When generations to come look back at 2018 in the history books, it is fair to say it might be labelled ‘The Year of Uncertainty’. Today, it seems, we are still no clearer than we were on January 1st, 2018, about the terms under which we will leave the European Union, or what life – and business – will look like afterwards.As we look ahead to 2019, it seems unlikely that this uncertainty is going to lift anytime soon. So, what can businesses do to prepare themselves for the year ahead? In this blog, we offer some helpful tips for owners of SMEs to help them survive – and thrive – in 2019.
1. Be encouraged
Although it may be easy to worry, business owners should take some encouragement from national and international economic forecasts. The global economy has stabilised after recession and projections suggest growth will remain steady at around 3.7% per annum in 2019. The UK and Eurozone will be negatively impacted by BREXIT: forecasts suggest the UK economy will grow below trend at less than 2% per annum for the next five years at least – but it will grow, and the strength of the global economy will help it to do so.
Government finances have been steadily improving. National debt has peaked and is declining, the budget deficit is low, and the highest number of people are in work since records began. These are all reasons to be positive.
2. Be prepared
Having said this, of course there is continued uncertainty ahead. We still don’t know what is going to happen with BREXIT. What will the terms of our deal look like? Will we get a deal at all? Will we even leave the EU at the end of all this? The sooner there is clarity around BREXIT the better, but for now we don’t know when the cloud of ambiguity will lift.
So, businesses should be prepared for further uncertainty in 2019. Businesses should hold their ground, prepare for different scenarios and build their resilience to handle unexpected change and disruption.
3. Be ready
Although BREXIT will cause disruption, it will also present opportunities, and businesses should be ready to make the most of these when they come. By keeping a positive mindset about the future, businesses will be better equipped to spot these opportunities as they arise. Keep your ear to the ground. Talk to your staff and customers – many opportunities arise from hearing about the challenges they face. Now is not the time to hide away and be defensive. Be ready to seize the initiative when the time is right.
4. Be flexible
Ask yourself the question: ‘How flexible is my business?’ How quickly can you respond to what is going on outside your four walls? Allowing your business to be flexible to change by building in degrees of freedom within which you operate will make it easier for you to cope with unexpected developments and adapt to make the most of new opportunities.
5. Be smart
Having said the above, remember that now is not the time to go hell for leather. Be smart, always. It has never been more vital that businesses have their pulse on their market. Knowing what is going on in your sector will make it easier for you to spot business opportunities as they arise. Don’t just watch your closest competitors, but keep an eye on new entrants to the market too – these new players may be more easily able to adapt to changing climates and make the most of new opportunities. Look after the numbers and exercise financial discipline, remembering that – above all – cash is king.
6. Be a leader
In these times of uncertainty, more than ever, you need a strong team around you. Look after that team. Individuals, in times of uncertainty, are going to feel uncertain. With 20-25% of people in the UK estimated to suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their lifetime, it is vital that workplaces do their bit to support their employees through any worries or difficulties they may be facing.
Keep an eye out for any changes in the behaviour of your staff. The charity MIND has a range of low-cost support materials that you can use to help support anyone who needs it.
7. Be healthy
Part of being a leader is carrying some of the anxiety about the future for your organisation. Sometimes you will know things that you can’t tell your employees, or can’t tell them yet, and you will have to carry this load alone. So, look after yourself. Look after your mental health.
Try to keep a positive outlook and be realistic about what you can achieve and your priorities. Remember that any struggles will eventually pass. Manage your thoughts and emotions. Practice deep breathing exercises to keep you calm and improve your ability to think clearly. Be aware that anxiety and other emotions might cloud your judgement.
Look after your wellbeing. Keep a good work/life balance, and consider booking out a Friday for personal thinking time. If you need some extra help, there are plenty of resources available online.
8. Be yourself
One of the best ways to alleviate anxiety is to continue with business as usual. Continue to talk to your customers and stakeholders, to sell your products and services, to invest in R&D, and to develop your business.
At all times, know your USP. What is it that makes you stand out as a business? What makes your product or service different from your competitors? Ask yourself what it is that is going to ensure your survival as a business during these uncertain times.
9. Be strong
Going about business as usual will be easy if you have a clear business plan that you can follow. Set solid goals and stick to them. Keep them manageable, and celebrate small milestones as you achieve them.
Be decisive and move forwards, always. If something doesn’t work, you can move on and try something else. Standing still is not an option.
10. Be open
Don’t try to do all this by yourself. Remember: no-one is an island. Take a step back, communicate clearly with those around you and be open to taking their advice. Look for social support wherever you can find it: there will be times when you may need someone to talk to. Family, friends, colleagues and independent experts – all these people will help you to gain perspective on your situation.
11. Be equipped
In times of risk and uncertainty, it is easy to cut back on developing your staff, but it is vital for businesses’ long-term growth that they find ways to avoid doing this. Once this period of uncertainty ends, there will be an upsurge, and when that happens you will need skilled people to service your business.
Look at who you have already, at their skill-set, and at how well motivated you think they are. Remember that progression and professional development are increasingly important for workers who no longer believe in a ‘job for life’. Take time to research relevant learning and development courses that could enhance your employees’ skills.
12. Be consistent
In everything, look after your customers. They are your bread and butter, and you should nourish them. Develop a set of values that encompass why they should buy from your business, and why people should work for you, and stick to them. Know who you are and who you want to be.