As a business owner myself, I’ve found the COVID-19 shutdown to be an incredibly useful time to not only prepare our business for the new financial year, but for the next decade. There is nothing like being inundated with client requests, new business, and typical administration matters — while juggling family life — to bring the need for change to a head.
In those long days working from the home office it became apparent to me, as I am sure it did for many business owners, that there had to be a better way. The constant printing, signing and scanning of documents, the use of multiple conferencing apps and team members working flexible hours highlighted some very obvious bottlenecks for us, that no doubt affected the experience of our customers.
I’ve identified three key areas I believe business owners should focus on as we move into 2021 and beyond.
1. Embrace technology
It’s been said before, but COVID-19 has amplified the need for small businesses to embrace technology. As Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella stated, the business world has seen “two years of digital transformation in two months”.
So, my five easiest ways to streamline your business are:
- Simplify task management and workflow: Replace your spreadsheets and to-do lists with Monday.com, which provides editable automations to fit all types of businesses.
- Reduce physical paper use: As most businesses can now accept digital signatures, it’s time to embrace Docusign to speed up contracts and invoicing, rather than relying on multiple signatories.
- Move to the cloud: Few are aware that Telstra is Australia’s leading enterprise consultant and is able to help businesses transition from physical servers to cloud storage using Microsoft’s Azure or Sharepoint platform.
- Reconsider travel: Do you really need to be hitting the road or skies every other week? Reach out to your customers and replace taxi rides with Zoom calls whenever you can.
- Improve communication schedules: Communicating with your customers has never been more important with people spending even more time online at home. Engage a social media scheduling app like Hootsuite, and plan your posts months in advance.
Or right-sizing for lack of a better word. Now is a great time to question everything. Do you have too many internal processes? Or not enough? Are you providing services you aren’t being remunerated for? You can apply this to every part of your business.
- Renegotiating: The shutdown is now being described as ‘The Great Reset” through which retailers, restaurateurs and any other consumer-facing businesses have an opportunity to reset rental expectations in a new world. Are you getting value for money for your lease? Is it in line with similar businesses in your area? Is your landlord supporting your business? With many businesses in trouble your tenancy is likely to be more valuable than ever, so use this leverage to open negotiations sooner. With so many businesses under pressure, can you sublet some of your space to bring in additional income? These are all important options to consider.
- Staffing: As unfortunate as it is, recessions bring a unique focus on what is truly important to your clients, your business and ultimately your family. Has the working-from-home experiment exposed weaknesses in your business model? Has it become obvious that certain roles within your businesses are no longer required, or that some staff aren’t being fully utilised? JobKeeper will assist in the short-term but ultimately you need to do what is best for the growth of your business.
3. Freelancing and consulting
The unfortunate impact of COVID-19 is that people of all levels of experience and skill have lost their jobs; unemployment hit 7.1% in May. This presents a unique opportunity for proactive businesses.
With so many technology platforms on offer, engage an expert consultant who can customise them for your particular business. At times we shy away from the one-off consulting fees, but in many cases, they can create efficiencies in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There is no better time than the present to consider outsourcing simple tasks to freelancers or consultants, be it data-entry, design, content creation or communication. It’s time to think about what roles can be outsourced, what inefficiencies can be removed and which team members need more support.
One final suggestion to consider is: Is it time to plan an exit strategy? This is particularly relevant for older business owners, but with the world changing so quickly, will your business still be what it is a decade from now? Do you have the skills, experience and — most importantly — the energy required to transition to the new world?
If your business is still performing well despite COVID-19, now could be as good a time as any to realise the many years of hard work you have put in and move to the next stage of your life. Having guided many family groups, including my own, through the transition from 70-hour weeks to an active self-funded retirement, I’ve seen firsthand how rewarding it can be.
Whether that means pursuing other business interests, charitable causes or working on your golf game, there is no time like the present.