The last year has brought a huge amount of uncertainty and it goes without saying that for many the economic fall-out from the pandemic has been the biggest challenge they have ever faced. Despite a range of support from Government, many of our businesses have been forced to temporarily close or reduce their capacity as large numbers of staff have been placed on furlough or made redundant.
My work at the Council, helping to distribute over £165m in COVID related grants since the start of the pandemic, has let me see first-hand the impact of the pandemic. For many it has been a year to forget, a truly awful time, however as we start to emerge from lockdown it is perhaps also worth reflecting on the resilience and ingenuity shown by many of our businesses and entrepreneurs who have been not only able to survive but to thrive and accelerate business growth. Taking opportunities to adapt and learn new things.
The ability to see opportunity where others may not should be celebrated. I have been humbled and amazed by the creativity, innovation, and resilience I have seen around me every day to keep going in the face of yet more restrictions.
The impact of the pandemic on business has not been uniform, and nor can it be defined simplistically by sector. Even within industries different types of business have struggled, managed to keep an even keel, or in some cases grown based on their product or service and how they were able to get it to their customers.
There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned in how we have dealt with the pandemic as a nation, but this should not all be about how and why we locked down when we did, or whether the vaccination programme is on track to help release restrictions. There are just as many lessons we can learn about how to build resilient, sustainable businesses capable of overcoming even the most severe of catastrophes. We should look forward at the positive steps organisations have taken towards business growth, from the adoption of new technologies to the creation of new products and services, setting in motion lasting changes that will set them up for a return to growth.
What has made one business successful whilst another struggles to keep going is of course a highly complex question that would require far more space than the pages of this blog allow. Instead, I will share just a few simple common themes in the hope they are helpful:
Be adaptable – Businesses that have been able to pivot their businesses to adapt their model or route to market, whether it be moving online or selling direct to consumer for the first time, have been better able to navigate the impacts of the pandemic.
Innovate – Innovation is a core driver of growth. Whilst the saying goes that “necessity is the mother of all invention” we should not leave it to chance. Innovation is a key building block for company growth and deserves to be much more than an emergency response. Companies with a culture of innovation are better placed to adapt to the challenges COVID has thrown at them whilst those that are able to continue to innovate, look to new ways of working and to new markets, are most likely to benefit from opportunities as the economy starts to open.
Build and maintain strong customer and supplier relationships – Having a strong and focused customer base is something we all know we should be aiming for, but this has never been more true. In a time of crisis having a loyal customer base who will support and adapt with you is hugely helpful.
Seek help – Support is out there. We know that businesses that seek external help and advice often do better. Now as we emerge from lockdown our attention must move towards helping companies re-establish themselves and accelerate opportunities for business growth. Organisations including Kirklees Council, the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, and the University of Huddersfield have a range of programmes and are there to help.
So, as we start to see light at the end of tunnel, we need to prepare for what comes next. We should remember that in every crisis there is opportunity.
The pandemic has taught us resilience and determination, to innovate and take risks, to adapt and to try new ways of working. These are qualities that will be invaluable in taking our businesses to the next level as we emerge from the most difficult time in many of our business lives.
Let’s keep going, and here’s to a bright future.