Covid Business: Have you taken the tough decisions you need to?

Ask Powerful Questions and Get Powerful Answers– the biggest question you will need to ask yourself right now is have you really taken the tough decisions you need to, in order to protect the future of your company?

Right now as a business owner, you probably have a challenge on your hands, and you’re not alone. As far back as April, more than half a million UK businesses were reported to be in significant economic distress, and around a quarter ceased trading altogether temporarily. Now we are seeing some easing of lockdown measures, it doesn’t mean things will return to normal and bounce back immediately. In fact, we are expecting a long period of recession and economists don’t foresee us springing back quickly with a V shaped recovery. So, what does this mean for your business? I remain an eternal optimist and I know there is always a way to succeed. The key is not to panic but to take the time to ask yourself the right questions and to look at every area of your business.

Sometimes it is all too easy to put off making the tough decisions, but acting at the right time really can be the difference between make or break. Quite simply, you can get to profit two ways, increasing income or reducing costs. Look at every cost line, if it’s not needed now, get rid of it, the only exception being if it massively impacts your business when volume returns. If so, find a way to put the cost on hold.

This is where negotiation comes in. You would be surprised at how, in the current climate you can renegotiate existing contracts and deals, as your suppliers are in a different position. Where you can put off costs, you must do so now. Have you really been through every cost line and challenged both on the amount you are paying and the payment terms?

Right sizing your organisation- the biggest tough decision.

Getting your staff planning right is essential at any time. Given the furloughing scheme, I believe most employers are doing the humane thing and furloughing staff but it doesn’t stop there. You will have to remodel your business and account for several scenarios. How many staff will you need for each one? If you really don’t need them any more and you cannot afford them, you will have to make the tough choice of letting them go. This needs to be balanced carefully with long term pain of course; recruiting is much more expensive in the long run than keeping on good people, as long as they are needed.

How a reset could be a good thing for your business

Economists say we will not have a V shaped recovery. It is going to take businesses and consumers a while to bounce back. But, a reset is not always a bad thing. Taking stock and analysing your processes through the whole business can bring about new ideas, cost savings and efficiencies.

So what should you do now?

The three most important pieces of advice I can give to any company on the road through the coronavirus recovery are

  • Don’t forget to be there for the customers you can still get
  • Develop new ways to standout from the crowd with your proposition, service and offers
  • Hit the reset button: Take stock of all areas of your business, looking at your processes. Fresh eyes will make you surprised to see what you didn’t before.

Do Not Stop Marketing

I’m amazed to see companies literally giving up, turning off their marketing spend when there is still demand there. If people are actively looking for your product, even in a downturn, let them find you. It sounds simple, but surprisingly I have seen many companies taking a blanket approach turning all marketing off. While some cut backs may be needed, if you do have channels that are paid for on results then you can still go for it. For instance with pay per click marketing, if people are still searching for your product, even if there are less searches, then it’s a no brainer to keep appearing for the smaller pot of people who still want your product.

Develop your Standout

The biggest thing now for any company in this world where it is harder to get the consumer as there is less money flowing is understanding that you really have to get your proposition, price and offer right for the market.

You may have to work a little harder but then when you do, the rewards will be higher. The market and world has changed. It is likely you won’t be able to continue exactly the same as you were, and the winners will be those who stand out. You can develop better products, better services or ideally both and you will need to reconsider the changing behaviour of customers too.

Reset: Your chance to take stock and improve your processes

Sometimes a reset is not a bad thing, looking at every process of your business is a great thing to do. When you really look at your processes properly it’s amazing how much you can save, in both time and money. For example I’ve completely overhauled the way we measure and report on operational efficiency with call handling in my business.

While trying to reduce the average call handling time but also driving more sales to the website, we realised that customers who do need to come through the contact centre need more time, but generally buy higher cost products. So even though the average handling time goes up, we get more from it. Looking at our operational efficiency using the average handling time metric, which we had done since day dot, turned out to be misleading. Now we are looking at margin per minute, measuring true value from the calls we get.

Just because a process has always been in place in your business doesn’t mean it makes sense. Take a fresh pair of eyes and go through all areas of your business.

Focus and Vision

To get out of the downturn, you need a clear vision that brings you and your team together, heading in the right direction. Having a vision is always important but now is the time to take a fresh look at where you are headed. Does it still make sense? And, once you have redefined your vision, you need to make sure every employee knows about it too. After Covid 19, ask yourself, how and where do I need to change my focus?

