Why you must rewrite your business story post-Covid

Why you must rewrite your business story post-Covid

It’s the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment but, as the saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’ and eventually we will need to start thinking about life after covid. My new three-part blog series looks at moving on from crises and why businesses need to acknowledge what’s happened and learn the right lessons.

The way in which businesses showed up during the 2020 pandemic will define their reputation for years to come. Your reaction and approach, if positive and supportive, will be a key to future growth and success but only if you record them and use the information in your narrative.

Join the dots

It’s possible that your business looks very different to the way it did a year ago. Those changes could be minimal or material but, either way, it’s really important that you join the dots for your audience and tell the latest chapter in your business story. Put simply, you need to explain why you do what you do, and how you do it – and if Covid changed that, people need to be aware. Far from any changes being seen as a degradation of service or an unexplained departure from the norm, your business story should be one of flexibility and agility. People trust a business that can adapt and flex according to what is required and telling the story of how you survived the pandemic and subsequent deep recession is of paramount importance.

Where are you now?

Because the pandemic changed everything in life and business, businesses will have experienced far-reaching disruption. Your route to market may be different; you might be present on different channels (more social media activity, maybe, client meetings on Zoom?) or you could have drastically change the shape and purpose of the business. Are you still happy with your short and long-term business plan? It is essential to revisit your numbers to make sure pricing and profit forecasts are still accurate given any changes you have made. Whatever your story, resilience is at the heart of it and that is something to be celebrated.

Now is the time to be preparing some of this important background material upon which you will build your next chapter: that of the recovery.

A story to celebrate

Let’s look at one of the more recent major crises to hit the business world: the 2008 financial crisis. It hit business hard, especially smaller businesses who were forced to pay off employees, halt spending and investment and find new ways to survive. And the fallout was far-reaching too. The effect on commercial lending was considerable and suddenly loans to small businesses became virtually non-existent.

I’ve blogged before about opportunity emerging from crisis and, true to form, crowdfunding was born of this financial hardship. In the hunt for ‘alternative lending’, the online world stepped up and suddenly large numbers of people could participate in gifts, loans and shares to enable small businesses to raise the equity they needed to deliver on their plan.

 

So, what seems like a near-miss or a difficult time may actually simply be looked back on as a transformation to new and better things. Make sure your story celebrates what you’ve done during 2020.

 

Next time, I’ll be looking at what we’ve learned from this crisis and what we can take away – a little positivity to follow the uncertainty and sadness of the year.

3 things to consider when preparing to put crisis behind us

3 things to consider when preparing to put crisis behind us

It’s the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment but, as the saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’ and eventually we will need to start thinking about life after covid. My new three-part blog series looks at moving on from crises and why businesses need to acknowledge what’s happened and learn the right lessons.

The business world is no stranger to crisis but the 2020 pandemic will certainly be remembered for its persistence. Dealing with crisis is often about the importance of the initial reaction, protecting your brand reputation and damage limitation. Covid, however, keeps moving the goalposts.

Inevitably though, it will come to an end and it seems to be generally accepted that now is a good time to start planning for that. As John Chambers, ex-CEO/Chairman of Cisco Systems says “It’s time to reinvent or be left behind.” So, how do we go about that? Here are my three top tips:

1.   Start with customers

As always, the people already doing business with you are the most important. Crisis or normality, it remains easier to do more business with existing clients than to find new ones. Focus on nurturing with an excellent client experience but also remember that your clients will also have shifted. Their businesses will have pivoted and you need to reassess their challenges and pain points.

2.   Be clear

It’s really important that business leaders stay in the here and now and stick with the changes they have made. You’ve pivoted your business because of the pandemic but, even though it will eventually pass, that doesn’t mean you can revert to old ways of working. It’s rare for such a transformational period to pass without lasting change and there will be many new ways of working that will stick around. Don’t look at the end of the pandemic as an end point. You need to continue operating, riding out the transitional period by sticking to your guns about why your business remains the best in its field. Consistency and clarity are key here: businesses that demonstrate this will be trusted by their customers.

3.   Revisit everything

The possibility of permanent change means revisiting all the moving parts of your business. You might have put emergency plans in place to get you through the crisis but there now needs to be a shift towards sustainable change in your policies and procedures. Systems might need to change to support the business adapting. Take time to fully assess the impact of any pivot you have made and set your business up for future success by putting the right foundations in place for the future.

An important part of this review is to take another look at your business plan and make sure you have captured those changes you want to continue with. Another good look at your numbers is also prudent to ensure pricing is still on the right lines. You may have been in survival mode for a period of time but you need to approach the coming months with a clear view of your finances to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Next time, read about why it’s critical to rewrite your business story as well as reinforcing the operational aspects of what you do.

Exit Strategies and why the end should start at the beginning

Exit Strategies and why the end should start at the beginning

When it comes to success in business, there’s a chapter people rarely consider. The art of the exit strategy is the part of the business journey which stands entrepreneurs apart from the crowd.

Some would argue that you’ve only been successful if you’ve exited with a return on your investment, ready to move on to the next bigger and better opportunity.

