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Back To Business (Not As Usual, Just Different)

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

✦ Can businesses not just operate but also find a way to thrive in a Never Normal World?

No doubt, it has been a major challenge for businesses in the past two years since the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the rug from under the feet of the entire planet. And it continues to be a challenge for businesses. People are trying to make some sense of their lives and it has made the term 'normal' lose weight. How do we even begin to define 'normal' after all that has happened?

Yes, the world has coined the terms 'New Normal' or 'Never Normal' but what do they really mean? It seems somewhat trite, as if we are all grasping at straws.

Thing is, with or without COVID, the landscape is always changing. Change is the only constant in life. Society and businesses have to continuously try to adapt.

Businesses in Australia and all around the world did not get much of a breather in 2021 as a raft of regulations, lockdowns and reduction in consumer spending hit hard. The uncertainty, worry and fear of what the future holds is unfortunately something people are feeling in such times.

Humankind has experienced all sorts of adversities throughout history. How will we write this new chapter of our modern times? Perhaps it is kinder to allow ourselves the time we need to accept that nothing is going to return to 'normal' and while coining terms can be interesting for a while, we can also take a deep breath and take the next best step ahead.

For businesses, the willingness and ability to pivot, learn and change is going to be key to not just surviving but to thrive in this new phase. It is not something a single business does alone - our communities are a big source of comfort, support, innovative ideas and a treasure trove of skills and experiences.

Yes there is uncertainty always looming ahead but the truth is nobody has a crystal ball to be able to predict what's to come. It would be more useful to think about some useful changes businesses can implement in 2022 to put that next foot forward with confidence.

1) Community Engagements

It has been clear through the pandemic years that Community has been an important source of sustenance for so many businesses.

For Vermilion Pinstripes, an international modern sales marketing and communications agency based in Australia, Singapore and Canada, community engagement is in their very DNA. It drives what they do. Modern marketing in Vermilion Pinstripes is not about just looking at numbers. There is a huge part of the way they work that sees the human behind each business, and the humans that this business is reaching out to engage with.

At the risk of sounding like a marriage vow, communities need to come together to connect, inspire and empower each other, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

An example of community engagement is when Vermilion Pinstripes launched their Knowledge Sharing series in early 2020 where they gathered several business executives to share how they were operating in the Never Normal World. It was not just about picking up business tips. It was the coming together of people who understand each other's challenges and who know that it is by generously sharing ideas that everyone can grow together. When one business grows, another benefits. The pandemic has a dangerously isolating effect on the human mind, and when Vermilion Pinstripes made it possible for people to connect on a common shared interest, it provided the space for businesses to air their concerns and find motivation from one another.

Questions for your business:

  • How can my business engage with the community around me?

  • Is there something useful I can share?

  • What about partnerships and collaboration opportunities?

  • Who are the people and businesses in my community I am interested to engage with?

For more ideas on this, you can download Vermilion Pinstripes' eBook "Ideas for businesses in the never normal world".

2) Hybrid and remote work models

Working from home became the modus operandi for the majority of workers and businesses in the last two years as the pandemic forced our hand. Particularly prevalent in the white collar sector, employees have become accustomed to working remotely. While it gave some a much needed flexibility, home also started to feel oppressive where workers remained in the same four walls day after day. Meanwhile, offices the world over have been gathering dust as companies worked out their numbers and wondered if it would be worthwhile to give up rental space completely or reduce their office size to hot-desking capacity for a smaller number.

These have been tough decisions to make and will continue to be a challenge as companies find their way around the most manageable option. There are a variety of considerations depending on the legal requirements on companies in different countries when it comes to allowing staff to work from home. And individual countries and companies have to keep testing and adapting until they find a model that works.

As the global vaccine rollout took effect, it gave a bit of breathing space to companies. Restrictions were somewhat relaxed and what we are seeing is many companies introducing a hybrid work model whereby employees could choose to combine office and remote work.

This is something that experts predict will grow in popularity in 2022 although further surges in infected cases, should they emerge, may well put the brakes on. What companies need to remember is to allow a bit of flexibility to adapt to how things are at any given moment. Think of the bamboo plant - it doesn't actually break when there's a gale blowing because it's flexibility allows it to adapt to the sway. Its flexibility is its strength. Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Every company is different and you'll have to find what works best for you, and how you plan your hybrid model.

