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Small business advice from the most adaptive businesses of 2020

by John Saunders
22nd Dec 20 10:46 am

It’s been a tough year to run a small business. Advice that might have sounded great last year could well be completely out of date after a year of unprecedented shocks and shake ups.

It’s not all bad news, though. In this article, we’ll share four top pieces of small business advice from some of the most adaptive businesses of the year according to QuickBooks UK – those who not only survived, but thrived during 2020. Read on to learn more.

Four pieces of small business advice from the most adaptive businesses of 2020

1. Be flexible 

Unsurprisingly, perhaps the most common piece of small business advice was to stay flexible – be willing to roll with the punches and adapt to unpredicted changes.

In some cases, this meant a small pivot. Krystian Jones, founder of the online events company Splinter Faction, for instance, began lockdown with some volunteering through a Facebook group called I’m stuck at home but still want to have fun. To his surprise, the experience led him to a whole new market.

As his corporate workload was reducing, he reported ‘the social side was booming’. He helped run a variety of online events, and soon Splinter Faction was on course for a great year.

Adapting isn’t this easy for everyone, though. The hospitality sector was hit especially hard, but restaurant mogul Ian Davies made it through by changing his business model quite radically. He ‘adapted [his] current website’, using existing assets to set up an online shop.

Now, his online business The Steak Shop is successful in its own right, distinct from his original restaurant Steak on the Green – all because he hit on the idea of ‘selling steaks directly to customers at a time when [he] couldn’t allow any diners into the restaurant’.

2. Don’t get distracted

Even as you adjust, you should stay focused on what will help your business grow in the long term. It might sound unbelievable, but too much demand can be as dangerous to a small business as not enough.

Take Childs Farm, for instance. As founder of the country’s top baby and child toiletries brand, Joanna Jensen had to manage an unexpected spike in demand this year, when direct-to-customer sales rocketed up by 7,000%. This meant keeping a close eye on supplies and making some tough decisions.

“We thought our stock level would be at risk if we continued to push promotions,” Jensen remembers, “so we pulled all promotions at the beginning of lockdown.”

By doing this, Childs Farm avoided overextending during a period of high demand. With optimistic predictions of a good December for small businesses, it’s more important than ever to keep this perspective in mind.

3. Avoid bad business

On a similar note, small business owners should take care not to get desperate.

PromoVeritas Founder and CEO Jeremy Stern was especially clear on this point. “Say no to bad business,” he insists. “When your business is in crisis, it can be tempting to take on any new clients that express an interest.” But this can be disastrous if you find yourself taking on poorly defined or uncertain jobs.

Preparation is crucial. Jones from Splinter Faction recalls other companies’ struggles trying to run online events: “Frequently things don’t go to plan; they realise it’s not as easy as it looks and come back to me for help.”

Avoid falling into this trap by maintaining a realistic idea of what you can and cannot do.

4. Stay committed to your values 

Lastly, you should fight hard to stay close to what’s important to your business. Adapt and change, of course, but don’t lose sight of what you do and why you do it – and, crucially, the people who keep you going. Successful businesses know how vital this is.

Andrew Bloch, Founder of consultancy company Andrew Bloch & Associates, recalls being part of ‘several business networks that have come together to mutually share advice and support’, as well as ‘having honest conversations with people about how they’re doing and how they’re coping’.

Similarly, Merlie Calvert, founder of Farillio, remembers remaining ‘mission-driven’ and stepping up her company’s legal and business advice to small businesses from the start of the first lockdown.

This extends to employees, too. When Steak on the Green had to close, Davies avoided laying workers off by hiring his existing staff to work for the new online business.

Helping others out like this not only fosters stable relationships and helps increase productivity, but feels good, too. In the words of Krystian Jones, ‘it’s been an honour to be able to hire’ – especially as ‘some of these people [have] lost their income’. Giving them a lifeline is, he says, ‘a double honour’.

We hope you’ve found these pieces of small business advice helpful. It can be reassuring at the end of a rough year to hear from those who managed to succeed against all odds. And as things start to look up, it’s always worth adjusting your business plans and continuing to focus on grow.

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