Tips for Surviving a Crisis: How SMEs Are Managing the Pandemic

Businesses are feeling the pinch as the UK nears the three-month mark since lockdown was implemented. What measures are SMEs employing to stay afloat?

Nic Redfern 12 November 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of Brits into self-isolation, and many businesses that would ordinarily be benefiting from their custom have found themselves floundering as a result.

There have been some winners, such as supermarkets and manufacturers of soap and toilet roll, but service industries in particular are suffering badly.

Across all kinds of industries, the 5.9 million SMEs in the UK have had their novel solutions to these economic challenges put to the test.

The events industry

All events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, but one company have found a creative way of swerving this seemingly impassable obstacle.

SaaStock ordinarily host conferences for founders of software and tech companies, often with around 4,000 attendees. When their revenue fell to zero in March, they didn’t give up, but rather developed an online conferencing system.

In fact, SaaStock aimed to ‘reinvent the webinar’—and they seemed to have achieved success by the bucketload.

With online speed networking, a virtual exhibition area with sales booths manned by human reps and a Q&A after every keynote, SaaStock have empowered themselves and not allowed the pandemic to negate all their hard work.

What’s more, they’ve launched an online service introducing investors to entrepreneurs to help them become a multi-revenue company, as opposed to relying on a single revenue stream as was the case pre-COVID.

Alex Theuma, the founder and CEO of SaaStock, gave his top tip for dealing with these difficult trading conditions:

“When faced with a crisis, reinvent and behave like a startup again."

Food and drink

With pubs, bars and restaurants closed en masse literally overnight, one independent brewery has reacted to the transformation in the market landscape.

Jubel Beer lost 75% of their revenue within a single 24-hour period, but the company swiftly pivoted to drive at-home consumption and recruit new beer connoisseurs to their brand.

As well as honing their site to ensure a smoother checkout process, Jubel Beer increased their digital marketing activity and announced free next-day delivery.

They even redesigned their supply chain to ship orders from their own warehouse when Amazon were unable to keep up with demand.

According to Jubel Beer CEO and co-founder Jesse Wilson,

“We decided very quickly to drive eCommerce sales, which are now up by 1,400% —and, thanks to government support, we have avoided making any staff cuts. I’m really proud of the way the Jubel team have responded to such a challenging situation."

Cheers to that!

Elsewhere in the food industry, vitamins company Nourished are now leveraging their skills to adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape. Their reasoning is twofold: preserve jobs and ensure the longevity of the business.

So what have Nourished been up to? According to CEO and founder Melissa Snover,

“It was vital that we get out in front of the crisis as soon as humanly possible. As soon as we heard the news of the spread to Europe, we began emergency planning and implemented programmes across the board to ensure the safety of both the team and the business as a whole. We provided transportation, food and PPE for all factory employees, and implemented temperature checks at the site entrance."

By employing heightened hygiene protocols and introducing incentives to ensure onsite staff safety, Nourished have been able to successfully continue production and meet the growing demand from their customer base for bespoke nutrition solutions.

Nourished have provided 5 top tips for managing teams through the pandemic:

1. The pandemic is difficult for everyone and working remotely whilst looking after children, worrying about loved ones etc. can put unprecedented stress on your teams. Checking in with your team regularly with one-to-ones is a great way to show support, but mental health is a very private matter and so grant each employee access to a confidential private health care service which has a designated call line to help people struggling in the current climate.

2. If your teams are working on-site, it is vital to ensure they feel safe and supported by adhering to social distancing guidelines and introducing new hygiene measures wherever possible, of course. But it’s also important to keep them motivated by showcasing great work, customer feedback and the impact of their community support. People always respond better when they feel a sense of pride in what they do, and we try to instil this in all of our team and activities.

3. Let your teams know how much you appreciate them. The lack of face-to-face interaction and constant communication via email can feel very impersonal. Make a quick call to those who are doing a great job to let them know how much you value them – it will go a long way.

