Lockdown 2.0: There’s no business like COVID business

The current UK lockdown is set to end on 2nd December; however, the government only this week admitted that there’s no promise that restrictions will actually be fully lifted for life to revert to the ‘new normal’. This means that, yet again, business owners stand in the face of uncertainty for what happens in the final month of 2020 and beyond. What changes can you get creative with and actually control?

It’s been a stop-start time for all of us as 2020 has unravelled; no two ways about it. Business owners across the UK are again keeping a watchful eye on the post-lockdown market, having already had to overhaul their business and personal plans as the coronavirus has continued to permeate our everyday lives. Can any lessons of hope be learned from the previous lockdown?

Small and medium enterprise (SME) owners have been treading water as best they can throughout the year – focusing solely on survival. In about a fortnight’s time, restrictions are set to ease once again and trading will recommence; at least, that’s the expectation.

Back in the summer, Martin Brown, CEO of business adviser Elephant’s Child, seemed largely positive about the ensuing months, stating: “We’ve seen a shift. Businesses are stabilising, and there’s now a sentiment of optimism. Owners are beginning to think about how to grow again.” However, are companies truly feeling as hopeful at this particular juncture?

When COVID-19 first broke out in the UK, crisis management was understandably the priority for many companies – evaluating whether their business was urgently under threat, accessing government support and getting short-term contingency plans in place to cover all bases.

This time around, the situation feels less clear-cut. Yes, all being well, the UK lockdown will lift on 2nd December, yet Chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough period until the end of March 2021 (to be reviewed in January). How are business owners to know when to release their employees from furlough, therefore? Does their strategy or budget need amending if they want to scale their business? And if they were thinking about, or are in the process of, leaving the protection of the government support schemes, how has the pandemic changed operations for the future?

Sounds like a plan

Lockdown has, on both occasions, presented many of us with some veritable time for no-holds-barred reflection. Effecting changes within any kind of business calls for a lot of careful, creative planning in order to have a hope of going with the future flow.

“The past few months have led a lot of us to reflect on what we really want. Business owners may need to reassess their own aspirations, ambitions and purpose,” Brown says. Let’s not forget, though, that actions speak louder than words.

During this rollercoaster-ride-of-a-pandemic, it may pay for owners to keep tabs on liquidity and cashflow in every aspect of their business. A 90-day rolling strategy that can be evaluated and amended when needed will support business owners to remain versatile while the virus is still weighing heavy on our lives.

In the long-term, an annual operating plan and longer-term approach may be more appropriate as the situation pans out and we move towards some stability. The purpose of this is that business owners can assess whether their strategy continues to meet all requirements and reset goals as appropriate.

Twists and turns, lessons learned

One potent positive from this year’s lockdowns is that the vastly reduced road and air traffic levels have seen pollution take a nose-dive. Could this finally force us to realise that a shift towards a more sustainable economy is essential, rather than desirable?

“Business owners really should be thinking about doing their part in making the planet sustainable, and now seems a great time to do so,” Brown says. “Those who don’t will struggle to attract the best clients and staff in the future, as sustainability will only grow as an issue of importance.”

SMEs are more malleable than their larger counterparts and are therefore able to readily implement sustainability measures. Why waste your time travelling and clock up emissions when you can simply hop on a video conference call? How about benefitting from the cycle-to-work scheme to boost your health and fitness and make for a greener commute? Could your company invest in renewables or make plans to have a more environmentally sensitive supply chain? The options are out there if you look for them.

SME owners across the land will, once more, be key to reigniting the economy – and the planet – to return to the ‘new normal’ – a healthier normal. There’s no time like the present to plan, plan, plan to ensure you can not only survive, but thrive, when this is all ‘over’.

The opinions expressed by third parties are their own and are not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management or Wellesley Wealth Advisory.