems. It should be clear that all your customers are experiencing similar waves of optimism and pessimism, and are searching desperately for solutions to their woes.

So why not try this for starters:

Put yourself in their position

  • What are your customer’s concerns?
  • Can you come up with solutions that may go some way to addressing them?
  • Draw up simple plans that show how you could help them

You could well find that you identify pent-up demands for new ideas, products or services.

Just look around and you can see plenty of examples:

  • Online Zoom meetings doing all manner of distance learning, therapy sessions
  • Arts companies running free performances of plays and operas online
  • The boom in the sale of products online (requiring products to be packaged and serviced differently)
  • Pubs and restaurants ‘ticking over’ by offering takeaway food and drink

One of my clients is a sports coaching company – focused on youngsters – who have been locked down for months – frustrated, bored, fed up with home learning and being unable to be with their mates. My client proposed online coaching sessions, which schoolteachers loved, and 1-2-1 coaching sessions, which parents craved! ‘Anything to get them off our hands and getting good exercise!’

For him, it has opened up two potential lines of new business development: online live coaching classes and a sports coaching video library for ongoing sales.

What he has also found is that if you can identify and meet new demands like this quickly and well, customers are willing to pay over the odds, provided that the pricing is sensible.

Your good pandemic guide

  • Stabilise your short-term business
  • Look ahead by speaking and listening to your customers and suppliers
  • Come up with new, imaginative ideas that will enable their own business development and well as your own
  • Execute those ideas briskly and efficiently
  • Do this, and you can bet that you will steal a march on many of your competitors

So you can….

Look forward to the ‘new normal’

Your local CMC Partner (that’s me, for one) stands ready and able to help you. We do this for many clients and can offer the type of strategic planning and emergency services that could be the very lifeline you need right now.

The worst thing one can do is to sit on one’s hands and ‘await developments An American satirist once said: ‘Disaster is a natural part of my evolution. Toward tragedy and dissolution’. To be avoided, don’t you think? So why not chew carefully on that and give us a call?

Hope for the best, plan ahead for the worst

With so much happening now and so much information circulating, it’s difficult to gauge what is going on and how to deal with it all.

Something that is always important and straight forward to do to help understand the situation, is to pick up the phone and make contact with all your clients, suppliers, service providers and staff. They may not have all the answers, but you will get a clearer picture from them and they will be happy to share their thoughts – and they will appreciate you reaching out. This will help provide some valuable insight into your personal business requirements, but what about the bigger picture? What impact could this have?

A worst-case scenario

What could be the worst case in general terms? A long recession compounded by a no deal Brexit at the end of the year. Redundancies are mounting up as we see government support schemes such as furlough coming to an end in the next few months. Some industries will take the impact much harder than others. Airlines, service industries and entertainment will be badly affected and these all have knock on effects to other industries.

The last day to extend the Brexit deal was 30th June 2020 making the risk of a no deal crash out higher than before. If you export or deal in several national sectors, then this would need to be considered. All these people and services will still be around for the coming few months, but as things drag out the likelihood of resurrecting these industries will be so much harder. A long drawn out recession with major unemployment and little spending power in the economy would be hard for everyone.

What could be the best-case scenario?

The government secures a Brexit deal that is beneficial to the UK and with minimum disruption to business. We manage to open up new major trade deals with other economies and improve our import/export business.

The big long recession doesn’t happen, and we get a V-shaped recession where we bounce back quickly. The impact of the crisis so far has been quite severe. Britain’s economy suffered the largest quarterly fall in GDP since 1979 – shrinking by 2.2% according to the ONS’s latest figures just released. However the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane said in a speech at the end of June, that the UK could be heading for a ‘V–shaped’ recovery as consumers, locked inside for weeks on end, rush to newly reopened shops nationwide.

He has predicted a return to near normal output by the end of 2020. Sales of cars, houses and general household goods indicate a greater than expected degree of underlying strength in consumer spending. If this was to further role out to the holiday and service industries, then it maybe a painful sharp hurt but temporary with a quick recovery. Companies will need enough cash flow and potential business coming in, to keep going a few months longer and will need to know how long they can sustain this. Signs of a pick-up may come quickly.

Plan ahead – How to prepare

There is no clear answer, but the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats all need to be considered to enable you to plan ahead and make informed judgements going forward.

Single finite limiting resource – staff capacity

Why staff capacity is so vitally important right now

Practically every business one looks at has to deal with various factors which will limit company growth in a number of different areas. However, there is usually one factor that is dominant – one “finite limited resource” which in the final analysis determines how far your business will be able to grow. For larger companies and for corporations with considerable resources – and access to capital or finance – the limitations are usually determined by external factors such the size of the “addressable market”. In the SME sector the limitations are much more likely to be imposed by the internal resources available to the business owner and by far the most common of these is staff time.