This is the third and final blog in my three-part series about how to Aim Big, Think Big and Act Big. These are the three essential steps to guaranteed business growth that I spoke about in my first blog of the series.

So, how do we Act Big? I’d like to take you back to my little dog, Baxter, and his very big stick. I guess Baxter has the luxury of not needing to worry about where his big stick journey goes. To me, there’s a clear failure coming, when he realises that half a tree isn’t the best thing to decide to carry on a long walk. But, he’s living in the moment, and very happy to do so.

When it comes to business, we can’t afford to set ourselves up for failure. Which is why, oddly, one of the first questions I ask a business founder is “What happens at the end?” I’m not for a minute suggesting their business won’t continue, very successfully, for many years. But I am suggesting that they might not always be a part of it.

Unlocking the door

There are lots of choices when it comes to an exit strategy, the four most common are:

  • Management Buy Out (MBO) – when an executive team combines resources to acquire some or all of the business they manage;
  • Outside Sale – a straight sale to new owners;
  • Merger & Acquisition (M&A) – either merging with a similarly sized company or being bought by a larger one;
  • Initial Public Offering (IPO) – essentially floating on the stock market and raising capital from external investors, not as popular as it once was, following the bursting of the dot-com bubble;

There’s no ‘best’ option as the right strategy will be the one which fits your business and personal goals. It’s this framing and planning stage which should come at the start of the business journey to enable you to structure your business for ultimate success in the exit strategy you choose.

Determining the right balance between personal and business goals as well as honouring any investments needs careful planning. The key point of the strategy is to optimise the value of the business so planning from an early stage provides maximum flexibility and opportunity.

By acknowledging and actioning the need for an exit strategy, not only are we fulfilling the need to Act Big, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to grow yet more in the future as we have the chance to move on to greater challenges or more business opportunities.

 

How to Think Big and Create Sustainable Business Growth

How to Think Big and Create Sustainable Business Growth

This blog is the second in my latest mini-series which shares 3 essential steps to guarantee successful business growth

Last time, I wrote about Aiming Big. This time, you can find out how to Think Big and create sustainable growth for your business.

Clarity is Key

One of the secrets to business success is to ensure that your audience knows and understands what you do. By picking a market or a skillset and sticking to it, you create a much stronger brand and you can then grow your business under that brand in such a way that the goodwill you generate will extend to everything you offer.

By moving between markets or offering random services that aren’t linked together by a common skillset, you risk confusing your target market and the confused mind always says ‘no’.

Think Quality, Not Quantity

If you find you get the biggest buzz from the ‘new’, you need to hear the story of Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz. Today, Moz is one of the most successful SEO companies in the world but that wasn’t always the case.

Fishkin describes his obsession with ‘the new’ as “one of Moz’s most consistent, most pernicious failures” under his leadership of the business. Instead of continually improving and refining his offering by focusing on what Moz was good at, the entrepreneurial founder was continually chasing the next big discovery. He wanted to repeat his original experience of finding a problem, solving it and becoming a huge success.

However, this chase led to many new product or features being launched, marketing and then promptly forgotten about. There was no support, no upgrades (both of which are essential in the tech industry), until everything came to a head with severe product failures and what Fishkin describes as “nightmarishly bad customer feedback”.

It was at this point that Moz’s growth rate plummeted from 100% year-on-year to just 20%.

A Lesson Learned

In the end it took years to turn Moz around, something which happened under new leadership. But the lesson was learned by Fishkin, who says he plans to carry it with him for the rest of his career.

In my experience, a successful business is something which needs strategic thinking. By considering why you are successful – presumably because you are good at what you do – and planning to deliver more of the same rather than diversifying or over-expanding and risking the whole business.

Next time, read more about how to grow your business successfully as I look at how to Act Big and what choices are available to business owners once they’ve found success and growth.

 

3 essential steps to guaranteed business growth

3 essential steps to guaranteed business growth

I’m always an advocate of planning. From the first little spark of an idea, through the approach to funding, setting up and throughout the lifetime of your business, you should plan, plan, plan.

When it comes to growing a business, it’s common for some entrepreneurs to get a little over excited. Passion and dreams can run riot, especially now they’ve seen that their idea works, the business exists at last and it’s doing well.

Perhaps oddly, growing a business is a risky time. I’m absolutely not against it in any way – one of the most common services Streamlion Consulting offers is help with growing and scaling businesses. But I do believe there’s a right and a wrong way.

My next series of blogs is going to share 3 essential steps which, if taken, can guarantee successful business growth.

The first step is to Aim Big.

The P-word

And we’re back to planning. The clue to the right way to approach this is in the word “aim”. You’ll notice this is different to “fire” or “fire at will”, both of which conjure up images of a scattergun approach, a distinct lack of planning. And therein lies a common mistake. With a thriving business and proof that you’ve found your niche, it’s easy to get over-confident and start growing in every direction, simply saying ‘yes’ to every request and pleasing your customers right, left and centre.

Taking a moment, taking aim in fact, means knowing what you’re good at and offering this proven skill, perhaps in new markets, rather than reinventing yourself which often means a move away from your core skillset.

