How can entrepreneurs come out of the pandemic ahead of the pack?

Recent times have been dominated by the worldwide lockdown and the resulting restrictions to our freedom and business operation. As lockdown restrictions start to ease, however, the focus has shifted to life after lockdown. Many British business leaders are looking to other countries who have moved through the pandemic cycle ahead of us to assess what we might learn from what they have already encountered and how they have prevailed.

Let’s look at how business owners and entrepreneurs can be optimally positioned for business success after the pandemic, what we can learn from business leaders globally, and what should be top of your priority list to ensure your business bounces back.

1. Align yourself with ‘accidental’ winners

It would be nice to think that a winning mindset is all it takes to outlast or even flourish through the COVID-19 crisis. In reality though, it’s more likely that those who are prevailing have a product or service that happens to have proven indispensable during the pandemic, or they have found themselves to be in a sector less hit than another.

Airlines are at one end of the scale (BA has announced plans for mass redundancies), closely followed by hospitality and tourism. At the other end you’ll find food retailers who are enjoying huge increases in sales, despite the marked changes in customer experience. For example ONS reported a 10.4% growth in food retail sales in March, which was only partially affected by the lockdown.

However, rather than accept that you might be doomed if your sector has been affected, you might also want to consider how you could align your business to actually benefit from those industries that are flourishing. Can you pivot in terms of service offer, stock or target sector?

Looking to China, the country that exited lockdown first, the sheer quantity of people working via the Cloud forced tech companies to upgrade their existing remote working apps or launch new services at a serious speed. Bloomberg’s Shelly Banjo and Lulu Chen commented: “While [the coronavirus is] scary for humanity, it’s likely to provide a shot in the arm to the country’s workforce productivity apps”.

Naturally the UK has followed suit, so how could you contribute to the shift or at least harness the value of it in your business?

2. Add in agility, scalability and automation

This crisis will catalyse some huge changes. Few industries will avoid being either reformed or restructured and so agility, scalability and automation will be the watchwords for this new era of business. Those that have these capabilities will be able to capitalise on these opportunities.

Government stimulus will inject liquidity into the market, but the way this is structured will be crucial to ensure smaller operators can flourish as well as larger, better capitalised businesses.

Of course it would be an over-simplification to paint this new era as one of big versus small, or incumbents versus ‘upstarts’, but many feel that the narrative of the last decade of fintechs versus big banks or digital natives against traditional consumer brands will soon seem dated. Instead it’s about which businesses are able to respond quickly, whatever the size.

Ironically, we will also finally see the first real test of the digital-first business mantras that have been extolled over the first part of this century. As we contemplate how we exit lockdown we should expect that COVID-19 will force a rebirth of many industries.

3. Rediscover ‘business building’

The companies that will emerge stronger will be the business builders. They understand that customer behaviours and needs will change. They will build new businesses to respond to those changes. They know that industry boundaries will evolve. And they will build new businesses to lead and control those new profit pools.

This will be your deepest, most critical work, yet some may have forgotten how to do it. Many companies have lost the true art of business building in favour of the professional management system and its promises of efficiency. To survive and prosper, companies will need to reverse this approach.

To embrace this type of thinking, start by answering the following:

  • How do we get better at identifying our points of weakness when building our business?
  • How can we empower our teams to improve on these through market-testing?
  • How can we globally scale the winning prototypes that come out of market-testing?
  • How do we move beyond innovation and consider business building more broadly? How do we determine our products, our routes to market, our ecosystem partnerships and more?
  • How can we encourage our leaders to support and celebrate our team’s innovative business building efforts?
  • How can we amplify our team successes and use them to usher in a new, stronger culture, of innovation and continual business building?

This will come as second nature to some, but not all.

4. Celebrate the disruptors and build a more resilient culture

The pandemic provides the opportunity to reskill your team. Rather than building it around experienced operatives who can do a bit of everything, it’s time to engage with the more creative. Play to their strengths and structure their role in a way that keeps them focused on what they excel at. Celebrate the disruptors who have the new ideas and the ability to navigate around—not through—obstacles.

