Ride The Challenge 24 May 2020
Rewind and reload
Running a small business by necessity means that you have to be a jack of all trades. And that’s in “normal” times.
The UK’s economic picture has changed beyond recognition in the past three months. And for many small businesses, sole traders and the self-employed, it is unrecognisable.
For many small businesses, income has fallen or even dried up. These are days when you are doing your utmost to ensure that your furloughed employees have jobs to come back to further down the line. There are small business grants to look into to help to bridge the gap. Self-employed individuals should look into the possibility of the Self-Employed Income Support scheme if you traded in the tax year 2018-19 and filed a tax return. For some sectors, Covid-19 has presented opportunity and demand. But for many, it will be months before anything like regular business resumes.
The challenge presented by Covid-19 is the stuff of fiction come real. So how flexible can you can make your business to ride the challenge? Here are some ideas from ItsLello which just might spark a new wave of thinking.
Can you deliver your services remotely?
Tap into the bank of digital tools that can facilitate this such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and FaceTime. Technology is a vital enabler, and for many, the learning curve is steep as users get to grips with the know-how involved.
I know a TEFL teacher and a music teacher who have been successfully using Zoom to run lessons with students since lockdown. Furthermore, the TEFL teacher is finding that the students who are using his online lessons are more reliable payers. And that demand for his classes has increased. He is now earning more than before lockdown, with less admin hassle and zero travel overheads.
Make sure your business is online
Now is the time to get online if you aren’t already. More and more people are using the internet for even simple services, and Covid-19 has accelerated this trend. Search engines are THE place people go to for information and listings. If your business isn’t coming up in searches, they will use one that does.
Set up a simple website – if you’re stuck, ItsLello can help.
Use affordable listing tools like KeepingItLocal.
Make social media your friend, and use it to reach new audiences, Set up a business page on Facebook, use Instagram if you think it will help, network through Twitter. Again, if you need some free advice, talk with ItsLello.
Take online payments
It is surprising how many small businesses operate without the facility to take online payments, relying instead on hard cash and cheques. As more people opt to pay by card or online, not offering this facility is a mistake.
Since we went into lockdown, I’ve only paid for services and goods by card, online payments or bank transfers and am far from alone in this. Recent research from ATM network provider Link UK carried out by YouGov, indicated that there would be a long-lasting impact on the use of cash in the UK. 72% of people said that the pandemic will affect their future use of cash. Current usage of cash machines has declined by 60% since lockdown after the government advised against using cash where possible, due to the risk of spreading Covid-19.
There are plenty of online payment providers to choose from, such as Stripe, PayPal, GoCardless and iZettle. Usually, you pay a small percentage per transaction plus a small transaction fee, and they are easy to set up and to plug into your website. Taking online payments not only negates the need to handle cash, but it offers the facility to take remote payments as required. There will be fewer outstanding payments and improved cash flow. And you will be able to deliver better customer service for the majority of your customers who prefer to pay by card or online.
Base yourself at home
You may not have a choice about this right now. But in the future, working from home, at least on a part-time basis, is likely to become another new “normal”. It negates the need to rent office space, thus reducing costs and saves on travel. With a wealth of digital technology available to support collaborative working, it is relatively easy to work remotely.
I’ve been home-based for years as a freelancer so I’m well aware of the pitfalls and challenges it can present. But it also offers considerable freedom and the opportunity to work on a flexible basis. You do need to be structured and focused, and at present, there are the added challenges of home-schooling if you have children of school age. But for many, it is proving to be a viable, alternative way to work.
Tap into new markets
Some sectors, particularly travel, hospitality, cafes and restaurants, have been disastrously affected by Covid-19. And the prospect of a quick recovery is remote. So, this has to be a time to work out if you can tap into new markets, present your products differently or even launch a new service.
Enterprising cafes and catering companies are successfully running takeaway services while following revised Covid-19 food handling guidelines. Travel companies are looking to markets within the UK instead of their traditional ex-UK market. Food shops and garden centres are introducing home delivery services. The British public is waking up to the possibility of shopping locally and using local suppliers to bridge their traditional supermarket habits. Some of these changes will likely become permanent. Veg box suppliers, butchers, wine shops and milkmen, for example, are all thriving locally in response to increased demand. That’s great for local business, sustainability and the environment.
Can you work with other small businesses to create a hub that combines propositions?
Here in North Wales, for example, Seapig makes beautiful sea glass jewellery and, to bridge the gap created by the cancellation of local events, has branched out. Along with other local artisans, owner Cara has been running successful Stay At Home Craft Fairs with fellow Welsh enterprises such as Beeswax Fabric Wraps, New Leaf Nurseries and Anglesey Soap.
Think about opportunities to combine deliveries, share resources and staff. Recommend other good local businesses. Build networks and share ideas. Work together.
Review your financial commitments
Strikeout unnecessary expenses, check your direct debits and standing orders. Are you paying for services you currently do not use? Are you employing third parties to deliver services can manage without even in the short term? Could you do these yourself? Can you find cheaper deals for your phone, broadband, utilities?
Use this time as an opportunity to turn your business into a lean machine. Apply for grants if you are eligible or one of the government-backed loans through your bank, if you can afford to do so. Take up alternative short term work if necessary until your business sector recovers.
Hang on in there and ride the challenge presented by Covid-19. It won’t last forever and could be the opportunity you’ve never had to reinvent your business. Use this time well, and think about the purpose of your business, how it operates, how it could work in the future.
And take the opportunity to go for that walk, spend time with your family, read a book. Work on the garden, learn a new skill. As lockdown starts to ease, work will busy up quickly, and this forced chance to draw breath will be gone. It will be interesting to see whether this hiatus created by Covid-19 will, in the longer-term, be a catalyst to positive change.