First Survive, Then Thrive

Unprecedented. It’s a word we are all hearing a lot of just now. And with good reason. Never before have any of us in this interconnected world of ours collectively suffered such a crisis – two crises in fact, health and economic - at the same time.

Capitalism, as we know it right now, has ended for the foreseeable future. Which may in the long run not be such a bad thing. Perhaps in future we will all take a much more holistic approach to business, thinking more about our people, planet, profit and purpose, rather than a relentless and unsustainable drive towards improving productivity and profitability…but that’s a discussion for another day.

I do not know what your personal circumstances are right now. But I can make a pretty good guess. Like all of us you will be worried about your health, that of your family and friends, how you will pay bills, feed yourself and keep a roof over your heads. You know that government support is on its way for everyone, but when will it arrive and will it be enough? The business you have built over many years is on hold and may be dying before your very eyes. The dreams that you had to start your business and take charge of your own destiny – also gone. You may be uncomfortable, worried, stressed, alone, vulnerable, lost and fearful.

Everyone is suffering just now. We are all in many ways going through a process of grief, the world as we knew it just a few weeks ago has gone, and it won’t be the same again. And from a business perspective you may well be grieving the loss of your business, either actual or anticipated. But it will get better, I know from experience it will.

I went through the financial crisis of 2008, and whilst nothing compared to what we are experiencing now, it was brutal for my business. Terrifying and soul-crushingly brutal. My company that I had grown for four years from start-up was flying and by the middle of 2008 I had forward orders for Christmas for 50,000 units, and multiple listings for my games throughout UK in major supermarkets and other well-known chains. I thought I could do no wrong!

Then things started to go wrong. Badly wrong. Almost overnight those orders went from 50,000 to ZERO. Pretty tough when you have paid upfront for manufacturing and 90% of your annual sales are in December - if you don’t sell then you won’t sell until the following Christmas (note to self, avoid products and companies with lumpy cashflow in future…).

I got through it though and told myself next year would be better. Things improved, I got a new deal with a TV game…and then that Christmas was also utter hell, with really bad weather that brought much of the country to a grinding halt, stock stuck in containers at ports, stock ruined by bad weather and no comeback. A second bad year piled on top of the first one…

Yet you keep going. Every day you come in and think “It will be better today”, and it’s not, it’s worse. And you say the same again the next day, and then it’s even worse again, and yet you keep going. You feel lost, alone, stressed, vulnerable. You do everything you can and nothing works.

Then one day you turn the corner and things get better and you are on the up again. Every single successful entrepreneur I have spoken to has said the same thing to me over many years. The deepest and darkest moments in their business have, in hindsight, been their most valuable experiences. Crucial turning points which have taken their business onto success in ways they never would have previously dreamt of.

This current crisis, in time, can be the same critical turning point for you too.

Based on what I went through (although it pales in comparison to what we are all going through just now), here are some pointers from me to help you through the next few weeks and months:

  1. Right now, today, it’s ok to feel confused and worried. It’s ok to feel unmotivated. It’s ok to do nothing. It’s ok to pause. But not for too long. Take the time to process what has happened and what you may have lost, but you need to get going again pretty soon.

  2. Get into survival mode FAST. Do everything you can to protect your business in the immediate short term. Forensically analyse every single cost and cut where you can (and you can usually cut a lot more than you think you can) without compromising your core values. Only you know what is important to you. Stay true to your purpose and your values.

  3. Stop being such a perfectionist – it’s both a blessing and a curse for entrepreneurs! Do you really need a label at 10p when a 5p label would do the job just as well? Time to compromise.

  4. Look after your customers and suppliers, even although they can’t pay you or work with you, and your people. You will need them later when they are all ready to come back and they will remember that you cared for them.

  5. Repurpose whatever and wherever you can right now. How can you adapt, change, pivot your product and services right now?

  6. Ask for help. Most of the help you need is out there if you ask for it. Be honest about what you need. Don’t sugar-coat it.

  7. Now you need to thrive. The companies that will come through this crisis and flourish will be the ones that have embraced Dual Thinking – Survive and Thrive. Deal with the here and now but at the same time look ahead and plan for what the world will be like in a year’s time when we are emerging from this. It will be a very different place – how can you thrive in that new world?

Entrepreneurs are really good at dealing with uncertainty and making decisions in the absence of knowledge. It’s time to bring these skills to the forefront in this uncertain world. Thrive and survive. This too shall pass, and when it does, you’ll be ready for it.

Remember everyone at WES is here for you. We are working on additional support for you, but in the meantime, please contact us at info@wescotland.co.uk if you need someone to talk to.

And above all, do the right thing. Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

Professor Lynne Cadenhead is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years investment experience, investing in, mentoring nurturing and starting up a range of early stage technology and retail companies throughout the UK. She is Visiting Professor in Governance and Enterprise at Edinburgh Napier University and the Chair of Women's Enterprise Scotland.

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