BUSINESS SUCCESS ARTICLE: Riding the COVID period and beyond

14 April 2020

Before you read on, I must add the following disclaimer:

We are not financial advisers, accountants or solicitors. We do not know your individual or business circumstances. What we advise in this article are purely done so from our real-world experience and off the back of our research. Before you jump into anything beyond this article, do your own research, talk to your advisers, and if you have questions we can help with, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

THIS ARTICLE IS A PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF THE WEBINAR OF THE SAME NAME

Hi – my name is Peter Spinda – I’m a veteran of the business world, with over 20 years of hands on experience starting, growing, managing businesses.

Today I am the principal consultant and owner of Malekso – a strategy and transformation agency whose goal is to help clients create the future.

I’ve ridden through several business impacting events over the years, including Y2K, the dotcom boom and bust and the GFC to name a few. As a result, I understand intimately what this current COVID period means for many businesses out there, and I also know that there are two ways to look at situations: it’s either a gloomy day or the sun is shining and the birds are chirping.

Malekso staying positive

The lessons I have learned over the past 20 years have helped me understand what it takes to be successful in business, and it is these lessons that I apply within all consulting engagements here at Malekso. In this article I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on how to best ride through this COVID period and come out of this stronger and more resilient than ever before.

In the world of sports, there is a saying: success is made in the training sessions when no one is watching. This too is true with business. When no one is looking at you, watching you, what are you doing? Are you procrastinating perhaps? Are you moping around, feeling helpless, questioning things? Or are you taking control, taking ownership and putting in place the mechanisms that will ensure your success in months and years to come?

The Tree of Opportunity

I wanted to start this article by sharing with you the concept of the ‘Tree of Opportunity’. This is a concept which is very relevant in our current situation and one which I have used to drive strategy developments and planning implementations.

Close your eyes for a moment and think of a beautiful, bountiful fruit tree. As you examine the tree, you notice that there are three layers of fruit on this tree:

  1. Low hanging fruit
  2. Middle of the tree fruit
  3. Top of the tree fruit

The low hanging fruit are the easy fruit to pick. You can reach up, and just grab the fruit.

The top of tree fruit is the tastiest fruit. It is the fruit that many want to reach, but it is the hardest fruit to pick.

This fruit tree represents your business, with the low hanging fruit representing opportunities that you can easily pursue and achieve. The top of tree opportunities are the long term strategic goals that you wish to achieve. They take time to work towards and achieve, potentially taking years. The middle of the tree opportunities are your medium terms goals and opportunities. They take work to get to, but, are easier and quicker to reach than the top of tree strategic goals.

When developing strategies and plans, bear this fruit tree in mind. Developing long-term strategies is important, but always do so in a manner that builds in medium and short-term quick wins into your business. Doing so helps you and your team stay focused and motivated; achieving quick wins is an important psychological and change management tool used by management consultants with great success and is something you need to get familiar with!

The Now

Right now is the time for immediate action; focusing on activities that will give your business quick, immediate results. Now is the time to really grab as many of the low hanging fruit as possible.

These include:

  • Accessing subsidies and various support mechanisms
  • Immediate impact activities:
    • Managing yourself
    • Business review
    • Managing money
    • Managing staff
    • Managing your business

Let’s now explore these in more detail.

Subsidies/business relief

It is important to be aware of the various Government and non-Government support that is available right now. I’ll now talk about these two support streams, starting with Government support.

Government Support

As we all know, the various stimulus packages announced by the Government are all open or about to open to access. There is support at the individual and business level, with the support covering a range of scenarios.

As a summary, here are the main ones to consider:

  • JobKeeper payment: $1,500 / fnt per employee
  • Payroll tax relief package: up to $100,000 – min $20,000
  • Power bill relief: $500 rebate off electricity bills
  • Job support loans: low interest loans up to $250,000
  • Industry and sector specific support including:
    • Tourism
    • Manufacturing
    • Food and grocery
    • Liquor and gaming
    • Agriculture
    • Commercial fisheries
    • Arts
    • Clinicians and healthcare
    • General supply chain
  • Help for renters
  • Early access to superannuation: up to $10,000 this FY and a further $10,000 next FY
  • Temporary relief for distressed businesses
  • Backing business investment: an accelerated depreciation deduction incentive
  • SME guarantee scheme: up to $250,000 unsecured loans with a Government guarantee of 50%, to be used for working capital
  • And more.

