Posted: Tue 16th Jun 2020
How can small businesses navigate times of change and emerge even stronger? Thanos Dimopoulos, Business Sales Specialist at the Flagship Microsoft Store in London, reports back from a recent panel event which focused on that question.
Often it's the hardest times that teach us the skills to create the best times in our life and business. That's the view of life coach and business strategist, Simon Ong, shared during the recent virtual event focused on how small companies and start-ups successfully navigate periods of challenge and change. As the UK's small business owners and entrepreneurs increasingly turn their attention to the future, his words will no doubt strike a welcome note of positivity.
As well as Ong's captivating keynote, the event featured a panel discussion with experts from across the SMB sector, facilitated by my Flagship Microsoft Store in London colleague, Danielle Stigwood. And throughout it all, one word coming up: agility. As founder of Success by Design Training, Abigail Barnes, told us: "An agile mindset is the ability to figure out a way around, under and over the inevitable roadblocks that come on the journey of being an entrepreneur. It's absolutely key to growing your business"
Right now, of course, there's no shortage of roadblocks. Operationally, financially and emotionally, most small business owners will never have faced more trying circumstances. So, how then can they ensure their company survives the current crisis and emerges from it fitter and more resilient for the future?
Here, Barnes and her fellow panel members, Stephanie Johnson, founder of real-food company Pollen + Grace, Darryl Bannon, a business strategy and finance consultant, and Paul Wickers, founder of micro-gifting platform Huggg, were able to share some invaluable experience and advice.
"In March, we were purely a retail product with no direct to consumer channel," Johnson explained. "When the coronavirus hit, we had to pivot from being a B2B business selling to stores and supermarkets to a B2C one delivering directly to consumers. That includes building a new e-commerce platform in three days."
As for how, the key, she said, was using experts from outside the business. "We had no experience of consumer marketing or distribution logistics, for example, so we had to bring in contractors who did. That was a vital step. I just wish we'd done it earlier!"
It was a point picked up on by Darryl Bannon who highlighted the need for small owners to adapt their model in line with an ever-shifting operating landscape - and never more so than in times like these. "As a small business owner, your environment is always changing," she pointed out. "So, don't be afraid to let go of what you did in the past if it won't help you in the future. Right now, office space is a great example. Maybe this pandemic has shown that you don't need the big physical empire; you can do it as just as well from home."
Alongside these practical measures, the panel also talked passionately about the need for entrepreneurs and business owners to look after their mental wellbeing. "A good self-care routine is absolutely vital," Barnes insisted. "We make bad decisions when we're tired, burnt-out or stressed."
Paul Wickers agreed. For him, the emotional impact of seeing his company go from having 1,300 physical locations where a Huggg gift can be picked up to zero due to COVID-19 was profound. But his response should also offer hope to the thousands of other businesses that have been similarly affected. Rather than curse his bad luck, Wickers moved quickly to turn the company digital, establishing partnerships with supermarkets and even The Red Cross in order to unlock new ways to serve customers during the pandemic.
"The most important thing to remember," he explained, "is that pivoting doesn't mean having to re-invent the wheel. It's about turning to face a new market with broadly the same product and infrastructure. Most of the time when you're making technical changes, in our case moving our entire business online, there are free or nearly-free tools available to help you do it. If you consult someone who can help you put those tools together in a way that works for your needs, you'll end up with a far better, faster, more cost-effective outcome."
So, a willingness to pivot and adapt quickly, seek expert advice and act to preserve mental wellbeing: three key building blocks that can help small businesses survive today and thrive tomorrow. As Ong asked us: "If you and I were to meet in three years' time, what would have to had happen for you to tell me they had been the best years of your life?" After some of the most challenging times imaginable, small business owners and entrepreneurs who take the right approach now can very much look forward to that meeting.
We look forward to continuing the discussion on 24 June when we will be hosting a session on growth strategies for recovery. Register here.
For further information about how the Flagship Microsoft Store in London can help to support you and your business and to learn more about some of the many offers now available - such as free Microsoft 365 Business Basic for six months - or to redeem £50 in Search Advertising Credits for free - please contact Thanos by email on firstname.lastname@example.org