Business Essentials

Adapting to thrive in difficult times - Brought to you by NatWest

Adapting to thrive in difficult times - Brought to you by NatWest

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Business owners and experts share their tips on adjusting your business to succeed amid uncertainty.


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness…” 
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


The pandemic has hit the UK economy hard. Although business sentiment is broadly improving since the start of the crisis, uncertainty remains and many entrepreneurs and their families are anxious. 

In the midst of this, however, there are stories of innovation and reinvention – stories of light in the darkness, bringing to mind the famous opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.


“What we’re seeing is incredible agility and resourcefulness,” says futurist and strategic adviser Rohit Talwar, CEO of think tank Fast Future and editor of Aftershocks and Opportunities. “The fleet-footed are turning their business models upside down and inside out to weather the storm. They are collaborating with former competitors to share costs. They’re skilling up. 


“We’ve got plumbers doing webinars, for example, talking people through easy fixes to build up followers who might become future customers. The virus has changed the landscape and enterprising businesses have adjusted accordingly.” 


Collaborating to build a stronger brand

Maria Yanez and her partner Carlos Socorro, owners of Crudo, London’s first grab-and-go cevicheria, have done just that. They opened in September 2019 but have had to spin more plates than they ever anticipated. 


“We’d wanted a restaurant for years,” says Yanez. “We’d been meticulous in our planning. No one was offering create-your-own-ceviche bowls, so there was an opportunity there, and we chose our location carefully – in Fitzrovia, surrounded by offices. We were doing well, but then the offices closed and we had no customers. Our sales were down by 85% at their lowest point.”


The couple acted immediately. Having family in Spain helped because they could see what was likely to happen and faced the crisis full-on. “We didn’t go into denial,” says Yanez. “We knew we’d have to find some way of staying open to survive.” 


They furloughed staff, focused on delivery and contactless takeout, and created a pay-it-forward platform – Local Small Businesses – to raise their profile and help other SMEs. Through the site, customers could buy food and drink vouchers from a number of businesses that they’d redeem once the venues reopened. The objective was to provide the SMEs with the revenue to cover their costs and guarantee future custom. 


“Opportunities abound for those able to recognise and seize them. Among the winners will be those with passion, a 100% belief in their business and a willingness to take calculated risks”
Joanna Swash, CEO, Moneypenny

As a fundraising exercise, its success was limited, but it got Crudo vital press coverage and spurred them on to their next initiative, Shefu. “Recipe box sales have surged during lockdown, so we’ve created our own kits to deliver to people’s homes. We also hope to sign up other restaurants – to help them with logistics and packaging and then add them to our platform.” 


Crudo is demonstrating some of the characteristics SME expert Joanna Swash, CEO of outsourced telephone answering service Moneypenny, considers to be essential to survival. 


“Opportunities abound for those able to recognise and seize them,” she says. “Companies that are open to new ideas, to new ways of working and who react quickly to this fast-changing situation will thrive. Among the winners will be those with passion and a drive to succeed, a 100% belief in their business and a willingness to take calculated risks.”


Communicating with your audience 

Tim Armoo, CEO of Fanbytes, which helps organisations such as McDonald’s, Charlotte Tilbury, HM Prisons and YouGov win the hearts of Generation Z through influencer-led advertising campaigns, has seen a spike in business during the pandemic. 


“Fanbytes is based on social media,” says Armoo, “and so we’ve benefited from the upsurge in social media activity – up by 60% – during lockdown.” 


While the advertising industry went the opposite way, with companies pulling campaigns, Fanbytes saw a “massive influx” in brands wanting to connect with younger audiences. “Our engagement levels have gone through the roof,” says Armoo, who started his company while still at university. 


“Covid has caused such disruption. There’s a realisation that traditional advertising isn’t going to reach the people sitting at home, so brands have re-evaluated their marketing strategies and have reallocated funds to digital. We’ve seen an increase in almost every metric we measure because we were ahead of the curve. We were already occupying the space that other companies are only now trying to enter.”


The boost in social media usage is not the only reason Fanbytes is prospering. Armoo has pressed ahead with plans to diversify into new markets including intellectual property and e-commerce. “The internet didn’t go into lockdown, so there was no reason for us to pause,” he says. “We carried on, engaging with our audience, keeping a close eye on our costs and focusing on sectors that are booming – namely beauty, fitness, health and home improvement. And we’re busy developing B2C products because that area has also seen growth over lockdown.”

How to flourish in a pandemic: top tips from Joanna Swash and Rohit Talwar

Watch your bottom line, but don’t make false economies. Certain tasks are best done by experts: outsourcing functions such as communications could help save your business.

Maintain contact with clients. This is crucial at all times, but particularly so now when anxious customers need reassurance and a fast response to their queries. 

Empower your team. Treat people as individuals, train them and diversify their skill sets so they can help drive your business forward.  

Customers need to be heard. Longer interactions help your clients, but they also provide valuable insights.

Visibility is key. Even if you’re closed temporarily, keep communicating with your customers – not to sell to them, but to ask how they are and if there is anything you can do to help. Contact is a great retention tool.

Invest in tech such as live chat bots and AI. You’ll reap the benefits.

Collaborate. If you’ve lost business, you’ll need new customers to fill those gaps. Contact others in related industries to see if you can share clients/refer each other. 

Add value, not only to your clients’ organisations but also to your own. Educate yourself: get to know clients’ industries so you’ll be better placed to offer new services. 

Try new things. Do a webinar. It sounds daunting, but it’s easier than you think.

Let go of the old. It could be time to go online, to do pop-ups instead of having a permanent outlet. Don’t tie yourself to one way of operating, or to one product. Think how you can use your skills to offer something new to new customers.


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