Steering a course through COVID-19

Early career at sea helming bulk carrier.

As we navigate through the global COVID-19 pandemic we all share a thought for all those workers that continue to help us and keep society functioning. This turned my attention to all those in the healthcare profession, council workers, food retailers, couriers, postal workers and those in the Merchant Navy who bring essential goods to our shores from around the world. It reminded me of the late 1970’s when I served in the Merchant Navy initially joining Tate & Lyle’s small fleet of six vessels where I  joined the largest and newest of two sister ships, a 30,000-tonne bulk carrier called MV Sugar Carrier (yes, that’s me in the photo).

During my early career at sea I took my ‘Steering Certificate’, a process of instruction that eventually qualified me to helm and steer a course of one of these large ocean-going vessels. I’d been at sea for some time and whilst on the helm under the guidance of the ship’s Master and NO (Navigating Officer) in the early stages they would often be heard to ask me if I was “carving my name in it” due to the water track flowing miles behind us. Whilst I clearly took a few small detours, having a goal and the advice of senior officers eventually helped me focus on the task making it a smoother and more efficient journey for all those on-board.  

Steering an efficient journey has recently been brought into sharp focus for many small businesses that are now on the brink of disappearing for good due to the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these business owners will be sat at home under social lockdown rules considering the likelihood of three possible scenarios, either a slow or fast demise, or a fortunate survival, but unlike me, many will be completely isolated and therefore on their own. 

Of course, the difference between any of them is the cash reserves these owners have available. There will be those who’ve kept cash in the bank, invested some funds during healthy times or have their own wealth and be willing to use it to see this through. For those outside this group they will be relying on the hope that the government lockdown ends soon and that their income stream promptly returns to normal. However, I for one, doubt that will be the case for many industries based on news which suggests further waves of the virus will reappear for at least the next year https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-britain-warned-to-prepare-for-up-to-six-waves-of-coronavirus-in-next-year-11974702. For those that survive the challenge in the early weeks and months ahead, having the vision to apply what they’ve learned in order to become stronger in the future (something I referred to in my October blog on Corporate Leadership) will be a huge bonus. But how do you do this when you can often feel that you’re completely on your own? Yes of course there’s your bankers, accountants and solicitors who you may to turn to periodically, but their time is split across scores of clients making them often hard to reach and inappropriate for regular business support, and it’s this that limits their day-to-day input. If COVID-19 has forced you to take stock of the situation that’s a positive step, because all too often small businesses get caught up in the day-to-day running of repeated operations. Few small businesses rarely consider having an equivalent to that Navigating Officer who once helped me steer a course with something that I often felt was doing more to control me, than I was it. Something which many small business owners may be feeling today.

So, if you’re in the group where your traditional markets may not return to previous trading levels, or they might not appeal to you for the long-haul post COVID-19, having frequently available support from an appropriate consultant, or a non-executive director or directors, are two suggestions that can help you plot a course for the benefit of your business. Not only will you have constant access to support from people with the right balance of skills, but they can help you supercharge your enthusiasm and determination and provide help on pricing strategies, planning, market advice and more. Where you can choose to bring in senior advisors who work exclusively in your sector, exclusively for you within your sector, or from outside your sector, are some of the preliminary choices you have the power to make along with various ways to structure those arrangements. So, I implore you to use this global tragedy as a means for change now to make such occurrences as COVID-19 more bearable (at least commercially) in the future.

Unfortunately, many small business owners get fixated on the minutiae with every initiative having to deliver a positive ROI, assuming of course there’s some sort of a plan to work to, or they simply graft long hours in the hope that they’ll reach a suitable conclusion. But without knowing what a suitable conclusion looks like, it’s not wise to measure everything in the moment because you’ll convince yourself you’re making mistakes and simply withdraw to your initial position of false comfort.

Whilst a return on investment can be measured against each and every campaign you run, collectively these may not contribute (or contribute sufficiently enough) towards your overall strategy.

There’s plenty of business consultants like me who set up our businesses using the experience built from numerous challenges, whether they’re financial, technological, political, legal or educational. All you need do now, is step up to the helm.

If you would like to speak to me about any of the issues raised in this post, please email me, Nigel Davis.

  

Nigel Davis was voted ‘One of Britain’s Top 50 Small Business Consultants’, is an MCIM Chartered Marketer and an ambassador for a Private Equity and exit business.

 

 

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