How to survive and thrive during COVID-19

By Anita Jaynes on 22 April, 2020

Richard Thomson is the Chairman of end-of-life planning firm Kinherit, which was set up to ensure their client’s final wishes are carried out.

The team offers a range of services to give you peace of mind – including advanced Will writing, Trusts, an online vault to store assets and a handover process.

Richard runs Kinherit alongside Ben Mason, a Life Insurance Specialist and Financial Adviser, and Data Security Expert Tom King.

Richard is also a professional Board Director and Chairman, with over 20 years’ experience in finance.

Richard identifies areas of poor performance in businesses and works to sharpen their practices. Richard is behind the improved profitability of multiple companies – creating over billion euros of value, as shown in their market price.

The Oxford University graduate, who has worked in the debt advisory and restructuring team at the investment bank N M Rothschild & Sons, believes the current crisis will drive innovation and new working practices.

Here Richard gives his advice for surviving and thriving through COVID-19.

Richard Thompson, Chairman, Kinherit

Business as usual? How companies are adapting, evolving and getting back to work

Andrew Grove, one of the architects of semiconductor giant Intel’s success, said: “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis; good companies survive them; great companies are improved by them.”

It is vital to adapt and evolve at this time to ensure a business can survive and then thrive. In order to get back to work and ‘business as usual,’ companies have to think about how to function in a fundamentally different world where social contact is reduced.

Costs

Many small businesses will find their sources of revenue are suddenly disappearing or diminishing. They will be faced with a number of challenges, such as how to cut costs and find new ways to bring in income at the same time.

The first step I would recommend is to have a think about what your company would need to to break-even. Have a look through your cost base and see where temporary measures need to be immediately put in place.

Staffing costs, which tend to be significant, are currently receiving government support. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) allows employers to claim a grant covering 80 per cent of the wages for a furloughed employee, subject to a cap of £2,500 a month.

Furlough involves employee agreement, though many employees feel they have little option but to accept it along with a temporary reduction in salary to 80 per cent. This reduces the effective cost to a company to zero for a period of time. Other employers are continuing to pay the 20 per cent difference. Either way, the salary does need to be paid and then reclaimed.

This period on Furlough is a temporary measure designed to enable employers to restart with their current employees when restrictions are lifted. But it is a critical time to explore how your organisation can survive on a dramatically reduced cost base.

The government is also offering a £10,000 support package as a small business rate relief. If your landlord does not split out business rates from your rent, it may be possible to get this adjusted in order to claim the relief.

More broadly, costs associated with office, site or retail leases are another area where it may be possible to renegotiate with landlords. This may include offering cash up-front, although this would depend on your financial position.

Protection from Covid19

The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will repay employers the current rate of SSP that they pay to current or former employees for periods of sickness starting on or after 13 March 2020.

However, it is worth considering key person insurance as well. Insurance costs may have gone up, but it has a clear place in protecting a business.

Ben Mason, Life Insurance Specialist and Financial Adviser

Ben Mason, a specialist in business insurance, adds: “We have seen a spike in people looking for business insurance in recent months and it does not have to be expensive. The costs will vary, depending on the amount of cover you are looking for.

“I’ve spoken with company directors who are more aware of their own mortality at this time. They are confident they have processes in place to get through this crisis, but they know that if they or a key member of the team were to get sick and be unable to work, then the business would be less likely to survive. Putting protection in place creates peace of mind.”

Restructuring and Insolvency techniques

Inevitably for some companies, redundancies and government money will not be sufficient to fix the problem. Many of these businesses will fall into administration or liquidation.

Where there is a strong brand, valuable assets or profitable operations, these can be bought out through a court process such as administration.

However, for many entrepreneurs or small business owners, it may be better to close and start again when the world is simpler. This could be preferable to providing personal funding and potentially losing your home.

Know your customer

Some industries, such as automotive, have had to stop or cut production due to a shortage of supplies or collapsing demand. They often have a history of varying production levels and more flexibility to re-start.

Other industries such as events and casual dining, have seen an almost unprecedented collapse to zero revenues. Generally speaking, if your business relies on human contact (such as hairdressing) then it may prove impossible to continue work while social distancing is in place.

