Boris Was Right – It’s Not His Fault…It’s Business
Today is today. Tomorrow is a new day. That’s certainly a step forward considering the last two years where everyday in lockdown the days, weeks and months blended into one.
There is not a day that goes by where as a population we don’t talk about the COVID pandemic. It is on the news, in our social feeds and it has infiltrated both our personal and professional worlds. Many businesses have shifted employees to work-from-home routines; changing everything about how the business day works. We’ve moved from in-person to video. We’ve adapted to multiple family members attempting to be productive, in the same space, at the same time and we’ve shifted from brick-and-mortar to a heavier online presence. In the midst of it all, there have been many success stories publicised all over the media, social media and the internet.
Yet, challenges are ever apparent. Don’t believe everything you read or hear on the mainstream media, or the socialite business wooers Instagram feed. Many have lost revenue. Many have laid off employees. Many have had challenges with technology and others have struggled with the limited resources. Many have closed their doors, permanently.
The most impacted? The small business. Thats 5,659,000 business here in the UK.
The small business, in my opinion, is what makes the UK economy great. It is not only the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives here, but the ability to make a dream a reality. What was once a sketch on a notebook or a conversation over dinner can actually become something here. No idea is too great. No passion is stifled. No desire to persevere is frowned upon.
We have the imagination and the resources to take an idea and make it into something special. But, in the past year our favourite shops have disappeared. Our friends have lost what they built, from the ground-up, and the hope for the future for many has dwindled, and my heart has broken many times seeing good people go to the wall.
This is a difficult time, and it is my obligation and ‘why’ to help those, as best I can. In that spirit, I have asked small business owners about their biggest challenges that they face today. After all, what plagues one, likely plagues many. It is not a sign of weakness to struggle in this time. In fact, it is admirable to acknowledge that these times are difficult, and we need the ‘village’ to get to the other side.
Do you know how to help these small business owners?
Do you have resources that you can lend?
Do you have advice to offer?
Be the ‘village’ and get them to take a look at these issues, so that they too, know they are not the only ones.
Challenge 1: The Ability to Transition to a Digital-First World
Large companies have the budget to quickly make this transition whether it means building new product features, offering more flexible payment options, or making sure your team stays productive while working from home.
If you are a small business thinking that this challenge is difficult, expensive and complicated, well…you’re right.
But…the good news is that it can be overcome and solutions put in place that don’t cost the earth but are quickly beneficial to your customers and clients.
Challenge 2: Lack of In-Person Networking Events
In-person networking events were a great source of client acquisition for many businesses before the pandemic. Zoom networking events were just not the same for obvious reasons. Prospects, local business owners, simply prefered face-to-face interactions.
The complete death of networking events, which still are a lifeline for small business owners to expand their brand reach to the local target market has been a massive challenge.
Many that relied on the face to face aspect of networking have also left networking organisations based simply on the premise that it just wasn’t the same experience.
This is where it gets interesting, because face to face networking has started again and although there was an initial spike in attendance it seems to be dwindling after a few meetings of the same groups again. This is because there is becoming a three way split in networking.
1 – The face to facers
2 – The Online Networkers
3 – The ones that like to do both.
If you did go networking…time to get back to it.
If you don’t network…time to start doing it.
And if you are networking…perhaps seek out what really works for you wether it’s doing more or what you do best, or seeking out new crowds of business owners.
Challenge 3: Forward-Planning is Difficult
COVID, it’s aftermath and Brexit are making forward planning near impossible. Without knowing how long it’s going to be here and to what degree, it’s nearly impossible to plan out marketing efforts, gauge staffing needs, or just know what our customers and clients need.
Spending marketing money on something that you’re not sure is going to happen has been a challenge and genuinely, there are a lot of business owners that are not sure if they should just shut down and wait it out or if they should keep trying to open back up.
