A Rallying Call For Resilience In Business Owners To Beat Lockdown Blues

Times of crisis should bring out the best in us.

“Lockdowns are an aberration on the graph of our lives. They’ll pass, so stay grounded. Let the storm subside, assemble the pieces, and re-build.” This sums up my stance in debates on how businesses should respond to lockdowns.

I know better now. And the reason is a pizza bar in South Australia.

All it takes is one innocuous lie to push a state of 1.7m population into a lockdown. Welcome to the life you never imagined.

It’s obvious that governments don’t know any better than shouting PAUSE and expecting businesses to screech to a halt at the call.

Sudden Lockdowns Are A Reality You Can’t Shy Away From

Isn’t it obvious?

This won’t be the last pandemic. And it’s far from over. UK’s Matt Hancock warned the world of a new strain of coronavirus on 15 Dec 2020, a day before I polished this post prior to posting.

The next public health emergency could look a lot different. It could be a local terror attack, or a climate mess akin to Californian wildfires.

Lockdowns are now coded as a legitimate government response to mayhem.

If you’re a business owner, trade your stiff-collared shirts for an armor-suit and a nerve of steel to go with it.

A Preamble To The Testament of Lockdown Resilience

All lockdowns aren’t the same.

Interestingly, 2020’s lockdowns provided an unexpected fillip to certain businesses. Essential retail, packed food, and ITeS service businesses enjoyed between 35–50% increase in weekly revenue in Late-April, over the numbers for the same week in 2019.

But then, if your sales double over a week, and your business can’t cope, it’s a nightmare all the same, albeit of a different kind.

Chances are you’d find a lockdown more a foe than friend, because it will mean:

● Low footfall in retail stores

● Lower consumption

● Dismantling of critical supply chains

● Drying up of cash flows

Leave the covering in fear and anxiety for others. And, gear up for resilience.

Resilient Business Routines — The ONLY Enduring Response

Your business isn’t your logo or your office or your business cards. Your business exists in its routines. Successful businesses excel not because they can do something new every day. They excel because they repeat their excellence routinely.

Hate to let it out, but your business is as resilient to uncertainty as your weakest routine.

Follow me as I tell you the questions that will reveal your business’ weak routines.

What’s your plan B?

Rather, how quickly can you switch from plan A (your most optimal business model) to plan B (an alternate business model that still puts food on the table)?

For the Australian startup The Cocktail Shop, operational resilience was the difference between bust and boom. For entrepreneur Mel How, digital marketing and SEO experience, and readiness to switch focus from B2C to B2B was a savior. She responded to the lockdown by targeting Aussie businesses, who promptly booked in their bulk orders for her cocktails-at-home service.

Mel tasted success, businesses found a funky way to keep their remote employees happy and connected over events of camaraderie, and the employees sipped delicious cocktails at home while being virtually together with colleagues.

I’ll follow this with another question for you.

Is your business on the right technology trajectory?

Chances are:

  • You’re paying someone for work that a piece of code could do for you — better and cheaper.
  • You’re missing opportunities to capture, crunch, and study data that can take the guesswork out of your business decision-making.
  • What you believe can’t be done online, has been and is being done online by your competitors.
  • You’re overpaying for outdated, clunky software that’s preventing your business from soaring, like the pioneers of your industry.
  • You’re scared of growing 10X, because you know you can’t handle the growth, and that’s because you’re not yet friends with the right technologies.

And you might not even know you’re stuck with these handicaps. After 100+ consultations with dozens of Australian SMB owners, managers, and directors I’ve consulted this year, I’ve concluded that the most glaring vulnerability for businesses is inadequate technological support.

And, it’s near impossible to bump into a story of business resilience amidst lockdown, without a declaration from the business owners that timely investments in the right technology saved them.

Crumpets by Merna is another Aussie success story that emerged from early stages of coronavirus lockdowns. Owner Merna Taouk was quick to overhaul her business website’s backend to digitize the customer delivery information systems.

The single most important lesson from 2020, particularly for mid-sized businesses has nothing to do with family and wellness and uncertainties. It’s this — technology is your only friend. Digital marketing is your only chance. E-commerce is the only way you’ll still be in business 5 years from now. Digital analytics is the only way you can make sense of what you can’t see but is everywhere, all the time — data.

Next, let’s address the nasty questions that found thousands of business owners sweating this year.

How resilient are your business finances?

Relations between business owners and accountants have been under unprecedented strain this year.

Shocking beyond expression that SMBs don’t know their numbers. Worse still, they don’t have the routines in place that reveal the true state of their financial health.

Even if your business is eligible for financial support or grant from the local or federal government, you’d need true, current, and verifiable numbers to present a case.

The basics — cash flow, profitability, assets, and liabilities, are not enough. Know your costs, 3-month and 6-month projections, collectibles, and key KPIs. That’s the vocabulary for any high-stakes conversations about your business’ financial future.

Tighten your credits and collections processes. Build favorable payment clauses in your contracts with vendors with whom you enjoy better-negotiating power.

Commercial workspace rent could be your Achilles’ heel, so set expectations with your landlord. The Queensland Government was among the many state bodies in Australia who sensed that landlord-tenant disputes would rain upon Australian courts if they weren’t proactive.

Try your luck, test your landlord’s negotiation skills, do it to make your life easy, it’s much better than shutting shop because ‘the rent’s a back-breaker’. Full or partial abatement of rent, deferral followed by repayment in installments after the expiry of lease term, and full lease renegotiations have helped businesses stay afloat.

What other revenue models can you fall back on?

Your business’ financial resilience also depends on the ease with which you can devise alternate revenue models, payment terms, and offers. Understand how your customers’ relationship with money will change. Can a subscription model work? How about offering a discounted sale at a future time, for a payment now? You can’t leap over a pothole with one foot frozen in the past, can you? Be creative with your finances.

Are there more questions?

You bet, yes.

Can you bring together strong-headed, able-bodied, quick-witted employees together into a crisis response team for your business?

Can you get your staff working over staggered work-shifts?

How quickly can you bring your operations to a safe halt?

If allowed to continue limited operations, which extensions of your business machine can you temporarily remove?

Do you have a 1-month/3-month/6-month plan to react to a call for a lockdown, or something similar?

Tough questions, I know. Easier asked than answered, I know. Overplanning, perhaps.

All I needed to be excited for scribbling notes to answer these questions was a fear of being among the business owners who didn’t return to their offices at the end of a lockdown.

I hope you find yourself grappling with these questions soon, because half-true answers are better than utter cluelessness.

A digital evangelist, entrepreneur, mentor, digital tranformation expert. Two decades of providing digital solutions to brands around the world.

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