Re-tooling also provides an opportunity to nurture a more resilient culture. The winning cultures will be constantly learning, starting with the lessons of the pandemic. Leaders will adopt a growth mindset. The winning organisations will embrace Agile as a way of working and they will be adaptable. They will celebrate the teams that mobilise around crisis issues and business-building problems. They will rise above the hard days, because customers expect nothing less.

Nexus atrium showing 3 people having a meeting on the sofas and looking down into the events space

5. Time to get your house in order

There has never been a better time to get your house in order. Whatever the job, from rebuilding your website, to updating your contact databases or restructuring your email servers, now is the time to be doing all the things that usually get pushed to the bottom of the list.

Make the most of any extra time you and your team have and make sure your business is in great shape for the post-coronavirus period. Even if you feel you are busier than ever, make some time to get into the best possible position for when normality resumes. You may never have another chance like it.

6. Workplace appeal

As restrictions are starting to lift and we return to the workplace, there will be mixed views and new issues to contend with. Some will be looking forward to the sense of community and social interaction, whilst others will have adapted to the convenience of working from home. Some will be concerned about using public transport, and perhaps fear a return to work.

The advice for readying your workplace for its return will depend hugely on current government advice, not to mention whether you are responsible for your own property, or a member of a managed space such as Nexus. It may go without saying but ensure you take advice, stay up to date and put in place a rigorous plan for maintaining levels of hygiene and social distancing etc. Many business owners are choosing to produce handbooks for their staff, as well as introducing signage and reconfiguring spaces to better enable adherence with guidance.

However you approach your plan for the return to office working, this is a time for over-communication with your team. Make sure you keep on talking about any concerns and work out solutions together.

7. Where are the opportunities?

Thinking back to the earlier point around those sectors, products and services who are most likely to prevail through the pandemic, let’s ask ourselves: where are the opportunities going to be? You will no doubt have already given this thought but let’s consider some additional corners you might want to look in:

Cloud-based solutions will be huge. Whether to help your team work from home or for your business as a whole, if you are Cloud-based, you will be best positioned for success.

Telemedicine is in for major growth. Just look at the experiences in China, of companies like who not only became a major channel for processing the purchase of medical products and standard telemedicine, but also turned itself into one of the front-line Covid-19 triage services for citizens all over the country.

Working at home not surprisingly will lead to a continued demand for desks, chairs, office equipment, home technology and even home improvement. We can expect that a move towards increased home working beyond the pandemic will lead to people wanting to adapt their environments on a more long-term basis, rather than just as a quick fix.

Home online security has not yet been considered as much as it needs to be. With all that information and data passing through domestic environments, the need for online security is critical. Is yours in shape?

Online retail: it goes without saying that this is already huge. So, if you can provide your products to consumers via online channels, you should be doing so.

Free time has been enjoyed in abundance since March and many of us will be considering how we can keep this feature in our post-lockdown lives. As well as its wellbeing benefits, this increased space in our day will provide massive opportunities for the entertainment industry. Less time commuting also promises extra time for alternative activities such as gaming, movie streaming and TV.

8. A time for investment

Finally, although it might sound counterintuitive, now may well be a time for considering investment. Rather than carrying on with business as usual and tightening the purse strings, start by thinking hard about how you would invest some extra cash if you could lay your hands on it.

That investment could either pave the way for future growth whilst other businesses stagnate, or at the very least, considering it could sharpen your thinking on business priorities.

If investment is an option for you, consider harnessing the power of your board, investors or another strategic advisors to make sure you optimise any opportunities. Nexus members can benefit from Legal advice on investment and other issues from Squire Patton Boggs as well as input on business growth from professional services experts KPMG. Find out more about Nexus’ strategic partnerships.

In these unprecedented times, the entrepreneurs with exit strategies will come out of the pandemic in the strongest possible health. We look forward to seeing them flourish.

If any of our ideas strike a chord, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know by emailing or finding us on Twitter, @nexusunileeds. Make sure you follow our updates on the Nexus LinkedIn page.

Find out more about the information and support Nexus is providing throughout the COVID-19 crisis.