Offering a wider range of different products or services too early can destabilise the business. Think of your main offering as the core of your business. A strong and well-defined core creates a stable, steady business. Your brand will become known for this core product or service and your reviews will reflect your proficiency in this arena.

Complement your core

As well as destablising your core, suddenly offering a wide range of different products or services will also end up costing more to scale as your business continues to grow. Quality or reliability might suffer and suddenly your brand is damaged.

By aiming big – and taking a moment to plan – you can stabilise your core offering and then plan complementary growth channels which work with this core but perhaps allow you to explore different markets or areas of expertise.

Taking some time to plan a logical growth journey at this stage will pay dividends in the end as your business remains efficient and effective while also getting bigger.

Next month, I’ll be looking at the next step you can take to secure successful growth – thinking big in order to create sustainable growth.

The Ultimate To Do List For Successful Business Startups

The Ultimate To Do List For Successful Business Startups

Most business ideas are borne out of a desire to change something; to do it better, faster, cheaper (or more profitably).

The energy around a start-up is always tangible and there’s no lack of enthusiasm when it comes to getting things ready for launch. But, it’s important to take the time to check your idea is sound and to take careful steps to ensure you build your dream and not a nightmare experience.

Building a business is one thing. Creating something that is likely to be successful and sustainable is quite another. We’ve seen, during crisis-hit 2020, that you never know what’s around the corner and your business needs to be carefully thought through and constructed to weather the storm.

Read on for my Ultimate To-Do List For Successful Business Startups.

  1. Build Solid Foundations

This is a little bit about planning and a little bit about investing. For many entrepreneurs, the idea itself is the key to success and, in their mind, hard work will get them there. However, as with anything new, first impressions count. That’s why branding and messaging is so important.

Don’t skimp at this stage. The temptation to rush something to market may be strong but getting the wrong brand – or a weak look and feel – could well be the difference between success and failure. Jumping into the business world is a big decision. You need to be completely convinced you have a great idea.

Additionally, sound foundations and a deep understanding of why you’re doing what you are will stand you in better stead for meeting future challenges.

During the COVID crisis, businesses that were able to pivot quickly – to revive and thrive – were those who knew their brand and purpose inside out and could therefore visualise where they sat in the ‘new normal’.

Invest in a proper study, work out your avatars, understand your market and consider what your brand needs to be synonymous with. Ask yourself what problems your brand is solving; have you got a unique proposition?

  1. Know Your Network

Often in business, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Who has the expertise that you need to tap into? When it comes to startups, the journey from concept to funding, finding expertise and needing to expand can happen rapidly. If you truly believe your idea has legs, you owe it to yourself to spend some time researching how you will achieve each of these stages in the journey. Ask yourself:

  • What sort of funding do you need and where can you get it?
  • What does your initial team look like? Are they in your network or do you need to find them?
  • Have you got the business-wide experience or acumen to drive launch and expansion quickly or do you need to buy this in?

Experience of significant interruption to normal processes has highlighted the importance of business ecosystems and being well networked to survive. No business is an island and your support network comes into its own when the going gets tough.

  1. Focus on Value

I’ve blogged before about how to create a unique value proposition and this concept is so critical to any business startup, even before the proposition takes shape.

With any new idea, you must be able to determine and communicate what value it is adding to the existing offerings in the market. If you can’t identify this, you will struggle to convince potential customers as to why they should do business with you. It is key for gaining the attention and buy-in of investors but also so important in ensuring growth. To grow and scale in as short a timeframe as possible, you need a frictionless business. One of the trickiest things to overcome (and therefore the biggest generator of friction) is competition and a lack of USP so make this one of the first things you think about alongside your new idea.

  1. Be Specific

It’s often tempting for inspired and enthusiastic entrepreneurs to come up with lots of ideas and continually increase their scope. However, the business world these days is much more of an ecosystem. For true success, it’s better to be specific and excel in one area rather than trying to be the expert across a spectrum of areas. Creating a niche and then building a strong presence within it is critical to success.

There are several areas where it pays to be specific. One is in creating and understanding your ideal client avatar. By being clear about who you want to do business you will be far more likely to attract those people. Saying you want to focus on female entrepreneurs is woolly. Saying you’re keen to work with female entrepreneurs in the finance sector who are aiming to exit their business successfully within 5 years is really going to speak to the right people.

  1. Get comfortable outside your comfort zone

Building a successful business was never meant to be easy and it seems the world in which we operate is becoming more complex. Risks are harder to see and assess, yet still need to be calculated and assessed. As an entrepreneur you are highly likely to need to make judgement calls here and there without necessarily having the clarity that you’d like as to what the future holds.

Back in 2017, I wrote a similar blog, Seven Simple Questions To Ask Before Starting Your Own Business. Not much has changed in terms of my advice but the reality in which you read it has been turned on its head. As I concluded then, factors such as your network and the way you build the foundations of your business remain of paramount importance. In addition, we now need to add flexibility and on-the-spot innovative thinking to our ever growing list of skills.