Managing capacity

The amount of time available for the workforce and the owners to do work is a fundamental constraint for which my shorthand designation is simply “capacity”. Just how much “stuff” can your team get done in a day or a week? Managing how the available capacity is utilized is the biggest lever the owner has for radically changing the performance of their business. The role of the business owner is to make sure all the available staff capacity is used to the fullest extent possible – to deliver on their goals for the business and their personal objectives. Most SME businesses fall a long way short of optimal performance in this area and analyzing the effective use of capacity is something which consumes a very large proportion of the time I spend with clients.

Start at the top!

Start the analysis at the top of the organization. In owner managed businesses it is very common for the owner to continue to perform tasks that are “below their pay grade” – doing stuff that other people in the team could do just as well (or even better!). At some point in the development of the business they may have had no choice – either insufficient money or too few staff – so it was a necessity that became a habit. And, a bad one! Delegating tasks to staff is a key part of developing a strong team and needs to become standard practice. The reality is that in most businesses the owner’s time is not only the most costly – it is also the most valuable. Valuable in this instance because the owner can add the greatest value for the business. For example, an owner could spend 30 minutes completing their own expense claim or spend those thirty minutes talking to a client or a prospect to identify a new opportunity or close a new order! The best option for the well-being of the business is completely obvious – yet it still happens.

By enabling the owner to spend a larger proportion of their time on genuine “value add” activities we clearly create more work for the next tier of management or staff. However, when you count the true cost of completing the task it will have been reduced – so this process is self-funding. Over time you create a cascade in which the most straightforward and repetitive tasks can be performed by the least costly resource – perhaps even an intern or an apprentice. And, all the intermediate layers of management are empowered to ensure the highest possible proportion of their “capacity” is spent on adding value for the organization in ways that are most suited to their personal skills an strengths. You also create an “on-ramp” and a road map for new employees to join and develop in the organization.

Now is the time to optimize staff capacity

It is often very much easier to identify areas and activities that lead to “capacity” being wasted or used ineffectively when one is not part of the the company but an outsider – but an objective observer – as I am for my clients. Liberating the true potential of my clients’ businesses is a good description of how I spend my time and why clients remain happy to pay my bills – year after year. Because the world we are rejoining has changed in lots of different ways, now is the perfect time to make sure that your company’s “capacity” – its ability to get stuff done – is being used optimally. Doing so will speed up your recovery and liberate time to embrace and develop new opportunities.

I explore this whole subject of making best use of the available “capacity” in much more detail in my white paper “Growing your business – the People Dimension” which can be downloaded from this web site – I hope you enjoy reading it.

 

Growing a Enterprise Software Business

Reimagine your business… now is a great time

Now is the time to reimagine your business

As we enter the ‘next normal’ for business it is important to spend time reviewing your business strategy. Not sure how to reimagine your business? Don’t know where to start? Try to think of it as developing a road map — with it, you’ll determine the direction of your business and what you want it to look like and achieve in the future.

By clearly defining the strategy, you’ll have the guidelines and structure to develop your business or growth plan and achieve your business goals.

Be bold, now is a unique opportunity to reimagine your business. Remember, you cannot be all things to all customers. You do not have to be the market leader to compete successfully, but you do need to focus on your company’s strengths to find a way to differentiate from your competitors.

Defining your business strategy

Here’s my definition:

“A business strategy is a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the business, generates a desired pattern of decision making. A strategy is therefore about how people throughout the business should make decisions and allocate resources to accomplish key objectives. A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules. It defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritise (and not prioritise) to achieve desired goals ”.

Although individuals in your company may focus on different priorities to accomplish specific tasks, these priorities should not conflict with the overall strategic direction of the company.

RELAX…

Whilst there have been over 80 models created for helping build a business strategy since Ansoff designed his four-box matrix in 1958, it need not be an academic exercise. Your business strategy can be defined in a couple of paragraphs or be written as a set of strategic statements. In a previous post, I discussed how a simple marketing strategy can be developed.

It is a summary of how the company will achieve its goals, meet the expectations of its customers, and sustain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Your business strategy should answer these questions:

  •           Why is the company in business?
  •           What is our core strength?
  •           Which customers should we continue to serve or start serving?
  •           Which products/services should we stop offering, continue to offer or start offering?
  •           Why have we decided on these strategic directions?

