It’s another step forward post lockdown and it represents just another rather hefty decision business owners will have to make.
A lot of businesses have been closed for a long time, now some are starting to reopen but in a slightly different way. Very few are operating in exactly the same way as they did before the first lockdown.
As a business, Cypher was already paperless and we use a lot of tech in our infrastructure but we have since become a completely remote business. Alan delivers his coaching sessions virtually, pizza restaurants have introduced takeaway only or meal boxes, meaning even core products may be very different to what people were selling at the start of 2020.
Can anyone, hand-on-heart, say that at the start of Lockdown in March 2020 they thought we wouldn’t be out of it by that summer? We spent a lot of time with clients dealing with the fallout of lockdown and helping them with cashflow forecasts and very few of those went past three months.
More than 12 months on, we are still, slowly, navigating the roadmap to recovery and after so long out of the office, away from core business activities, one of the biggest hurdles I foresee isn’t a lack of customers coming through the door, it’s getting back to a kind of work mentality.
As a business owner, you’ve got your feelings to manage around suddenly dealing with people and being in the business, but you may also have a team of people that rely on you for leadership who are going to be just as anxious, won’t remember how to use the new till system, won’t remember all the product ranges having been away so long.
Business owners need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn
After nearly 18 months home working, we are preparing for another potentially disruptive move to longterm remote or hybrid working models and with absolutely no precedent, business owners need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn different aspects of their business and that of their customers.
Some businesses that have remained open had to learn new models. Some that started in lockdown had to unlearn their business plan and go with a different one. Some will just have to re-learn what it’s like to be back in an office. All present different challenges. The pizza restaurant that started as takeaway only now has systems based around customers not being in the restaurant at all. You’re in, served, done! They have re-learned, or reimagined, their business and if they can keep that speed of service going, even when customers are eating in, then it gives them a point of difference to every other pizza restaurant.
Lockdown has been characterised by huge amounts of innovation and creativity, just like this. Lots of entrepreneurial ideas have come out and there could be another flurry of these ideas to come. Business is stronger, more resilient, as they do things that they weren’t doing 12 months ago. The opportunities are huge.
Undoubtedly, there are going to be winners and losers over the next two years. The winners, when you look back in five years, will be the people that took a deep breath at some point and did something different. That opportunity to pivot still presents itself to many business owners. The UK economy needs small business owners with strong leadership to see a way through, to take that big leap into the unknown.
The losers, if you’re wondering, will be the businesses that carried on doing exactly as they were, because there’s going to be a different world coming.
New business unlearning
Where the unlearn, relearn mindset really showed itself was in the new businesses owners we met throughout the last six months. There was a period in the first quarter of 2021 when high street banks were not opening new accounts. Where this might have stalled new business owners in the past, all these entrepreneurs have pivoted and gone to Tide, Starling or other on-line bank. Now they’re used to that new world of banking, where everything is done very quickly and easily on an app, why is anyone going to go back to a high street branch and fill out a hundred forms?
The learned behaviour that you went to Lloyd’s, Barclays or HSBC because they were proper banks has gone now and I think there is going to be a bit of that in every industry. There’s going to be the new way and the old way, and the old way is looking more and more old-fashioned.
The opportunity business owners have right now is to maximize their new business model. No-one can afford to continue in exactly the same way. Business owners need to take stock, for those that have pivoted, understand why and then commit to it being the new way. Don’t slip back into old ways.
We talked on the Time Management Paradox podcast about how relatively short life and our opportunity in business is. I’m lucky that I get to see our client’s businesses when they are no more than a man or a woman with an idea. Then we see the million pound turnover, the new car, the new house and the happy life. But everyone starts at the same point, where their business is just an idea. The difference between the idea and the five-year success point is all about mindset. It’s not about talent. It’s not even particularly about hard work. It’s just about commitment to that end result and making it your focus. Successful business owners, if you ask them, are absolutely clear on what they are going to achieve and how they are going to do it, from the start of their idea, to five years down the line.
Another quite large area where small businesses can take heart in having a big edge on big business during the pandemic is in customer service. Have you tried to deal with a utilities company, a bank or any large organization where its customer support is normally dealt with by call centre? It was a disaster. At Cypher, we tried to deliver the same, if not better level of customer service throughout the pandemic. We have a lot less budget than those global brands and COVID has never once cropped up as an excuse for why we couldn’t speak to a customer.
We talked on one of our very first podcasts about the volume of consumers who are going to be more willing to deal with independent businesses. And I think a lot of that comes down to how independent businesses have navigated the same storm as these big businesses in a much more dignified and customer focused manner.
Good Customer Service is a super power for any businesses. If you truly hold services as a top priority and genuinely try to improve every day, you will always be ahead.
During Covid a number of business owners had to unlearn their business plan and re-learn another one. Now they are learning how to thrive in a different business to the one they had a year ago.
Here are our top five tips how:
- If you’ve pivoted or changed any aspect of your business during COVID, commit to it and keep going
- Make customer service a super power of yours
- Accept that you have to unlearn and relearn your business because it will be completely different from the one you started
- Provide your teams with guidance and leadership in your new business
- If you have one, find a way to get your business ideas out of your head and into existence