Please, do your own research on the above. Talk to your bookkeeper, accountant, financial adviser. Also, visit these websites:

Business.gov.au

Treasury.gov.au

Ok, so we’ve talked about the Government support. Now, let’s discuss non-Government support.

Non-Government Support

This type of support is either proactively being implemented by businesses, or, is support that you negotiate with another business. Here are some examples:

Proactive support:

  • Banks offering to pause mortgage repayments for 6 months
  • Pausing of certain types of monthly commitments such as dedicated parking spaces
  • Landlords offering one or more free months to support tenants

Negotiated support:

  • If you are finding yourself in trouble, the worst thing you can do is to stick your head in the sand and avoid reality.

So, what to do is simple: in addition to accessing all of the support outlined under Government Support, you can also have open conversations with suppliers, service providers and the like, to negotiate an arrangement that will help you ride this period, and that will ensure that you can continue doing business with them well into the future. Now is not the time to be ashamed – it is the time to ask for help if you need it.

A word of advice however: make sure you stick to negotiated arrangements and as soon as your business turns around, cancel the arrangement and go back to normal.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that we are all a part of a chain that is linked. If you don’t pay one supplier, then they will be impacted and may then be forced to not pay their supplier and the cycle viciously continues. This is one of the reasons why this stimulus package from the Government is so important.

Immediate Impact Activities

Alright, so we’ve spoken about the stimulus packages, now what? Well, let’s reflect back on the tree of opportunity.

The low hanging fruit is where we need to focus. Why? Because now is the time for immediate impact activities. Now is the time to do everything you can to stabilise the ship, and to grab quick win opportunities.

Before we delve deeper into this topic, I want to talk to you about something critical: your mental and physical well-being.

Managing Yourself – Staying Positive

When times are tough, it can be hard to keep things together. Emotions seemingly sit aboard a never-ending roller coaster of highs and lows, impacting our behaviour and thus affecting our personal and business lives. Some people become reclusive, avoiding people and reality. Others start procrastinating. Other spend their days over thinking and over focusing the hype. Others just meander along, just floating, waiting to see what will happen, hoping for some magical event or change.

This sort of emotional behaviour however does no one any good. The only way to tackle challenging times is to get up, pull yourself together, focus, and take action.

For you, personally, this means staying strong and staying positive. It also means look after yourself physically. If I take myself as an example, I’m a very active person as it is, but, when I go through challenging periods, I find that increasing my exercise levels drastically helps me cope with stress and pressure.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to look after yourself mentally and physically. Not just for you. But for the sake of your business. The sake of your family and friends who want to see you coping, happy, and healthy. Remember, your emotion affects everyone around you, and will affect the success you have within business.

Business Review

As I have already said, now is the time for immediate results. If your business is suffering as a result of the COVID, you must take fast action to minimise the effect of this period.

Where I suggest you start is by sitting down and conducting a whole of business review, to understand exactly where your business is currently at.

What does this entail? Below is an example – just bear in mind that every business is different, so a business review for your business may well look different to the review of another business:

  • Full financial review:
    • How much money do you have?
    • How much money are you owed?
    • How much money do you owe?
  • Work in progress (or sales analysis) review:
    • What WIP (or sales) do you have that is continuing
    • What WIP (sales) is being paused or cancelled
  • Staff review:
    • Compare staff availabilities and utilisation against WIP
    • Review and understand your responsibilities to staff: look at things like leave entitlements
  • Operations review, with a heavy focus on:
    • Your business’ ability to deliver services (be they manufacturing or services provision or sale of goods)
    • Reviewing your supply chain and identifying areas of risk
    • Dealing with excess stock with limited life shelf life
    • Reviewing what you can do to stay in business and operate

Managing Money

 Just to re-iterate: We are not financial advisers, accountants or solicitors. We do not know your individual or business circumstances. What we advise in this article are purely done so from our real-world experience and off the back of our research. Before you jump into anything beyond this article, do your own research, talk to your advisers, and if you have questions we can help with, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Let’s face it – money makes the world go around – and it is why most of us are in business. Especially now, when things are so challenging for many businesses, managing money is a vital part of staying afloat and riding out COVID.

