It may seem premature to talk about what happens when the Coronavirus pandemic is over but SMEs need to think ahead and nurture those key relationships needed to ensure their business has a future.
Many of you have had to temporarily close your business and furlough staff due to Government restrictions introduced to try to slow the spread of the virus and many or you have seen your income plummet or cease altogether, with a devastating impact on your cash flow.
According to behavioural scientists it is natural to behave cautiously, even timidly, in the face of a threat, in direct proportion to its magnitude and to what is known about it. But amid the daily deluge of media updates, it is important to remember that we will tend to exaggerate the risk so the threat looms large in our minds.
So, it is perhaps natural to invoke a so-called “bunker” mentality in which self-protection overrides all else.
But as a business owner, no matter how dire the current situation, it is important you try to maintain a sense of perspective and remind yourselves that eventually some form of “normality” will return at which point you will want to be able to return to business profitability.
An essential element of this is what you do now, and key to it will be your relationship with employees, customers and suppliers.
In previous pandemic-related blogs I have talked about maintaining regular communication with staff, somewhat like the government’s daily briefings from No 10 to keep us all informed. This communication is key whether you have been fortunate enough to be able to carry on with staff working remotely, or whether you have had to take advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme for the time being.
Similarly, it is critical to maintain a level of marketing to stay in contact with customers and clients. They may not be placing orders now, but staying in close touch with them, demonstrating concern for their interests and wellbeing, and discussing the future will help prepare for it.
In the same way, understanding the changing needs of customers may have helped you pivot, as those like some restaurants who now provide a take-away service and offer meal deliveries. This engagement will ensure your business pick up quickly when restrictions are eased.
Another of the key relationships that you will need to nurture is that with your suppliers. You will need them if you are to remain in business where non-payment during the lock down may have been necessary if you yourself haven’t been paid but ignoring them won’t be easily forgiven.
There is a salutary lesson in the action recently taken by New Look, whose CEO last week wrote to all suppliers suspending payments to suppliers for existing stock “indefinitely, cancelling orders for its Spring and Summer clothing lines and saying it won’t pay costs towards them.
In fairness, the company had been in difficulties as a High Street retailer due to the changing nature of customer shopping habits in the previous two years and had closed many of its branches.
However, the news was devastating to its suppliers who received such a brutal message, one of whom is reported as saying the action would “devastate smaller companies down the supply chain at a time when they need help the most”. There appears to have been no recognition or understanding in the letter that suppliers would be facing cash flow issues of their own.
A little empathy would not have gone amiss when communicating such a non-payment message to suppliers who will need a level of understanding to show how important they really are despite being unable to pay them and especially when wanting to do business with them again in the future.
Perhaps you could engage with them by discussing ways to limit the damage, either by offering staged payments, if you as a business can afford it, or by reassuring existing suppliers that you value them and will continue to work with them as the restrictions ease and life gets back to normal.
No matter how focused you are on your own concerns and worries at the moment, and I am by no means seeking to minimise their significance, you should also remember that if you don’t nurture your key relationships now you could put your eventual business recovery in jeopardy.
Help is available for SMEs dealing with the pandemic at: