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Leadership & Strategy


Your best lockdown decisions – We ask 18 business leaders to reflect

Making good business calls is difficult at the best of times. In a crisis – when you have less time, information and support – it’s even harder.

Be the Business asked 18 SME leaders to tell us the most impactful lockdown decisions they’ve made since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Tom Mathew, director, Dunsters Farm

“Protect first then act fast. We moved quickly to protect our staff, both physically and financially. And to protect the company’s financial position by using whatever support is available and making any really difficult lockdown decisions. Then we showed a bias to action as something is always better than nothing. Get the new idea going – try something and get pivoting.”

For more on Dunsters’ intense two-week turnaround: Listen to our interview with Tom

Matt Carr, director, Carrs Pasties

“The most useful step I’ve taken as a leader since the outbreak started was prioritising the mental health of employees – regardless of furlough. We have hired an organisation called PH7, which is an expert in mental health and wellbeing, to help with this. PH7 will be contacting everyone individually first, after which we will be designing in a feedback mechanism, to check that it’s working.”

Support for you: Looking after employee mental health during the outbreak – 12 tips for leaders

harry-james-smith-dennis-coveHarry-James Smith, director, Dennis Cove Campsite

“As far as lockdown decisions, the most impactful one I have made has been to communicate openly with peers. Like-minded owners of hospitality businesses down here in Cornwall have exchanged ideas, thoughts, facts, opinions and actions as they have happened via WhatsApp and phone calls. The most powerful has been collaborating with a business that, strictly speaking, is a competitor. But we’re looking beyond that, and discussions with them have fed directly into decisions I’ve taken.”

Chris Blade, MD, Cumbria Crystal

“Cumbria Crystal has dramatically increased its social media marketing resource to focus on online sales, particularly internationally. We’ve brought forward pre-coronavirus plans to develop an improved website with integrated IT, CRM and MRP facilities because we think business-to-consumer (B2C) will be a major growth opportunity. Conversion of sales from wholesale to B2C has the potential to increase our margins by 200-300 per cent.”

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emma-vass-wessanenBarry Leahey, MD, Playdale Playgrounds

“We formed a ‘virtual war room’ and modelled multiple scenarios with sensitivities which in turn has given us a very focussed direction of travel. It means we are leading into the recovery and resurgence phase, not following . This group gets together daily as part of our ‘COBRA’ response and is really helping to make impactful lockdown decisions.”

Read more: Barry Leahey’s lockdown story and success with CBILS 

helen-tonks-hydraulics-onlineHelen Tonks, operations director, Hydraulics Online

“For me it’s been about identifying, creating and then acting on opportunities to collaborate with suppliers, service providers and other third parties. As the saying goes, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ and there is no better time to ask than now. This crisis has levelled everyone, what have you got to lose? I’ve also been seizing opportunities to extend my own learning and personal development. I am clocking up a good number of webinar hours.”

Tips on talking to suppliers:Cash flow management: You know how to do it, but can you do it in a crisis?

james-ray-armadilloJames Ray, CEO, Armadillo

“We learned early on about the importance of giving our whole team visibility of the data behind our lockdown decisions. We had to respond to rapidly changing circumstances, make some hard choices and bring our team with us. The first time, our approach was “trust us, this is what we need to do.” That prompted some uncertainty and challenge. At the next stage, we shared data in much more depth to support our proposals, and we could move forward with pretty much universal support.”

Sergio Weingarten, CEO, Low Cost Glasses

“We’ve tested the boundaries of being multi-functional. Our Head of Marketing jumped on to Live Chat to take customer enquiries. Our Head of Facilities joined the dispatch team to help customer orders go out in time. Also being flexible with working from home requirements. Understanding that children are at home and that people are committed to working hard while managing unique circumstances. After initially needing to reduce staff hours, sales have now significantly increased.”

Wondering when or whether to furlough?: Making tough lockdown decisions about staff

laura-jackson-popcorn-shedLaura Jackson, director, Popcorn Shed

“The best thing we’ve done is act fast. We put all our efforts into directing traffic online and moving to a business-to-consumer model (away from selling to cinemas, shops and other distributors). In the first few days we had to up-skill to reach a different customer. Suddenly we were learning how to use Facebook and Google adverts. We redistributed budget from product development into online advertising and the results speak for themselves. Online sales grew 250 per cent this April, and 1200 per cent since last April.”

Claire Burrows, founder, Air & Grace

“We’ve reaped the benefits of keeping our accounts in order. We use Xero, linked to our website, our inventory management system and an app called Float for cash flow – which has been invaluable. As soon as we saw we might face cash flow issues we built numerous scenarios with our bookkeeper to see where issues may occur – and how to overcome them. We could provide management accounts and forecasts to our bank within 24 hours enabling them to give us the financial support we needed.”

Read more: Cash flow crib sheet: advice and tips on cash flow best practice 

raps-gill-vass-vassRaps Gill, COO, Vaal & Vaal

“We took a look at our costs and have been able to ‘trim the fat off’. We realised we’ve been paying far too much for a retail software system to track and process payments and provide consumer data. The system is over-engineered for us at this stage. We’re going to revert to a simpler system and scale up when we need too. Our board meetings have become more frequent – from weekly to daily. Rather than try and cover a broad agenda in a three-hour meeting, we now catch up for an hour every day on specialist areas.”

