Coronavirus: How to grow a business when the world’s collapsing

I’m assuming my events business can’t function until January, at least. The chances of running a two-week free event for business owners any time soon is virtually zero. That was our business model. A company, council or housing association would fund us to run a completely free business school for a fortnight. We were very successful, helping to set up 680 businesses in 2018 alone – but now that’s all gone.

So where on earth do I, and other business owners, start, in a country in lockdown with such a bleak outlook? I’m glad to say, myself and my business partner Alan Donegan, who’s currently quarantined in the US, have been very busy. This has included helping thousands of small business owners make plans for the days, weeks and months ahead. Here are five things we recommend that small business owners do this week:

Check out the Chancellor’s rescue package

This week, top of the list must be to check the government support, as the Chancellor has been very busy. His package includes grant funding, extra time to pay VAT and income tax and a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. If you’ve got employees, you might be able to get 80% of their wages paid and they get to keep their jobs.

Get online – now

The internet offers the best chance of your business keeping going, even if it’s just about communicating with your audience. Last week, we ran two Facebook live sessions for business owners and were amazed by some of the ideas coming out. Pub quizzes on Zoom, gigs on Facebook Live, tonnes of ‘How to’ guides being uploaded onto YouTube. Don’t trust Facebook? Not that excited about making videos? Tough. In fact, it was tough luck before the virus hit, you have to deal with business realities and the reality is virtual.

Pivot and create

It’s time to think of ways to adapt, to step out of your comfort zone and into the new world. One thing’s for sure, the world will never be the same again, even when the craziness is over.

Ideas are currency at the moment. Everybody is crying out for them. Keep an open mind because, even if you hate the idea, buried in there could be a nugget that triggers a thought that changes everything. Write ideas down, share them and test them.

Keep communicating

At PopUp, we’ve been communicating ten times more than we usually do, and it probably still isn’t enough. Communicate as soon as possible with everyone you’re connected to – customers, suppliers, employees, family, friends and neighbours. Find out how they’re getting on, what their problems are and offer to help solve them. Side note – I do mean with email, phone, video call and social media, obviously. I’m no Ant Middleton.

Dial back spending

Protect your business as much as you can. Stop what needs to be stopped, dial back on your spending, both in the business and in your personal life. There are tough decisions to be made and, the sooner you make them, the more likely you are to be able to weather the storm.

Simon Paine is the co-founder and CEO of the PopUp Business School

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