4. Don’t lose the fun: Before COVID-19 hit I would regularly take my entire team out for drinks and dinners after work but as this is no longer possible, we have adapted and now do a quiz on Zoom where they can learn about their teammates every other week. Social interaction is important and it’s one of the things that’s really been cut from everyone’s lives at the moment. So, stop the work and do something fun – simply laughing and enjoying each other’s company renews the soul and the bonds within the team, I highly recommend it.

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself, your team or your business: This crisis is unprecedented and will be the defining event of our lifetime. It’s hard for everyone, at different times and in different ways. If you are flying high one day, then losing ground and want to cry the next – just know that you are not alone and that we will get through this… together.

Technology

In the space of just two weeks, Norwich-based tech firm Pathfindr diversified their business and developed a Safe Distancing Assistant, designed to support warehouse workers to ensure they remain two metres apart from one another.

According to CTO and co-founder Ben Sturgess,

“It was vital that we get out in front of the crisis as soon as humanly possible. As soon as we heard the news of the spread to Europe, we began emergency planning and implemented programmes across the board to ensure the safety of both the team and the business as a whole. We provided transportation, food and PPE for all factory employees, and implemented temperature checks at the site entrance.


“This is a project we really care about, and it’s great to be able to develop tech to help businesses at a time when it’s really needed. We’ve worked around the clock to build and test a solution in a matter of days, as the impact of manufacturing downtime begins to be felt across the globe."

Pathfindr’s Safe Distancing Assistant will allow warehouse employees to remain working whilst maintaining an optimally safe environment. Indeed, Sturgess continued that Pathfindr have begun exploring the potential for it to be developed even further, including adding a capability for contact tracing.

His advice? Understand what your customers genuinely need during this time. How is the pandemic affecting them?

Our customers are predominantly in manufacturing and heavy industry and could not safely resume their operations whilst also adhering to strict social distancing measures.

We thought about how we could utilise our existing technology, skills and knowledge to create a device that would help workers return to work safely, once Government guidance allowed them to do so.

Trade

Self-employed tradespeople working in commercial environments have been hit hard, as they rely on the prosperity of the hospitality industry.

Having been working primarily in pubs, Hampshire-based GHS Heating and Plumbing suddenly had a £800,000-sized hole in their business and lost 90% of their clients in March alone. However, they have found ways to sustain and advance their business in this period.

During lockdown, they invested both in staff and the local community and retrained their workforce, as well as consulting a funding expert to navigate the tricky landscape of the Government’s new coronavirus-related loans. According to MD Marc Smith,

“We suffered a great deal when lockdown started. I decided to tackle the issue head-on and used the time to invest in the company. My priority was protecting our cash reserves.


“I also wanted to use this downtime to upskill my engineers, so I’ve been looking into all sorts of training."

Engage in dialogues

It’s all too easy to feel as if you’re struggling all by yourself, but there are so many people out there experiencing similar hardship to you right now. Loneliness is rampant because of social distancing, so stay in touch with friends and colleagues—not only for advice, but for reassurance and virtual companionship, too.

Communication within your small business has also never been more important. You need to keep your workforce updated on any new changes you are implementing in reaction to the crisis, and it’s imperative to communicate to them if the business faces financial struggles in the coming months.

Check your financial options

Make sure to keep up-to-date with the Government’s announcements, schemes and initiatives aimed at supporting SMEs during this financially volatile period. With news on the pandemic evolving on a daily basis, the Government has been releasing new information about business support very regularly.

As a small business owner, it’s crucial to ensure you have applied to the financial support available to you if you need if, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme or the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

The economy has never seen a crisis quite like this, so if things are going awry then try to not be too critical of your business, your team, or yourself. This pandemic may be the defining event of many a small business owner’s career so, whether you’re flying high or wanting to cry, just remember that you’re not alone and that, together, we will get through this.

About the author:

Finance Director at NerdWallet UK and business adviser to SME's Nic is spokesperson for small and growing businesses with a strong understanding of the financial needs of business Read more

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