So, with this in mind, here are some tips to help you manage money during this period:

  1. The starting point is to understand your exact cash position – which you should already now know if you have been following my advice from above.
  2. From this, the next step will involve working through and scenario planning your cashflow forecasting spreadsheet. Be realistic with your figures and adjust based on the latest information that you have available – DO NOT ASSUME – work with actual figures as much as you can. If you haven’t got one of these forecasts, then you need to put one together. Click here to download an example of this spreadsheet.
  3. Next, you will need to open your expenses budget spreadsheet and scenario plan your expenses. Adjust your numbers, reflect these back in your cashflow forecast spreadsheet, and work out a scenario that will be realistic for you to implement. If you don’t have an expenses budget, then now is the time to create one. Click here to download an example of this spreadsheet.
  4. The next step will possibly be the hardest: taking action.
    1. Possibly means cutting back
    2. Talking to suppliers, lenders etc.
    3. Sticking to a very tight budget
  5. Lastly, the final step is to keep on top of your cashflow and expenses budget – I review mine every couple of days at the moment, but I have clients who do this twice a day due to the type of business they are in

I suggest that you also involve your bookkeeper/accountant in the above activities – get their input and guidance.

Final word about money – and this I have said before but will say again: It is important to remember that we are all a part of a chain that is linked. If you don’t pay one supplier, then they will be impacted and may then be forced to not pay their supplier and the cycle viciously continues. So, if you can, pay all bills before their due date and help your fellow business owners, everyone needs to play a part in maintaining the health of their supply chain.

Managing Staff

Your business employs staff – how do you manage them during this turbulent period?

Here are some important pieces of advice to consider:

  • Staff aren’t naïve: be truthful. They know what is happening as a result of COVID, so no point hiding the truth.
  • Generate optimism and hope – how? Take immediate decisive actions, strategise and plan – involving staff where possible, and action, action, action!
  • If you must down tools as a business:
    • Pay staff to undertake personal development (if you can afford it – if not – promote this)
    • Keep in regular contact with staff, at least once per week, ideally more if you can
    • Play fun virtual team games to maintain a sense of team collectiveness
  • It is important that staff see you positive, hopefully and defiant of the odds!

Managing the Business

The last section in our focus on the now is to discuss the general management of the business.

  • Now is the time for proactivity – if you can operate, now is the time to up the ante:
    • Deliver a better customer experience
    • Deliver a better staff experience
    • Focus more on general management, keeping a close eye on all your metrics. For example, if you are in retail then you must stay on top of the supply chain and be correctly forecasting and then order stock as a result of the forecasting
    • Now is not the time to stop every investment – it may actually be the ideal time to invest, if you can, in certain areas of your business (for example: if you are in manufacturing and things have quietened down, now may be the ideal time to implement that new ERP system).
  • If you cannot operate, then now is the time to challenge your business model and to prepare for the after COVID Life – don’t just sit around bored, waiting or the tide to turn!

Prepare for a Post COVID Life

  • Change is the norm.
  • Ups are followed by downs which are followed by up – it is how it has always been, and always will be!
  • But – opportunity exist now!
  • What opportunities:
    • Business improvement
      • Better ways to do things
      • New ways of doing things
    • Improving customer engagement
    • Improving staff engagement
    • New direction – new models, new services/products.

Some of these will be low hanging fruit – others will be mid-high hanging fruit and will take longer to accomplish. Other will be the tastiest fruit – the high hanging fruit – but, will take focus and discipline to achieve.

The key however is to start -> you have to start somewhere!

So, to help you prepare for post COVID life I suggest following a 4-step process of: Reflection, Strategising, Planning, Actioning

Let’s now walk through these 4 stages.

Reflection

Before you can work out where to go next, what direction to take your business in, it is important that you understand where you came from. This is done through a simple process of reflection.

Reflection is about asking questions that can highlight what to keep doing, and what not to keep doing. They also highlight areas of strengths to leverage, and areas of weakness to address. It is best to reflect on no further than the past 12 months.

Undertaking reflection is simple: put the mobile on silent, turn off the emails, grab a cup of coffee or tea and grab a pen and paper to take notes with, and answer a set of questions relevant to your business.

Here are some example questions to ask during reflection include:

  • What achievements did we have within the business?
  • What did we do well?
  • What didn’t we do well?
  • What did I do well?
  • What didn’t I do well?
  • Do we have the right people on the team?
  • Did we serve the right customers?
  • Did we have customers we should not continue working with?
  • Did we sell the right products/services?
  • Do we need to adjust our products/service mix moving forward?
  • Do we need to adjust our pricing?
  • Do we have the right supplier and sourcing strategy in place?
  • Should we be exploring new suppliers?
  • Are we selling through the right channels?
  • Did we meet our strategic goals?
  • Did we implement our plans the right way?
  • And add any more relevant to your business.