Such industries, such as clothes retail, may focus instead on maintaining visibility during the lockdown until people are ready and able to spend with them again. Online sales are unlikely to be able to compensate within a short period of time.

However, for many businesses in areas like general manufacturing, production or service, there may be an opportunity to use the crisis to adopt more flexible and lower cost operating models. This will allow those with clearest strategy to continue and even capitalise over time.

It is vital to know your customers and understand their spending. If there is a demand for a product or service, you will want to have a business model and cost base for that.

If there is a cut in a certain area of customer demand, then there are likely to be other areas or strategies where you can provide a better offer than other companies that are struggling.

Each industry will have its own challenges – and opportunities. A restaurant, for example, may or may not be able to set up a viable delivery service. But you no longer need to become a delivery service to deliver food.

It is always important to look at the bigger picture, think long-term and know when to change tack.

Operations, investment and pricing

Businesses need to think about ways they can operate during the coronavirus crisis and lockdown. This may involve ways of working remotely and creating a greater online presence.

Some firms are offering staff the option to buy holiday and take voluntary reductions. The four day week is being put forward by some firms and a cut in wages, particularly of senior management, is one way to reduce costs as well as offering greater flexibility.

This has in fact been a trend for some time, with many businesses in a position to offer flexible and remote working, as well as generating leads online. Others will now be spurred on to follow due to necessity.

There has been a massive pick up for video conferencing like Zoom and Teams, and this can be an effective and efficient way of doing business. It cuts down on time and costs, which could be put to better use elsewhere, not to mention being better for the environment.

Networking still matters. It is important to play close attention to your existing contacts as it will be harder to get referrals during and after the pandemic.

The popular adage says, “When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise.” But it is about thinking smarter and quickly cancelling anything that does not generate a strong “return on investment”.

At Kinherit, we have continued to invest in online marketing to ensure we are recognised as a trusted team, ready to support people at this difficult time. There are studies going back over a century which show that those who advertised during a weaker economy maintained or grew their market share afterwards.

It may be tempting to drop prices at this time and in some areas this may be unavoidable. An extreme example is with oil, which has just traded at a negative price per barrel. But for products which stand out in the market, I believe it is generally better to focus on your unique proposition and why your superior product justifies the price.

Focus on maintaining your current client basis and build relationships within your wider network so you will be front of mind when people are ready to buy.

This is a testing time for all businesses. We can use it as an opportunity to reflect and then take appropriate action so we can emerge from this stronger than before.

Be prepared – What companies do to protect against similar threats in the future?

As a professional chairman and director of multiple businesses that were going through challenges even before the crisis hit, I have seen first-hand the importance of a coordinated response. A high-quality, cohesive management style trumps over a struggling, fractional management. But if you are a manager, how do you make sure you are in the former category?

We can learn from this experience and put plans in place to better protect business in future. This can also be a time for innovation and improvement.

We have known for years that business has been driven increasingly online and more people are working remotely. Some firms have already embraced this move, while others are quickly adjusting as a matter of urgency.

Flexibility and streamlining

It is important to offer your team flexibility as it is beneficial all-round. It likely to foster greater loyalty and create greater stability for the business, should people have to work remotely. If there were a bomb scare or gas leak, for example, it is vital that people can work away from the office and that contingency plans are in place.

Businesses are now likely to look at their costs and reduce them where possible and this can lead to more streamlined way of working. Firms are also likely to invest in ways of working which will ultimately lower their costs and improve their efficiency.

Flexibility can help make a business more resilient, efficient and effective. A four day week, for example, is an option some firms are exploring. Others are offering third party supply deals, rather than relying on in-house support, which will make their cost base more affordable.

There will be greater emphasis on online lead generation and networking, where possible. We have seen how technology can help save time and money and there will be a drive to create more efficient and effective outreach.

Businesses looking to improve the service or product they offer will seek to better understand their customer and spending. They may either recognise cuts in certain sectors and change tack, or find gaps in the market and a new line of revenue. Pressure can help bring about innovation and some firms will seize the opportunity to create forward looking products – really tapping into the needs and desires of their customers.

To find out more about Kinherit visit: www.kinherit.co.uk email: info@kinherit.co.uk or call: (0)117 302 1888

Pictured above from left to right: The team at Kinherit, Richard Thomson, Tom King and Ben Mason.