How a business can survive an economic crisis

Someone looking up at the stars

In the last of the current series of Firestarter Forums, we tackled the elephant in the room and asked our audience of business leaders ‘what does your business need to look like to survive?’ Somewhat surprisingly, the conclusions we arrived at were extremely positive, with a philosophical view on the challenges and changes that we’ve all faced over the last few months and over 80% having an optimistic outlook for the future.

In fact, one of the strongest themes that has come out of the last few weeks’ forums is that the current COVID-19 crisis has accelerated change and businesses are now doing things that they would never have thought possible before. For some, this has come out of a necessity to pivot and adjust their business model or proposition in order to survive, but for others it has provided an opportunity to review the way we were doing things before and make some positive changes for the future. Whilst the UK economy still stands on a knife-edge and there are millions of people on the government furlough scheme, we do have to put things into perspective, but we are all learning valuable lessons about ourselves, our businesses and how we should be operating in a ‘new’ trading situation once this is all over.

Looking back over the last 10 weeks

So, if we cast our minds back to early March 2020, just 10 weeks ago and quickly reflect on how business leaders felt at that time, there was a clear sense of trepidation and concern about what COVID-19 would really mean for businesses. During a really intense 10 days or so, uncertainty was the most common feeling in the conversations we had with our clients, colleagues and network partners, as they attempted to grasp the potential scale of this crisis. Everyone was going through the same emotional process as they realised that they were going to have to make some difficult decisions and potentially big changes to their business. As discussed in our first forum session, this can be clearly highlighted by the change curve as demonstrated by our guest speaker, Lisa Zevi, with people at different stages in the curve.

On March 18th, after many conversations we came to the conclusion that Firestarter has an obligation to put our collective skills to good use and share our thoughts to be of practical help to businesses who were struggling. To begin with, we made a video (still available to watch on the website here) and came up with a five point plan for ‘staying calm in a crisis.’

Illustration of a graph

1. Getting a fit for purpose financial strategy

Maximising all sources of support and income to help survive the next few months

2. Building short-term “customer management plans”

Understanding the risks and identifying win-win tactics for your key customers

3. Finding a “situation relevant” version of your offering

What can you offer ‘right now’ that can appeal to and add value to your customers

4. Creating a viable “future state” (“when all of this is over…”)

Work out what your customers/potential customers can buy into

5. Focus on coming back stronger

Protect the social and emotional well-being of staff members – and getting projects done that engage and motivate them.

As a small business ourselves, we were facing all the same challenges with clients needing to hit the ‘pause’ button or reduce the amount of work we could do for them. As with many other businesses, we were forced to make the decision to furlough some of our team members and face the stark reality that we would need to find a new shape, proposition and way of working in order to survive.

We started walking

For those who know Firestarter, one of our common phrases is ‘if you want to get somewhere, start walking’, so that’s just what we did and from an initial idea that had been burning for a while, we created the first series of Firestarter Forums in just 4 days, with the final rehearsal for the first one finishing just one minute before we went live on 30th April! Now, five weeks later, we have completed a full series covering some extremely valuable content shared by a number of our valued partners, and provided an opportunity for over 70 people in our network to discuss their own challenges and share ideas with their peers in open discussions and smaller breakout groups. These forums have now created a life of their own, with spin-off workshops on specific topics and Firestarter ‘snugs’ where we have matched people up into smaller groups to continue with discussions on their own.

Multiple people on a zoom meeting

So, what has this told us?

Ever since we started Firestarter in 2012, we have always wanted to create a forum series, but have never actually got around to it as we’ve either been too busy with client work, couldn’t make the logistics work, had other priorities or frankly, any other excuse you could think of. But, when placed in a pressurised situation where, as the saying goes, you have to ‘adapt or die’ we have managed to create a ‘movement’ in just a few weeks. If there are any positives to come out of this crisis, we can say that it has certainly helped to accelerate change and opened up everyone’s eyes to opportunities that they never thought possible before.

At Firestarter, our purpose and vision is to continually drive progress and achievement in everything we do, not just for ourselves but also for our clients and friends. We love seeing people achieve extraordinary things and our hope is that we have been able to provide some answers to the questions that our audience has been asking about a whole host of issues that have confronted business leaders over the last few months.

We started with life being tough at the top, probably the single biggest theme to have come out of our forum series as our network of business leaders addressed the challenges that confronted them. With the opportunity to share peer-to-peer experiences and consider new ideas, we have all been on a journey of discovery into a whole new world and way of working. This leads us nicely onto our second topic, where we looked at this ‘new way of working’ in more detail to understand what it means for our brands, our products and how we take them to market. As we have all seen with the huge increase in home working and video conferencing, digitalisation is key to this new world, not just for our product and marketing strategies, but also with how we manage our people. In fact, our third forum was titled, ‘it’s all about the people’ and we discussed how to manage remote workforces effectively. Whilst many people still crave the buzz of the office environment, the old traditional barriers to working from home have most definitely been removed and undoubtedly this will continue to be a feature of future working environments. This then begs the question ‘when can I start planning with confidence?’ which is clearly an issue for lots of people right now who are trying to look beyond the next few weeks and get back to more strategic planning horizons.

Flexibility is key

All of these topics brought us right up to date and have given us all food for thought and support in making the best decisions for our businesses as we develop our lockdown exit strategies to come out of this period in a stronger position. But, as highlighted in our latest forum, one thing is absolutely key to success in this new world we are facing – flexibility.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

If we are to embrace the opportunities and drive progress in a new world, we need to encourage everyone to think differently and break down the barriers to change. For example, flexible working, remote working and flexible resourcing needs to become a feature of all our working lives. The ‘shock’ of COVID-19 has certainly spurred everyone into new thinking out of necessity, but when you think about the positives there are many opportunities for businesses to retain key skills whilst reducing costs, increase productivity and attract high quality talent from areas you may not have previously considered.

Looking to the future – what will it look like?

Nobody knows for sure what the future will hold, but one thing for sure is that the resolve, optimism and creativity within our forum group is as strong as ever. We are so pleased to have been able to bring together a group of business leaders where there is a genuine sense of camaraderie and community, where everyone is open to sharing their collective knowledge and drive creative thinking.

Although we all come from different walks of life and operate in a variety of different industries, the challenges we all face are very similar. In summary, the biggest takeaways from this series of forums are:

  • Expansion is now closer than we think and globalisation is more possible
  • Digitalisation has enabled us to accelerate change and move much quicker than before
  • Flexible working gives us more opportunities to attract and retain better talent
  • There will be big savings to be made from reduced travel
  • It is really important to talk about change and take your teams with you

So, as the title of this article suggests, the traditional barriers that may have slowed progress in the past are possibly self-imposed and we now have an opportunity to really change the way we work in the future for the better – making sure that everyone can come back stronger!

If you would like to take part in the next series of Firestarter forums, please do get in touch with us – we’d love you to join our ‘movement’.

At Firestarter, we consult daily with businesses like yours to ignite and sustain their sales growth. Our business growth consultancy is second to none, with over 25 years industry experience, and a diverse portfolio of clients that span throughout the UK. Get in touch with us today – we’d love to hear from you.

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