Strategising

Once you have completed your reflection, and now understand the past, it is time to focus on the future. This is done by developing your business strategy.

Strategy is about knowing where you want to go, and what you want to achieve in the future. I usually focus on 3-5 year strategies, depending on the clients needs, their business and their industry. I have found that without a well-developed strategy in place, most businesses fail to become as successful as they truly could be, often leading to them missing opportunities and being unaware of risks until they are all too real.

The detailed topic of strategy development is not the focus of this article, however, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Strategy is the big picture ‘stuff’ – it is the focus mainly on the top of the tree, sweet fruit
  • Having said the above, always build medium and short terms strategic goals too, in order to help drive positive momentum and growth
  • Think laterally: challenge your business, and challenge the way you do things – build these into your strategy
  • Make sure you build an element of risk into the strategy – we will come through COBID, and, in the future, we will be hit yet again by another major event that will impact your business. The question is: what are you doing now to help you better prepare for that eventuality?

Planning

A well-developed strategy is one of the keys to business success. Having said this, a strategy without a plan is like wanting to go to a new city, one you haven’t visited before, but, have no map to guide you there.

So, think of your plan as the map. The plan takes your strategies, breaks it up into manageable chunks, which are then further broken down into even smaller, more manageable pieces.

We will write another article shortly on planning (and will also create a video), but for now here are some important tips:

  • Plans must include low and middle hanging ‘fruit’
  • Plans focus on the goals you want to achieve, outlining the actions that need to be taken in order to achieve those goals
  • When outlining actions, ensure your actions follow the following SMART structure:
    • Specific – they are direct and meaningful in nature (example: write 30 social media posts)
    • Measurable – they can be measured in terms of outcomes
    • Achievable (or attainable) – they can be achieved by the business/person responsible
    • Relevant – they align with the overall goals and strategic direction
    • Time based – the actions and goals have a deadline
  • Use a tool such as a spreadsheet or AirTable.com to setup, manage and monitor your plan

Actioning

It’s great to have developed a strategy and a well thought out plan. But – what is the point if the last element is missing: and that’s to take action!!! Implement your strategy and plan, and monitor results, tweaking as needed.

As a consultant, it is amazing how many times I’ve worked with businesses that have developed these great strategies and plans, yet, have never done much with them beyond the first few weeks of excited activity which fades away to nothing very quickly.

Actioning is what makes the successful business successful – so – get actioning now!

Following the Reflection, Strategising, Planning and Actioning methodology will help you build a stronger, more relevant business, creating the future for you and your family.

Digital 4.0

In the business success webinar, I also talked about Digital 4.0. The full article on Digital 4.0 will be following shortly, as it deserves its own specific discussion.

The following is a short summary on this topic.

If COVID happened in 1980, we would have been in a far worse situation, in terms of the economic and business impact, than today. Why? Because today we can use digital technology to enable businesses to operate remotely. Using digital technology, we can buy stuff online. We can interact with customers via phones and computers. Our staff can work from home. And so on. What is important to now understand is that COVID, in my view, has forced us (society and businesses) to embrace digital technology faster than in previous periods. As a result, the digital gap has narrowed – people are now accepting of and desiring to engage with digital technology, and businesses too are accepting of, and desiring to use digital technology.

As such, we are about to hit Digital 4.0 – the period where digital has finally become accepted as a tool businesses and society cannot operate without. Yes – we have been using digital for years, but, interestingly there has been resistance from many parts of society and many businesses to embrace this movement. I’ve dealt with many business owners over the years who have pushed back – telling me that digital is not important, and even telling me that focusing on digital should not be something a management consultant does. COVID has, in my view, sorted out that argument: those businesses that have embraced digital, have been better poised to ride out this period, allowing them to trade and operate (at least to some degree). And so, as we enter digital 4.0 a new reality exists: without embracing digital, your business WILL BE LEFT BEHIND. PERIOD!

So – now is the time to embrace the digital. Learn about it. Understand it. And open your business to a world of new possibilities.

Keep an eye out for our next article and video on this topic!

Thank You!

Thank you for reading this article, and for watching our video if you did so. If you have any questions or comments, send me an email. I’m always happy to take questions.

All the best,

Pete