Want to trim the fat? Coronavirus cash conservation checklist 

chris-salmon-quittanceChris Salmon, operations director, Quittance Legal Services

“Standard Know Your Customer (KYC) protocols are difficult to complete under lockdown. Firms in the banking, accountancy, property and legal sectors can’t take on new clients unless KYC obligations are complete. The best thing we’ve done is to roll out a revised KYC protocol that enables remote ID verification of clients over video call. This means staff can verify client IDs from home. As a result, we’ve been able to help over 200 new clients. Without a new KYC approach, this would’ve been closer to zero.”

Worried about cyber security? Protect your business from cyber attack during the coronavirus outbreak

emma-vass-wessanenEmma Vass, CEO, Wessanen UK

“At Wessanen UK, we understand that these can be uncertain times for all and wanted to go above and beyond to help alleviate any worries or pressures on our team. As part of our online wellbeing programme ‘Flourish’, our employees have access to helpful webinars, focusing on areas like resilience, and one-to-one virtual finance clinics. These are run by a qualified financial adviser who can provide insightful advice on how best to manage your finances during a time of uncertainty.”

ron-moody-connect-assistRon Moody, CEO, Connect Assist

“Individually assessing the needs and capability of isolated remote working has been a critical action from our leadership team. We’re providing qualified group counselling sessions twice a day for staff to discuss how they’re coping, as well as one-to-one sessions if needed. Perhaps surprisingly given the challenges, our sickness levels have remained remarkably low. Our managers are remaining mindful and looking out for changes in behaviour that might alert us to employees finding lockdown challenging.”

Leading a worried workforce? Do leaders have to be counsellors now?

Ben Lloyd, MD, Pure Commercial Finance

“Managers and senior staff have been attending 15-minute huddles every morning which has been extremely beneficial. We talk about the problems and successes from the day before, what we intend to do that day, overall staff wellbeing and morale boosting ideas. We address any client issues so managers can trickle them down to the appropriate members of staff. This has impacted the business in a really positive way and we’ve had great responses from employees on how well things are being communicated across the company.”

Scott Jones, MD, Illustrate Digital

“Be confident about your business. If you don’t, nobody else will. Everyone from team members to potential clients need to see strength during these weird days and weeks. This doesn’t mean lying to people, as transparency is a real sign of stability – it’s about believing in yourself, your team and the resilient business you’ve built together. For us this has resulted in more clients and more engaged team members.”

Could do with some guidance? Get support from one of our experienced business mentors

Natasha Hill, MD, Bottle

“Transparency has really helped – the team have been incredibly supportive, despite us cutting their salary (and time) by 20 per cent. We had a lot of ‘thank you’ messages for the way it was delivered mainly because they could see the numbers, the options in front of us, the rationale for dismissing some and going with the strategy we did. It’s helped to corral the ‘we’re all in it together’ feeling.”

Rachel Houghton, MD, Business Moves Group

“Saying ‘yes’ to opportunities is the best thing I’ve done since the outbreak started. If you don’t venture into new territories during a crisis, you’re just standing still, waiting for fate to decide whether to let you survive. If an opportunity comes your way, then you have to say ‘yes’ and turn the talent you have to find a solution. You have to be flexible and accommodating, but most importantly you have to drive a ‘can-do’ culture and have faith that you’ll make it work.”

If you have an insight you’d like to add to our list of impactful lockdown decisions then please share in the comment box below.

One Reply to “Your best lockdown decisions – We ask 18 business leaders to reflect”

  1. The most impactful action I’ve taken since the lockdown was announced was to engage with our part-time finance director, Mike Coombs, from The FD Centre, who provided expert guidance on applying for the various government support programmes including the COVID Business Interruption Loan scheme (CBILS).
    We have been working with the FD Centre for just over a year. Knowing that there would be strong demand for the loan, Mike Coombs got to work immediately to pull together our loan application.

    FD, Mike Coombs, describes the tight timeline that the team worked to, “On 27th March we had a Zoom call with our bank relationship manager, who confirmed that under the criteria for CBILS we had a viable business and he would be prepared to support our application and especially since our application was the best they had seen. Having submitted our application, we didn’t hear back for another ten days and then the bank came back with multiple further questions, such as requiring the assumptions and detail around our post Covid-19 recovery plan. The bank also requested March’s management accounts. We prepared these and returned them the same day. To assist their analysis we calculated the debt cover service ratios which were >1.2 including the CBILS and submitted these with details of the calculation. In spite of this, on Friday 24th April, we received a call from the relationship manager to say that they would not be approving the loan. However, they said we could appeal. We appealed on Monday 27th April. On 30th April, we received confirmation that the bank was independently reviewing our application.
    The following day, we received a call from the bank to confirm that the loan had been approved.”

    Without having the expertise of the FD Centre to call on, we would have been unable to submit such a strong application, launch a swift appeal and it’s highly likely that we would have missed out on the opportunity to benefit from the government’s Business Interruption Loan scheme.

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