Is it time for entrepreneurs to ramp up, restart, reboot or rethink?
COVID-19 continues to pose serious challenges for entrepreneurial small business founders. Figuring out how to start again in its economic shadow will not be easy.
Is it safe to assume that things that worked before will still work in the coming months and years? Should assumptions about how businesses create value be reviewed? Will ongoing disruption bring opportunities as well as pressures? Might this actually be the best of all possible times to make changes?
These and other questions were recently addressed in a Nottingham University Business School webinar entitled Charting A Course for Your Business Post-COVID-19. We thought it would be useful to share the results of several polls conducted during the event, which can be replayed here, and to summarise relevant insights from research conducted with over 150 SME founders who have participated in growth programmes delivered by the School.
Reality bites, but optimism endures
The first poll asked if participants were using government assistance, such as the “furloughing” job-retention scheme, bank loans and/or delayed VAT payments. Some 65% stated that they were – a finding that echoes previous research in the UK and the US and underlines the extent to which COVID-19 is impacting on SME founders.
Despite this level of recourse to extraordinary measures, there was significant optimism about eventual recovery. All participants felt it somewhat (11%), highly (17%) or extremely (72%) likely that their business would reopen or still be open in six months’ time.
They were also asked about what developments they envisaged during the remainder of 2020. Interestingly, as shown in table 1 below, nobody said that they might need to completely rethink their strategy in anticipation of likely closure – notwithstanding that the harsh reality will inevitably prove otherwise for many SMEs throughout the country.
Table 1: During the next six months I expect my business will
|Ramp up||I expect to experience strong growth based on pre-COVID-19 operations, strategy, product and service offering.||33.3%|
|Restart with minor adjustments||I expect to more or less return to pre-COVID-19 performance, with some adaptations (e.g. social distancing, customer churn, minor reduction in employees, maintaining broadly same product/services, finance etc).||33.3%|
|Require a major reboot||I expect to make significant adjustments outside the scope of pre-COVID-19 strategy/plans (e.g. developing new products/services, reducing employees, divesting assets, seeking new markets and sources of finance etc).||33.3%|
|Require a rethink||I expect my business is unlikely to survive COVID-19.|
Dialogue: a key to successful change
We also used the webinar to discuss insights from our extensive research with SME founders. For several years we have been studying how entrepreneurs manage the uncertainty generated by growth, revealing in particular how dialogue can encourage them to adapt to change.
Why is this so? Dialogue helps founders to develop critical self-awareness – to take their blinkers off, step outside their bubble and hold themselves to account. It exposes personal bias and limitations that risk an unhealthy adherence to outdated assumptions. It identifies new opportunities that can bring increased performance and competitiveness.
With all this in mind, we asked participants if they had shared their post-COVID-19 plans with anyone. The results, shown in table 2 below, demonstrate that entrepreneurs are investing time both in listening and, crucially, changing in the face of “new normals”. Continuing to gather diverse inputs will be vital to navigating the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.
Table 2: I have shared my post-COVID-19 plans with...
|Friends and family||#2||Accountant||#7|
|Board/non-executive director||#4||Professional/trade association or industry-related body|
From inputs to outcomes
Our webinar findings, like those of our research, suggest that dialogue is an important but frequently hidden tool that founders can use to prepare for change. It is likely to be especially helpful as they contemplate their place in a post-COVID-19 economy.
It might not provide quick fixes. It might even prove frustrating initially. But it can give rise to many valuable insights into how to survive and thrive – precisely what is needed as founders try to build better, more resilient businesses.
The bottom line? Amid the turbulence of COVID-19, entrepreneurs must continue to invest their time in sharing their own thoughts and seeking out those of others. Whether ramping up, restarting, rebooting or rethinking – or exploring a combination of these options – it is good to talk.
Andrew Greenman is an Assistant Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Nottingham University Business School’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. firstname.lastname@example.org