Josh Fehnert reporting from London: The year has presented many a fresh obstacle to businesses big and small but the steps that can be taken to overcome these challenges are not so unfamiliar. We’ve compiled 10 of the most effective.
The business pages of most papers and periodicals have made for bleak reading lately and there’s scant advice for entrepreneurs who are seeking tangible tips. “The new normal” doesn’t mean anything when the goalposts keep shifting. Yet the fundamentals of running a business won’t change. You’ll need to be agile, circumspect and reactive – but wasn’t that always the case? Now is the time to be brave, stick to your guns and buck the trend. If the world is shutting up then get out a little; if everyone’s cutting jobs, think about acquiring some new talent; if others are cautious then maybe now’s the time to get that new business off the ground. Entrepreneurship has always been a game of risk and reward. Here are a few suggestions for keeping your company hale and your eyes open to opportunity.
Although it seems contrary to current practice, big deals aren’t easily won over a video call, local intelligence isn’t gathered in your bedroom or online, and trust isn’t cultivated while struggling with a crackly phone line. Clearly we’re not suggesting that you overlook a lockdown but we are saying that showing a little willingness to meet people again will put you first in the queue when business buoys and everything is open.
You don’t need everyone to come into work every day but company culture is forged through shared experiences and camaraderie, so a better balance needs to be struck. It might be cheaper to outsource your technology solutions to the Baltics but the staff parties will be rubbish and the sense of purpose absent. Of course, this involves leading by example: managers and top brass must show that they’re willing to step up and come into the workplace too.
Build a base and concentrate on your own neighbourhood first, as that’s where you’ll find supporters, customers and plenty to encourage you when the overseas investors have stopped answering your calls. One significant positive in a year that has (so far) been dominated by shortcomings is that we have rediscovered the communities that surround our homes and our offices. Don’t forget that just because the airports have reopened.
Seek out inspiration in other markets, investigate how other companies succeed abroad and don’t be afraid to reach out, put down roots in other cities and court key countries. That way you’re also spreading your liability and assets if one market plummets. Could your clothing company have a product made in Portugal or Hungary? Is Como the only place where you can find that fabric? There’s a world of discoveries to be made out there.
We’re not suggesting that you need to don a dicky bow or elaborate dress but do try tailored trousers and a jacket that won’t crumple between cabin, cab and boardroom. Online video chats enabled us to take a meeting in our smalls but dressing credibly shows that you mean business – and that you care. Much has been made of the slouchy Silicon Valley uniform but even the ceos of the US’s largest technology firms were suited and booted when they were questioned by Congress in July.
Not every business will be (or should be) a unicorn. What about creating a company that makes your life better, gives you freedom and is something that you believe in? What about asking for funding from family and friends rather than the VC who’s desperate to squeeze you out and flip the business. Success is different for everyone. Making a modest profit that supports you through a firm that you can pass on and of which you’re proud seems closer to the goal than simply closing a big-money deal.
Truly progressive companies don’t get involved in PR hogwash or diatribes about just how much they care about an obscure issue. Nor do they post coloured squares on social media to show how ethically aware they are. Instead, a good business should actually strive to change things. Concentrate on yourself rather than calling out others. Try to make a genuine difference. In short, show people that you’re committed to improving and doing things better rather than just blathering on about it.
You’ve been running your restaurant business for a lifetime but when was the last time that you actually oversaw a service, stepped into the kitchen or briefed the team in person? Do so and you’ll be amazed at what you learn, spot, experience and achieve. Time on the shop floor, factory floor or with the heavy lifters in your team is time well spent.
No one wants to prune their workforce and this year has been galling and gruesome for too many. Plenty of businesses have been forced to think about how they could do more with less and you might need to do likewise if your firm is going to pull through. What would your business look like with a less saggy line-up of middle managers?
This is the crux of the issue – literally in the case of the magazine that you’re holding. Being in business isn’t easy. If you’d wanted to take the easy path you’d have remained an employee or settled for a salary, right? But you took the hard road and – we’re hoping – gambled on a more fulfilling livelihood. So don’t stop there. The lessons that you’ve learned will come in handy when setting up again, refining your work and trying something new. Be brave.