As the Covid-19 crisis rumbles on, leading experts in the UK’s small businesses sector have penned a trio of opinion columns advising firms of that type on how to boost their resilience.
In the first article (Elite Business, 19 May 2020), Small Business Charter vice chair Tim Vorley marvels at the reflexes that owners have already displayed by “rethinking and pivoting operations in different ways”.
Vorley writes: “Some small businesses have truly shown just how agile they are. From forging new alliances and working together, to upskilling staff and moving operations online, and engaging with customers in innovative and creative ways.”
He advises: “Alongside drawing upon the UK government’s rescue packages, small businesses need to seek out support in areas where they may lack skills and capability, from marketing and cash flow, to business continuity and digital. And, in addition to working on their businesses it is crucial that small business owners consider their own wellbeing!”
In the second piece (This is Money, 19 May 2020), Emma Jones – founder of small business support network Enterprise Nation – notes: “It's so important to continue to communicate with customers over lockdown … Do send regular emails with updates and offers (if you have any). Keep it short and use a friendly tone, share what you're up to and how you're doing. Be confident and keep the dialogue flowing. Try to maintain this once a week.”
Jones notes that, in order for small firms to build their resilience, it’s “important to come across as resilient.”
In the third column (Personnel Today, 17 May 2020), Jane Howells of non-profit movement Be the Business stresses the value of mentoring, writing: “You may not have thought that a mentor could make a big difference as an SME tries to navigate through this extreme crisis. However, the businesses we work with have found their mentor to be a key factor in getting them through the worst and preparing them to bounce back better.”
Howells notes: “A critical friend will act as a sounding board to help talk through options and decisions, whether this is availing of government supports, new business models, or how to keep the business going through external pressures. An extra pair of eyes and a fresh perspective can help a small business owner find the right course of action.”
Which approaches must small firms emphasise to safeguard their sustainability – both during the crisis and as we recover from it?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “It’s hard to offer advice to an entire business sector when some problems will be far more profound for some firms than for others. But for any SME that’s experiencing a really tough challenge, the first step is to resist the impulse to rush towards a solution. The same goes for catastrophising the issue, or brushing it under the carpet – any of those quick responses. That zone of uncertainty, ambiguity or not-knowing is a distressing place to be, and drives significant anxiety. A swift solution may offer the promise of rapid relief. But just because a solution looks within reach, it’s not necessarily the optimal one.”
She notes: “When you’re in that place of, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ it’s a matter of drawing on the ideas of everyone who’s involved with your business. Don’t think that it’s a puzzle for just the founders or the senior team to work out. Everyone will have ideas – especially those who are closest to the customers. One advantage that’s very specific to small businesses is that they have customers whom they know. And those customers don’t just purchase the products or services that small businesses supply – they have ideas, too. So in talking to customers, small firms can find out where the pain points really are, and how they could help in ways they probably hadn’t even thought of.”
Cooper stresses: “In the process of drawing in those ideas and talking to managers, staff, customers, suppliers – all the various stakeholders – the way small firms communicate is absolutely key. In other words, don’t send out long, rambling emails! As Emma Jones at Enterprise Nation points out, issue short, targeted communications. These must be segmented and aimed at each stakeholder group. Huge newsletters that pile in all the information at once, requiring each group to find the bit that’s relevant to them, are out.”
She adds: “Remembering that drive, ambition, optimism, killer concept – whatever it was that set you, as a small business owner, on the path to becoming a small business owner is also vital. You were that person once, and can be that person again. It’s all about rekindling that energy and enthusiasm, and knowing that you are not only that same person, but a better version of yourself, with all that experience you’ve built up of managing relationships, mapping out your market and understanding your clients’ needs.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s latest research report, Small business: the big challenges of sustainability.