Answering these questions will help you establish your strategic priorities. You can’t be all things to all customers — nor should you be!

You don’t have to be the market leader to successfully compete. Focus on your firm’s strengths to differentiate your business from the competition. Help customers understand the value you offer.

www.distel.com

Cash is King – Especially Now!

The current business environment has never been tougher or more uncertain. Whilst a lot of businesses have been in survival mode, many businesses are now looking at how they can progress and prosper as the Covid constraints show the first signs of easing.

Control and forecasting of cash is key, not only to ensure survival, but also to check that the business as enough working capital to fund the upturn in business, when it eventually arrives. Decision making always benefits from some realistic analysis of the facts! “Cash is king” is of course a cliché, but it has never been truer! Here are some ideas to ensure you stay on top;

Produce a Cash Flow Forecast

Look forward at least a month, and preferably three months, to track the business’s income and expenditure; project your bank balance on either a weekly or monthly basis. This is never an easy task, so make sure you use the resources you have. Your in-house accountant/bookkeeper or the external Accountant can help, or indeed CMC Partners.

A cash flow forecast isn’t just a spreadsheet exercise – it will provide a firm foundation for any of the tough decisions the business needs to make. Cost cutting, redundancies, new capital/borrowing, increasing marketing and sales targets are factors that all need to be considered. What are your plans for the coming months; and do they produce a viable financial outcome?

Beware of the Short-Term Improvement in Cash

Two of my clients have seen dramatic falls in sales since the start of the pandemic, yet their cash balance at the bank has actually risen – why is this?!

This is a common phenomenon, but is counter-intuitive. What has happened is that the company has been able to continue to collect the money from their debtor customers for their earlier sales, whilst their expenditure has been reduced, and in a lot of cases, staff have been furloughed. However, this positive effect is only a short term; the majority of the pre-Covid debtors will have paid by now, and subsequent payments from customers will be at a very much reduced rate. A further problem will arise when business levels start to improve, because your customers will not pay your bills for typically 30 to 60 days, then cash levels will fall despite rising sales. Having enough working capital at the point sales start to rise is essential.

Scenario Planning

Of course, no one has a perfect view of the future, and the current environment presents a series of circumstances that are genuinely unprecedented. Forecasting is therefore even more difficult than normal. A way to accommodate this is by running a number of different scenarios. Sales levels usually provide the most uncertainty; so try running say three different cash flow forecast scenarios based, say, on a high, medium or low level of future sales. This provides “sensitivity” for the range of different outcomes and helps you understand where the key decision points will lie.

Do you Need to Borrow?

Your cash flow forecast will show you if you need to consider borrowing cash. Even if the cash flow levels look OK, having additional funds available will act as an insurance policy. As a note of caution this should only be done if the business is very confident that the money can be re-paid. I’ll limit my comments to two particular government backed schemes.

  • Bounce Back Loan; up to £50k, no repayments for 12 months, then repayments over further 5 years of capital and interest at 2.5%. A relatively simple application process, no need for projections or personal guarantees. Some eligibility criteria. If cash is tight and you believe that repayment will not be an issue, then this is great and probably unrepeatable offer.
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBILS). Aimed at businesses that can demonstrate that they were viable before the pandemic and can provide detailed financial information (management accounts, forward cash flows and budgets, historic accounts etc!). This is similar to a traditional bank loan application process, with some considerable hoops to jump through to get past the application process. The major difference is that personal guarantees are generally not required.

The Banks website’s as well as Gov.uk will provide plenty of further background on both of these schemes.

Taking the Tough Decisions Early

Modelling your forward cash flow shows the pressure points on the cash flow and may prompt the need for some tough decisions. Timing is key if you anticipate reduced business levels over the short term. Cutting costs early means that cash can be preserved to be used to fund growth activities. A thorough review of overheads is the first priority; can particular purchases/services be stopped or trimmed? Cost cutting should certainly be applied to areas that are “nice to have” rather than absolutely essential.

Staff is often the biggest area of spend, so needs particular attention. Many companies have taken advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme, but this is starting to reduce. This change must be anticipated, and a hard look will need to be directed at whether you will need the existing staffing levels to meet the expected level of sales. Redundancies are never an easy option, but the future viability of the business may mean that they are necessary.

Investing for the Future

In difficult times, investing for the future is an equally tough call. Adapting to the “new normal” means there will be new opportunities to grow the business as the lock-down subsides. So, a complete review and refresh of the company’s marketing and sales activity is essential. Even if activity levels are low, make sure you keep in touch with customers. I’ve seen a number of my clients reach out to customers to help support them through the current difficulties – which was very well received and has created some new sales opportunities. Spend time to sharpen and clarify your marketing propositions and increase levels of contact, so as the recovery gathers pace, customers will remember your business.