“Home offices will be designated for desk work while company offices will be reserved for creating a sense of belonging and company culture,” Addie Lerner, Founder and Manager Partner at Avid Ventures told Forbes.
“Many companies will offer hybrid remote work policies and pay for office spaces designated for in-person relationship building activities, such as employee onboarding, quarterly team sessions, meetings with employees from other cities and celebrating milestone wins,” Lerner added.

Questions for your business:

  • Is your office space prepped for the relevant safety or security measures for your staff e.g. distancing, signing-in procedures?

  • How flexible is your office space if it were switched to a hot-desking model?

  • Do your employees have the necessary infrastructure or resources at home to work comfortably?

  • Are you aware of any legal requirements for staff working at home?

  • Have you listened to your employees to understand what they need?

  • Do you have the relevant tools or platforms required to keep your staff seamlessly connected?

Read our article on the Future of the Workplace to find out more.

3) Manpower & Money

And this brings us on nicely to the next point - having real humans in a physical space doing the work.

One aspect that has become increasingly problematic for many businesses is around the actual staff themselves. As COVID cases surge, so do the number of people who self-isolate, be they directly infected themselves, living in a household with infected family or friends or merely not wanting to expose themselves to the outside world for fear of contracting the virus.

It is something that is impacting businesses such as those in the food & beverage industry who have staff hiring and retention challenges. Subsequently, many have converted to a take-away model (including click-and-collect), using technology to take orders and improve efficiency. The click-and-collect business model will remain a permanent feature for these businesses.

The challenge of staff hiring and retention will continue to be a challenge that requires serious consideration and focus in 2022 although innovation and a willingness to pivot the business can be vital to helping a business continue to grow.

Supply chain will also be a key priority for many businesses this year as getting inventory will be a challenge, prices will go up and end-users are going directly to manufacturers.

“Supply prices are going up almost monthly and businesses are having to buy months in advance,” says Amy Vandenberg of Vandenberg Consulting. “We’re only starting to see how complicated supply and demand can be.”

Managing cash flow within a business has, naturally, become a major challenge for many, with 56% of small businesses still facing cash flow pressure, according to Xero. There seems to be more borrowings and inflation can eat into profitability.

Take time in 2022 to look at your pricing structure and how you transact - decide on payment terms with your customers and consider adjusting prices to ensure you have enough cash to service debts.

Questions for your business:

  • How flexible is your business model?

  • If having staff physically in a space is a challenge, can technology be used to reduce the impact?

  • Does your company and staff have the resources and opportunities to adapt and change?

  • Are you aware of the needs of your staff? Their thoughts can help guide you to implementing a model that works for both staff and company.

  • What changes and benefits can you provide to encourage staff to adapt to changing business models?

  • Are you clear about the financial side of your business?

  • If finances are not your strong point, do you have access to a financial professional to guide you?

With increasing prices, you may need to think about other avenues for revenue or look at your current expenses and find ways to spend smart. To get cashflow advice, reach out to local Port Macquarie Tax Accountants John Clarke, Success Tax Professionals or Lyndall Ward, CATS4Tax.

4) Let’s get digital...

So clearly, technology is a necessary tool to deploy. We need to go digital with our businesses.

Increasing the digital footprint of your business is the most obvious strategy to employ during these uncertain times where lockdowns mean in-house customers are on hold.

The recent Small and Medium Business Trends Report by interviewed over 2,500 small and medium business owners and leaders worldwide. The results showed that 71% of SMBs say their customers expect online transactions and nearly the same proportion have an ecommerce presence. Similarly, more than half of growing SMBs accelerated investments in sales and customer service technology over the past year.

Consumers have been increasingly turning online prior to the pandemic but the past 24 months has only escalated the trend, resulting in a huge rise in the ecommerce space. That doesn’t necessarily mean that 100% of your business needs to switch to online but if you have not yet got a presence in that space then it is time for you to rethink your strategy.

Take food delivery, for instance. Ordering in has always existed but it was mainly for convenience - dial a number and in half an hour you have piping-hot pizza at your door. Great for movie night when you can't be bothered to cook or go out.

When COVID-19 landed, food delivery shot to stratospheric levels. Food delivery has become a global market worth more than US$150 billion, having more than tripled since 2017, according to McKinsey. It allows customers to choose from a wide variety of cuisine choices, and it allows local businesses to continue to trade despite the number of in-house customers decreasing. Not to mention it also provides work for delivery drivers or delivery cyclists. Expect this trend to continue this year and beyond. Food delivery may well become a lifestyle norm than a convenience or a temporary band-aid solution.

