Lancashire Times
Weekend Edition
5:00 AM 27th February 2021

Saturday Essay: Ensuring Business Growth Through 2021

Sean Nutley, Managing Director at the private investment company, Lumina Prime 8 discusses how to ensure business growth through 2021

It’s no surprise that this essay is going to begin by referencing the unprecedented times in which businesses have had to survive since March 2020. It has truly been a remarkably difficult time for us all. Coming out the other side, businesses are now having to navigate life post-pandemic, with increasing pressure on rapid recovery. Recent figures from PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) predict that the global economy is expected to grow at record rates towards the end of 2021 and into 2022, so, once we’ve all taken a breather, it’s time to take advantage of the opportunities ahead.

Research has shown that the biggest challenge in achieving business growth is identifying the right strategies to implement, and, with the past year firmly in the back of our minds, here are six ways to ensure growth for your business in 2021.

Put Your People First

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that people are our priority. As CEOs, managers, founders; the people we hire are the ones who make or break our business. Happy, secure and supported employees directly translate into results, so I would suggest using this collective experience to reconnect with them. What would help them perform? How can you best support them going forward?

Get them involved with business processes and genuinely listen to their suggestions. Ensure that their expertise and opinions are heard and considered, and provide reassurance that you are working to safeguard them. Perhaps it’s something as simple as ensuring that your policies for emergency time off will be re-visited in light of recent events; or that the business now offers home-working as an option, without any stigma attached. To me, the more mutual communication you can have with your employees, the better.

Schedule a Time for an Operations Deep-Dive

Take this time to really stand back and reflect on the past year. I would suggest taking the time to carry out a deep-dive into as much of your operations as possible. What worked? What didn’t? Where did your business’s cracks show? What emerged as an underdeveloped and underutilised system that actually worked really well?

Strategic business growth might seem like a mountain of a task after the year we’ve had, but if there is ever a time to step back and look at your processes - evaluating how they fared during a global pandemic is a better test than any. My top tip is to embrace long-term thinking, but ensure these thoughts are bolstered with agile actions in the face of a crisis. There’s no point having plans if you have no way to use them.

Diversify or Die
During 2020, it was thought that small businesses lost up to 70% of potential income, and as a result, a large majority had to diversify their products and services out of necessity. Whether that’s distilleries turning to the production of hand sanitiser, or event food trucks turning to deliveries with a lack of weddings to cater for - if you hadn’t already, it might be time to consider your options.

It’s time to be brave, and take (calculated) risks. The public are eager for something new, and if you can be there to provide it, you’re already ten steps ahead of the competition. That being said, if the past year proved to be a breeze for your business and you suffered relatively little, there is no point resting on your laurels and not being proactive. Now is the time to take risks.

There’s No Point Looking for Quick Fixes: You’re in it for the Long Haul

You’ve got to think, is your growth sustainable? If not, there may be intrinsic issues with your business management, culture or operations. Prepare to build up reserves for your business, whether that be assets or cash. It’s inevitable that the government will, at some point, be looking to reclaim as much of the emergency funding released during this time as possible, so it’s important to be mindful of that eventuality.

I would also consider looking into investment. Not in terms of buying shares in GameStop, but true investment in your people and your operations. As a manager, I made some serious sacrifices during 2020 and barely took any time off. I knew I had to work hard to get ahead. Remember: good leaders teach, but better leaders learn, so consider investing your time in improving yourself, too.

Relationship Building and Network Nurturing
In 2019, the highstreet was dead; in 2021, the highstreet will be buzzing. To provide some further clarity on this comment: whilst obviously highstreets were far less dead in 2019 than they were in 2020, it was clear to see that many businesses were uninspired before COVID, and that there wasn't much excitement in experiencing what businesses had to offer, largely because the general public took their freedom for granted. Hindsight is truly a wonderful thing, as it's now very important for businesses to harness their audience’s enthusiasm to get out and about. This is the case regardless of whether you’re a business with a physical presence or one who can otherwise capitalise on the eventual re-opening of society.

Whether product or service based, without customers, there is no business. Although there’s research to suggest that people are more likely to be spending their cash post-pandemic, it is still incredibly important that you ensure your existing customers feel looked after. Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate how well you cater to your core market before you make any plans to diversify or expand your offerings. Your truly loyal base will stay, providing they feel ‘part of it’.

As well as building and nurturing your relationships with your customers, go to partners in your supply or distribution chain and maintain the relationships you have with them. It’s definitely worth making the time to reassure them of the strength of your alliance, and thanking them for what they might have done to support your business during the pandemic. Focus on stabilisation and resilience, and value existing partnerships over new acquisitions.

Be Visible and Be Valuable

Sean Nutley
Sean Nutley
One aspect of customer retention that is very important is online visibility. If you’re not active and reachable on social media, then you’re unlikely to stick in the forefront of your customers' minds. Take the time to acknowledge those who interact with you online, as this easy access, especially in today’s global-local climate, adds a crucial element of authenticity to your brand. People will feel they can trust you and will place you as an authority figure for their needs.

If you are a small business that has the opportunity to work within your community, do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re volunteering man hours at the local dog shelter or donating goods to a community raffle, you’re ticking two of the above boxes by being visible to some of your closest customers, and valuable by making a difference in their lives. Corporate Social Responsibility is not something that only big businesses need to worry about, you can make a start on it today by considering where you can make a difference.

From corporate social responsibility to supply chains, there are countless ways you can ensure business growth during 2021. Whether you have a small high-street coffee shop or a franchise, all it takes is a little sacrifice, a lot of perseverance and momentum to ride the wave. Above all, I’d recommend putting people first; both employees and customers. Despite the distancing, the pandemic brought us closer, and we will get through it together.
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