When it comes to planning events, launches or new things there is a consensus that we should be looking at 3, 6 and 9 month planning. Personally I think that’s been difficult for many businesses as there are way too many business coach idiots like me telling everyone that they should have only a Plan A and there is no Plan B or that they must have a year plan and an exit strategy. That s### rarely worked in the best of times, having a longer term goal is good , only if you acknowledge that you might get there a little later than planned.
For the next couple of years shorter term planning is going to be ideal. It will teach you to be flexible, nimble and understand the benefits of a back up plan. As someone far more intelligent than I once said, “If plan A doesn’t work, there are another 25 letters of the alphabet.” Trust me…that knowledge and level of forgiveness to yourself and your business has saved many of the businesses that I have worked with over the last year.
Challenge 4: Leaving Brick-and-Mortar
Pivoting business to be completely online has been a huge challenge for even the biggest business in 2020 and 2021. The brick-and-mortar businesses that could not survive COVID, have essentially started completely over with a digital business. But clients just aren’t spending money the way they were six months ago, or even two months ago.
For those that thought things would go back to normal, I’m afraid you have lost the plot. Your customers and clients psychology has changed and this is where even the biggest businesses are missing out.
Let me give you an example in hospitality. Many are now relying heavily on people spending time and money with them at the weekend. If they have a bad weekend due to outside circumstances, they are now in real danger of failing. Many have opened up with the same menu’s, drinks offerings as well as fixtures and fittings.
Two things. The first is that if the service, food and experience is still [email protected]@@ just like before the pandemic, then guess what? People still won’t spend their money with you. Secondly, a friend of mine remarked how it took him a few seconds to compute how much a round of drinks had cost them. For over a year we could get a case of beer, a bottle of gin and a pizza for less than £25. When you are being asked for that for 4 or 5 drinks in a round, people will stop and ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing.
My point here is that we have all been trained to think, act and spend differently. For businesses to grow and thrive, they need to change their psychology and work out what it takes to attract the customers they want, with what they want, when they want it and with what they can afford.
Challenge 5: Lacking Work Life Balance
Work-life-balance has become difficult. Before the pandemic, we could clock in and clock out, then leave all our work-related problems at the office.
However, now that many are working from home, they are busy with taking care of the family while accomplishing their goals. As a result, it can be easy for us to get burned out for doing everything at the same time.
This is where working out where peoples boundaries really are, and I fear it will get messier before it gets better. There’s no handbook for this in the HR departments up and down the country. There are so many things that need to balance out. Management vs Output. Creativity vs Minimum Requirements. Productivity vs Laziness. Pandemic vs Health and Safety vs Liability. It’s a crazy mix and one which will sort itself out given time.
Oddly I think this will be down to the individual. Once the novelty of working from home has worn off, the increased electric and heating bills have kicked in or the kitchen table is no longer the best place to work from, individuals will work it for themselves. Small businesses need to sit and wait on this one I’m afraid and make things as easy as they can be.
Challenge 6: Increased Shipping Costs
Port delays and Brexit have had an increase in the cost of overseas shipping prices due to COVID’s impact on shipping procedures. In addition, some customers have had to cancel events after purchasing items, and therefore return rates are up beyond normal levels.
It’s interesting to note that I don’t think these problems are going to go away overnight. So in the interests of you business you should perform a month review of shipping costs and its connected activities always looking to lower costs by 10%, but only if that lowered cost does not impact your customers and ultimately you. It’s a piece of work that for now is an extra ‘ball-ache’ but will ultimately see you time, effort and money in the long run.
Challenge 7: Lacking Creativity
One challenge facing businesses in these odd times is maintaining high levels of creativity in the work environment we are in today.
In the past, a lot of best ideas came from group meetings where people would all would meet and share their thoughts. Many have found it is much more difficult to replicate that in an online environment. Many simply do not feel the same energy over a Zoom call as you would do in an in-person meeting.
Many echo that view say that their biggest challenge is “combating Zoom fatigue.” The struggle is real folks.