If even the food industry, which produces something tangible, concrete and involves so many of your senses and has a limited shelf life, is going digital, then what more other industries? Digital marketing is now a necessity, not a luxury. It is a way to connect with customers to share your brand, product and services.

It is no understatement to say that every business is ramping up their digital marketing efforts these days as customers are searching for products and services online more than ever. Just look around you. Count the number of people who are looking at their phones. No, wait. Count the ones who aren't, it'll be much faster. One can judge all we want about needing digital detox and the reality of it is, the digital channel is how we all connect, inform, work, engage nowadays.

This means businesses need to ensure their website, messaging, social channels are updated, on-point, and modern. Your digital platforms are where you create your first impression nowadays, and not necessarily your physical shop space.

The other practical consideration is goods and services need to be paid for, of course, and as such contactless payment methods and digital wallets will continue to rise so it is critical that you ensure you have the correct systems in place to manage this.

Likewise, expect QR codes to make a comeback and become an increasingly prevalent factor. They can be an invaluable tool for small businesses to connect and engage with potential customers, be it providing information on goods and services, accessing to download digital brochures or getting direct links for purchasing.

Questions for your business:

  • Do you have an online presence for your business?

  • When was the last time you updated your website?

  • Is your brand voice clear across your digital channels?

  • Is your messaging aligned?

  • Do you know the platforms (free or paid) available to you to help boost your digital presence?

  • Do you know enough about your potential customers to create relevant and timely online content to grab their attention?

  • How are you engaging your customers online?

Get a better understanding of Why Social Media is Important for your Brand.

If you want to know what kind of marketing will work for your business, contact Veronica Lind, at Vermilion Pinstripes.

For local businesses in the Port Macquarie area, help is at hand for all your technology demands - David Peake of Lighthouse Beach IT and Barbara Smith of The Roving Trainer are two such trusted companies that can help you get started.

So with these four trends taking root this year, businesses do have something that they can work on. Yes there is uncertainty and changes, and we also have choices and possibilities to explore.

The importance of the pivot

Being willing and able to pivot has become essential to businesses large and small as we strive to contend and adjust to the ever-changing landscape around us.

Many of the points touched on above illustrate how businesses changed their approach over the past two years, something that will continue to be factored into an organisation’s trajectory moving forward. Becoming more digitally savvy, connecting with customers, and managing employee issues are all fundamental to a business’ adaptation and development.

Likewise when contending with supply chain issues, being able to innovate and create new products to complement existing range is key. Take for example, Lee Heng from My Blue Tea who has introduced “Spice Pantry” to complement her staple product lines.

Similarly, Liz Paine of Learning Insight has brought her courses online. These are self-help courses which you can just pay and learn.

My Body My Pilates also innovated to offer free or donation based pilates classes twice a month online. Subscribers to their 30 Day Pilates Challenge receive a daily email with an instructional video on how to carry out the practice safely and effectively.

Look at the businesses in your community - there are lots of creative juices flowing freely around you. Why not get curious, make a mental note of some of the ideas you have seen and liked, and give it a thought as how to implement it in your business?

Embrace opportunity

Benjamin Franklin once stated that “Out of Adversity Comes Opportunity.” Many may struggle to apply this wisdom during these turbulent times but it is, like it or not, true.

We all adapt and progress, often emerging stronger and wiser from the various challenges life throws at us. Sure, COVID and its associated fallout is arguably the biggest challenge many of us have faced in our lifetime, but there is a path through it. And we can take heart that we have a multitude of small businesses and advisories who can guide us by lending an expert hand to ensure that an uncertain future can still be bright.

In doing so, we embrace the meaning of the Chinese word for Crisis – 危机 (wēijī) - where Wei means danger and Ji means opportunity.

Check out this eBook from Vermilion Pinstripes - Reasons to be cheerful: crisis-proof strategies that we practise to stay open, ready and available, now and any time. The COVID-19 pandemic is as good a time as any to start applying these practices if you haven’t already, and it will serve you in situations beyond COVID-19.

There comes a point when simply thinking about the pandemic is enough to wear one out. Why not focus instead on possibilities and opportunities? The past does not have to be dreaded. It can still be embraced. And businesses only need look around them to know they are not alone in this. We need to look beyond COVID-19, and realise that while it has been a massive change, it is not the only change in our lifetime. There have always been changes. And there will continue to be.

Let's get back to business. And let's make it a good one.


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