Nearly two-thirds of UK small businesses have seen their revenues fall since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to research by Goldman Sachs, and 44% have had to cut jobs. But the majority have been able to navigate the crisis and continue trading.
However, economic forecasts are predicting a tough year for most sectors – with many suggesting we will not reach pre-pandemic levels again until the end of 2022. So, in the face of a shrinking ‘business pie’, how can companies carve out a bigger slice for themselves in the coming months?
The global financial crisis of 2008 taught us that organisations prepared to be proactive in terms of business development and client experience management are the ones most likely to emerge from a crisis faster and in better shape than their ‘ostrich-like’ competitors who stick their heads in the sand to avoid facing reality. There are some key things business leaders can do this year to increase the chances of winning a bigger slice of the smaller business pie.
Firstly, it’s important to get focused – have a laser-beam focus on your target market. You need to be able to clearly and confidently outline to new and existing clients how you help them achieve their goals. Too many businesses have a scattergun approach to marketing and, when the pressure mounts in a difficult market, this tends to get worse. Those who really know their sweet spot and stick to it are more likely to succeed.
You also need to have a plan – a three-year vision is crucial, with 12-month objectives and rolling three quarterly actions. Having clarity about the destination and the journey will make decision making a lot easier. When someone asks if you should try something new, the answer will be clear – if it doesn’t take you towards your goal, the answer is no.
In any crisis, and beyond, it’s vital to communicate – talk to your people, tell them where you’re heading, explain your plan for how to get there and emphasise that you can’t do it without everyone playing their part. If you earn buy-in from your employees and have everyone collaborating towards the same goal, you can achieve incredible things. A sense of purpose is the number one motivator.
Take care of people
Don’t lose sight of the fact that you need to take care of your people – as Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher used to say, put employees first and customers second. His view was that if you treat your employees well, they treat your customers well – and that means your customers come back and your shareholders are happy. So put a ‘virtual arm’ around your workforce – ask people how they’re doing and tell them how much they are appreciated. They are key to you surviving and thriving this year – and every year.
The right people
It’s crucial to get the right people in the right roles – release your work winners from the shackles of utilisation and ensure you have strong leaders in leadership positions. Hire for attitude and train for skill. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins taught us about having the right people on the bus and then making sure they are in the right seats. Do not put someone in a leadership position unless they have the skills and behaviours to carry out that role effectively. Too often people are promoted due to longevity – but that is not a good reason.
And finally, develop necessary skills – everyone who is client facing is selling the business, whether they know it or not, so encourage them to improve their business development and client relationship skills, confidence and behaviours. For example, there are many technical people who might also have an introvert personality type. But this is not a limiting factor for how good they can be at winning work. It’s a simple equation – the more people you have who are confident, proactive and effective, the more opportunities you will uncover.
Although this is likely to be a tough year, there will still be business opportunities out there. What you have to decide is how you are going to win your slice of the pie.
Gary Williams, founder and CEO of professional services business development coaching consultancy BD Coaching Hub