In Conclusion….

Business planning is not easy in times of huge uncertainty – but it is massively important. Cash is the ultimate measure of business performance, so look ahead to help understand (early) what crucial decisions will need to be made.

CMC Partners have a huge level of experience in this area, so please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would need help with your future planning. Any initial call will not be chargeable.

Can technology save Small and Medium Enterprises?

‘The new normal’ of today’s pandemic has very quickly added Zoom and Microsoft Teams to our lexicon. While we have gone past (thankfully) from the earlier days of hoarding toilet paper from a supermarket run, we also seem to be forcefully embracing online ordering (online grocery sales increased 75% in May 2020 and added 1.6 million new digital shoppers, more than in the last 5 years) and digital payments.

Call it the power of adaptation but many businesses today are seeking new ways of adopting technologies to survive or dare one say, even thrive.

In a likely era where face to face customer meetings will be rare, negotiating with your suppliers will be on a video conference, weekly staff meetings are zoom invites – what should businesses do to grow, to thrive?

Our work with our clients is strongly pointing to the need for adopting a wholesale approach to making businesses digital. Such a company keeps a steady eye on their customer needs and habits, looks at every function with a digital lens and then attempts to integrate them all into a digital enterprise.

We’d like to offer the blueprint of such a fully digital enterprise:

Sales

Adopt digital approaches to generating demand such as web campaigns, social media outreach programmes and e-promotions. Use video clips to show how you can solve your customer’s problems and then link these campaigns into a consistent call to action by directing customers to your ecommerce site. Promise a delivery time to your customers and take payments online (especially if you are B2C business). As your sales increase measure which campaigns or channels are generating more leads and then increase investments in those channels, while reducing spend on others.

Slerp (London based startup) provides an easy to deploy ecommerce platform with services to get a small and medium enterprise become an online player. They’ve seen a 5x increase in their revenues the last 4 months.

Order Fulfilment

The recent surge in online delivery is a testament of changing consumer habits and expectations. Taking orders is good but not being able to deliver them on time can cost you customers and goodwill. A robust order fulfilment system is a must. Work with your shipping and logistics providers who will in today’s time be willing to promise guaranteed delivery times (even if they take a day longer than before). Place an expectation on your suppliers to electronically integrate shipping and delivery notices with your systems so that you have real-time visibility of incoming stock. Ensure you are able to clearly tell your customer when they should expect their order to reach them and how to trace their packages.

Vos Voco, a technology upstart, is building tools that help enterprises improve quality of delivery and automate reordering and fulfilment processes.

Customer Support

If you run a call centre give your support reps easy and quick access to customer orders and complaints information when helping customers. Explore digital interactions with your customers using cost-effective methods like chatbot services that can easily handle 70% of standard questions that your customers typically need help with – reducing your call centre expenses while improving customer experience as your customers get quicker answers. Explore modern analytical tools like ‘customer sentiment analysis’ to get insights into what your customers are saying about your product or services, rectify those product issues and then run a digital campaign letting your customers know you have heard them and taken action on their recommendations. This so called closed-loop customer interaction system is known to improve net promoter scores (NPS) manifold.

Employee management

While working from home isn’t new the pandemic has sufficiently proven that it is not only practical but also desirable. Work from home reduces commute time, lowers costs of absenteeism and improves employee wellbeing. A large insurance company has implemented a virtual coffee morning session where staff are matched based on work interests and paired up to get to know each other over a zoom session – thus improving internal networks. Many companies have signed up for inexpensive enterprise mobile applications that provide physical health and wellbeing support such as online group cardio exercises that can be done at lunch time from home. Microsoft 365 and Google docs are increasingly being used as document collaboration tools. Use electronic signatures, offered by numerous companies, and you have legally valid supplier or customer contracts ready for dispatch.

Backoffice Operations

If you are in the cash and carry business being able to accept digital payments will remove any impediments and cost of taking cash from your customers. Becoming a digital enterprise will help with filing your corporate taxes. Imbibe the culture of moving away from paper (receipts, orders, contracts) and you will find operational expense reduction sources that could pleasantly surprise you. Collaborate with your accountants online and sign up for SaaS based financial software management solutions (like Xero and others)

Clearly none of this is easy. Yet every business, however small, has the opportunity to critically assess what their strategic priorities are in this environment – and begin a progressive approach to digitalisation.

Technology won’t save all but might help businesses become more resilient to future upheavals.