Thursday, 25 June 2020
As part of the Nat West Women in Business team, Enterprise Manager Heather Waters helps to develop and deliver the strategy to support the UK’s female entrepreneurs - including the innovative Back Her Business programme. She looks at seven key things for entrepreneurs to think about as businesses start to move forward post-lockdown…
Recognise where your head is at
The coronavirus pandemic has taken existing business owners through different stages. The first was the shock stage, the ‘we can't believe this is happening’ phase. Then came the financial impact – the race to get funding from the banks, furloughing staff and making sure they could pay the wages. In effect, in many cases, it was about making sure that businesses could be put on hold. We are now at stage three, I think, where people are starting to think about how they’re going to come out of this or change their business and what support they’re going to need. The biggest question isn’t even purely about trading right now though; it’s about asking ‘where’s your head?’
Have a bounce-back plan
It’s important to have agility and not get stuck at stage one, thinking, ‘Hmm, this is terrible’, or ‘It's okay, I’ve got the wages sorted out for a few months’, because money alone doesn't make a business move forward. You’ve got to have a plan. Reassess your business model if you feel parts have closed down and look at how you can open up new markets and opportunities. If necessary, think about working in a different way. Some businesses will have to shrink in order to be able to go forward, and if you do have to go backwards a bit, that's okay. As a business owner, you're going to have to bite the bullet and recognise that you’ll need some help. The first port of call would always be business growth hubs around the UK such as Business Wales and Business Gateway, which have huge amounts of support available to help businesses get ready to move forward again.
Scale if you can
Not all businesses have experienced a downturn during the pandemic. And if you’re a business that was already online and successful with plans in place to grow then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t just carry on with that. The same goes for businesses that pivoted online and perhaps found a new customer base they didn't have before. They can look instead at how they execute this new business and maybe at different platforms for selling. People who have created new local businesses though, say home delivery of fruit and veg where it didn't exist before, might think differently. Some of those businesses aren't scalable, but they've grown through this period and the question for them now is how they maintain that growth and use this opportunity to become UK-wide.
Raise your finance game
Women have a tendency to self-fund businesses, and I wish more female entrepreneurs would ask me about the many other different avenues, from crowdfunding to getting investors or bank loans, as well as the types of funding available to buy equipment. The 2019 Rose Review noted a few reasons why women entrepreneurs tend to self-fund – the first being ‘adversity to risk’. There is a tendency for women not to want to borrow more than they need in need to satisfy the minimum, especially when starting out, and they can be quite conservative in their growth plans. In addition, there is a lack of confidence in understand the funding landscape out there – something we've set out to inform and educate on. I think of funding as a cocktail. Everyone's got different ingredients and the blend will be different for everybody, but it all starts with knowing what’s out there.
Learn to apply yourself
If your bank has already funded you previously then you'll have a relationship – they’ll look at your accounts at least once a year to make sure that everything is on track and make sure your funding is correct for you, that you don't need more or to change the model. If you’re coming in from the cold, however, you’ll need to arrive with a lot of information because you’re trying to give them a big snapshot of your business: where it is now, where you’re planning to go with it, what impact coronavirus is having on you and actually how you're going to recover, so you can repay this loan that you're looking to take out. Make sure you know what information they need and how to present this. Again, that's an education piece, so before you apply, take advice if you’re not sure.
Don’t do it all on your own
Ask for help. The analogy of ‘ask five times and you might get three yeses and two noes’ is applicable here. If you need someone to bounce off to see if you’re on the right path with your thinking, reach out and find yourself a mentor. If you need more advice and help than that, then find yourself a consultant or business adviser. It’s important to recognise what you need, and then make sure you find out where you can get it. And don't be lonely – there are enough peer-to-peer platforms out there to join. You’re going to have to be a bit bolder and braver and just go for it.W
Finally, get going. Women often tend to think, ‘Oh I'm not ready’ or ‘I'm not quite sure yet’. It's a difference between men and women sometimes in how we perceive the challenge. We want everything to be perfect, so put things off. That's a confidence thing in our own ability and also feeds into the risk element too. Female entrepreneurs can think, ‘what will happen if it goes wrong?’ and ‘How this will impact my life?’ But a true entrepreneur lives with those risks. This might be uncomfortable, and you might not feel completely secure in what you're doing, but ultimately, you're going to have to make some decisions.