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Planning long-term when the future feels short-term

It’s really hard right now to know what the future holds. There are tons of variables, and thinking about your business strategy beyond next week might make you wish you had a crystal ball. Supply chains are strained, consumer demands are changing and corporate budgets have diminished. Moreover, as a business owner you’re responsible for your employees, who are also dealing with a mixed bag of emotions, in part related to their workloads.

Things are radically different, and ‘normal’ has shifted entirely. Your existing 5-year plan no longer holds: lately we’ve been trying to get through one day, week or month at a time. We’ve all adapted a lot over the past 8 weeks as our economy faces the sharpest downturn in decades.

The changes you’ve made may have felt more like crisis management rather than long-term planning, but we’re reaching a moment where ‘normal’ is coming back into view. It’s crucial now that you’re ready to address it and weather the next couple of months as we head towards our new normal.

Situations are less hypothetical

We can’t be the only ones who experienced a sinking feeling of recognition when lockdown was extended. We knew when it started that it probably wouldn’t end before May or June, but until the extension was made official it was easy not to think too hard about when ‘over’ would be. And much less what it’d look like. However, with an end in sight (at least of strict lockdown) it’s time to start thinking away from reactive pivot strategies to real, lasting change.

Now that we know it’s likely we’ll have some form of social distancing in place for several months to come, the future is feeling less short-term and slightly more concrete. It’s a critical time to think about post-lockdown landscapes instead of focusing solely on the immediate impacts and loss of business.

Globally, 41% of start-ups think they only have cash for the next three months and the difficulty of waiting for Government loans or grants is having an effect on a huge portion of SMEs. Getting a plan in place as soon as you can to cover the next 4-6 months is necessary and more approachable now that the initial shocks have been felt. The short and medium-term effects of COVID-19 may be permanent, but right now is the time to plan how to keep them from being perpetual.

Plot a few scenarios for the post-lockdown landscape

Be honest about how long you expect full lockdown to last, and what measures you can reasonably expect to remain in place for the next couple of months. It’s unlikely that there will be much economy-wide positive growth for months, but even the luxury industry is forecast to strengthen next year, so keep this outcome at the forefront of your mind.

Things are changing daily, so keep on top of announcements. Rishi Sunak announced a new Bounce Back loan scheme this week, offering up to £50,000 to SMEs (up to 25% of their turnover). These loans are 100% guaranteed by the Government. Know what support you’re entitled to and consider how this can augment your strategies, especially if it makes them affordable in the long-term.

Consider what you’ve learnt and how you’ve adapted so far during the crisis. Take a look at what’s working and ask yourself if there are changes and improvements you’ve made that would normally have required a long time to work out. Can you instate these permanently? You may have already done a lot of the hard work – it’s now time to work out how to continue.

Embrace change

Welcoming and incorporating the cultural and behavioural shifts that COVID-19 introduced, such as connecting with team members and clients online, could help you in the long run. Making the most of the technology we’re now accustomed to (and which helped most businesses’ resilience during the crisis) might mean developing an omni-channel business model to combine digital and face-to-face offerings or meetings.

The demand for online services is likely to stick, so get on board now while you have more time to adapt. It’s a shift in infrastructure that looks necessary as more traditional business strengths became irrelevant. Plan for more remote working and think about how you could introduce higher levels of virtualisation into your business. Video-conferencing and collaboration tools are now at the heart of how we do business.

Figuring out how to restart or rethink your operations once lockdown is lifted will need to go together with ensuring staff wellbeing and client safety. You’ll need to consider how your team returns to offices, warehouses or customer-facing spaces with new social distancing protocols.

This means maintaining safe distances between people, and working out your priorities on who needs to be where and when. You’ll need to be more agile and flexible in your supply chain too, in case you need to make quick changes during turbulent times.

Which countries should you watch?

While we don’t know exactly when and how we’ll come out of lockdown, we do know that it’ll probably start to happen soon. Germany, France, Spain and other European countries are beginning to reopen their shops, schools and offices. Watching these countries should make it a little easier to plan your long-term changes as we see how long it takes for behaviour to settle, or at least what it starts out like. Start to plot a realistic survival, and even success.

We’ve written about what we can learn from China’s recovery, but their economy is different to ours, and it’s hard to know which reported stats to trust. Watching how German and Danish governments relax social distancing measures and how businesses adjust may prove more useful for us in the UK.

While every country has reacted with varying speeds and different economic and social measures, we’re all entering similar markets. Once we have a picture of what they might look like, we can plan how best to act in them.

Prepare for long-term policy effects

After the 2008 financial crisis, over 15,000 pieces of legislation were introduced by governments the world over. How might new regulation impact your business model? You need to prepare for tax changes as the Government tries to balance the books on the huge sums they’ve promised and are sending to businesses and individuals up and down the country. The bill is substantial and will need to be paid back somewhere, so factor this into your business strategy.

The time is now

As lockdown measures begin to ease in Europe, we can start thinking further ahead as we understand what our new ‘normal’ might look like. At the moment it’s wise to factor in 3-5 months of disrupted activity, as well as the potential for a second outbreak.

Spending power across consumers and businesses will certainly be impacted for a while to come but it’s not all bad news. While the global troubles we’ve faced in 2020 may be unprecedented, there’s a lot of positive conjecture that 2021 will see a lot of recovery.

Exploring how we can enhance our use of technology to help people will encourage productivity and hopefully improve people’s working lives while delivering better products and services to clients. Businesses that take these changes seriously and use them to their advantage are more likely to succeed post-crisis, and right now is the most important time to do this.

Why leave it there?

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