Here I think many will have to admit an element of defeat and understand that online is not going away anytime soon. However I would also plea to people’s sensibilities when it comes to trying to operate a blend of in-person and online meetings. Creativity is difficult to switch on and off, and probably is found in it’s most comfortable of spaces. Aim to do what’s right and go from there.
Challenge 8: Blips in Production
A big challenge is the upset in component and product production. The components of many products are produced in several factories across the World. The varying state and government regulations dependent on the location affects the staffing capacities at our factories; thus, negatively impacting the turnaround times on many products.
Some business are reporting recent production runs took on average approximately 25% longer to complete compared to similar productions pre-COVID. This challenge leads businesses to encounter significant inventory shortages as they have headed into the busiest time of year for product demands.
Maintaining stock of necessary materials to continue day-to-day operations is a major challenge. Due to delays and breaks in the normal supply chain, businesses are experiencing longer lead times on most materials out of stock for extended periods from some suppliers. The breakdown in the supply chain has made maintaining the standard increasingly difficult for so many businesses.
And look…those that didn’t think this was going to happen were living on a different planet to the rest of us. Those that have shrugged their shoulders and continue to whine about it are at best burying their heads in the sand and are p###ing off their customers. Honesty is best practice here. Tell the customers what the problems are so that they are fully informed.
Secondly…find a back-up! There are thousands of businesses in this country and around the world that do what you need them to do. Look at this as an opportunity to find, connect with and buy from other businesses that need your support s much as you do theirs.
Challenge 9: Pressure to Perform
Not strictly a male problem anymore but a major challenge that has emerged is the concern over the external pressures COVID has put on everyone. People are not just concerned about their jobs anymore, but also about their health. The constant fear has taken its toll and businesses are noticing a drop in performance. The biggest problem is that many just don’t know how to respond to this.
On one hand, some will feel the need to address the drop in performance if the business continues to suffer. On the other hand, many feel they can’t put additional pressure on people because they know they’re doing their best in difficult circumstances.
There is no easy answer to this. Full stop. It really does come down to individual management and not a one size fits all approach. One of the highlights of the pandemic, if there is such a thing, are some of the shining stars in Human Resources that emerged offering sensible, honest and realistic advice when it came to managing the most important part of every business, it’s people. So reach out to recommended HR professionals who can help you manage your team, your expectations as well as theirs.
Challenge 10: Long-Term vs. Short-Term Content
As someone who runs a business giving business advice, I think the biggest challenge that this pandemic has brought upon me is not knowing how much of my content should be evergreen and how much of it should be geared towards the pandemic. The problem with the evergreen content is that people might not see it as relatable, and the problem with COVID-themed content is that it won’t be relatable once the pandemic is over. So, really, the paradigm here is long-term vs. short-term.
And to this…I have no answer other than keep doing something. Somewhere someone is watching and that someone will appreciate you and appreciate the help you give.
The world is struggling, personally and professionally alike. But, as these worlds collide, the challenges for the small business has been nothing like we’ve ever seen before.
It’s no longer about taking a great idea and putting it into motion.
It’s not about building an amazing team and watching it flourish.
And it’s no longer about following a dream or taking a chance.
We’ve lost great businesses over the past year. Businesses that make our town, our city, our county and our country unique. Dreams have been lost. Whether challenged by the transition to digital, the lack of in-person networking, inability to manage forward planning, unexpectedly having to leave the brick-and-mortar business model, lack of work-life-balance, increased shipping costs, the downturn in creativity, the blips in production, questioning long-term vs. short-term decisions, or the pressure to perform…we can all nod in agreement that these days are like no other.
The one thing we know? It takes a village.
Help your fellow business owner, purchase from the small business owner, encourage those you know to keep up the fight, and offer advice or assistance when able. Maybe in the end, it is not the ideas that ever made us great in the first place but rather the drive and determination that made it all happen. COVID has knocked us down but it will never take our perseverance. Be brilliant.