In order to work towards my vision and bring my teams on board with it, I use OKRs. These are objectives and key results, which are measured quarterly in cycles of 90 days. There is visibility at all levels of the company vision and OKRs so each employee can see how their role fits into the greater collective goals. The system puts the onus on the individual to set his or her own targets and to have stretch targets too. Managers are empowered to report upwards when something is off track. This has been so transformative to my companies that I’ve seen massive change.

Now more than ever, I strongly recommend using this approach to bring teams on board and ensure fantastic performance.

Is the car industry falling asleep at the wheel while Tesla drives forward?

In April 2020, more Tesla vehicles were sold in the UK than any other make. The figures of car sales overall are still low due to the coronavirus pandemic, but electric vehicles took 34% of the market share last month. That’s impressive..
Other car manufacturers have a serious threat from Tesla, but this could happen in any industry. It pays not to be complacent.

You have to stay ahead of the curve, or be left behind.

The perfect example is Blockbuster and Netflix. As early as 2000, Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix) approached former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and asked for $50 million for the firm. What a missed opportunity! Simply sticking their heads in the sand thinking streaming would never replace video rental was not a smart move. Don’t be the next Blockbuster, ensure you are embracing the changes and disruptions in your own industry.

Elon Musk has always been a visionary, originally misunderstood, when he wanted to buy a ballistic missile from Russia to create rockets they laughed at him so he built it himself. Now Nasa use him to put thousands of rockets into orbit for satellites. This is true visionary behaviour. With Tesla, he saw where a car could be and he pushed to get the battery and car technology so good that now he supplies tech to these other motor companies. This is a smart move, so he now plays a huge part across the whole eco system.

If Musk wants to change something he is agile, and has used innovative ideas to help build not only Tesla but to propagate the use of electric cars in general. Tesla has 429 locations around the world, offers customers the ability to purchase and customise their model online and has its own network of Supercharger stations, places where drivers can fully charge their Tesla vehicles in about 30 minutes for free. This has all helped him to disrupt and change the market.

Where’s my market going? What is going to disrupt my industry?

These are the questions I would be asking myself right now. It pays to be one step ahead of the game, never be blinkered and assume things will stand still. Channel your inner Elon Musk.

Government loans and grants for UK businesses hit by #Covid19

You’re pivoting, you’re cost cutting, but the situation is still bleak; Grants, loans and subsidies could make or break your business right now. If you haven’t already, ensure you’re not missing a trick with a grant to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic. Loans can also be very helpful, as long as you understand the terms and fully analyse your expected performance post-lockdown. With any loan, always ensure the metrics make sense and do your homework before applying.

The government grants for companies hit by #Covid 19 are detailed here. You may also find local authorities, charities and organisations offer industry specific grants. A good place to look for these is Grantfinder

Self Employed: help for the Self Employed during Coronavirus

If you are self employed and have lost income, a taxable grant will be paid to the self-employed or partnerships, worth 80% of profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month. 

Initially, this will be available for three months in one lump-sum payment, and will start to be paid from the beginning of June.

Find out more

Small Business Grant Fund (SMGF)

Under the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) all eligible businesses in England in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rates Relief (RRR) in the business rates system will be eligible for a payment of £10,000.
Find out more

Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grand Fund (RHLGF)

Under the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG) eligible businesses in England in receipt of the Expanded Retail Discount (which covers retail, hospitality and leisure) with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will be eligible for a cash grant of £10,000 or £25,000 per property.   Eligible businesses in these sectors with a property that has a rateable value of up to and including £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000. Eligible businesses in these sectors with a property that has a rateable value of over £15,000 and less than £51,000 will receive a grant of £25,000.     
Businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or over are not eligible for this scheme. Businesses which are not ratepayers in the business rates system are not included in this scheme.       
Find out more                                                                                                                                  

Innovate UK Grant

Grants of up to £50,000 will be available to technology and research-focussed businesses to develop new ways of working and help build resilience in industries such as delivery services, food manufacturing, retail and transport, as well as support people at home in circumstances like those during the coronavirus outbreak.

Find out more

Future Fund- convertible loan
The Future Fund will provide government loans to UK-based companies ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors.

The application process is investor-led. This means an investor, or lead investor of a group of investors, applies in connection with an eligible company.  As a company you can still register your interest though the relevant pages on the uk.gov website.


You’re eligible if your business:

  • is based in the UK
  • can attract the equivalent match funding from third-party private investors and institutions
  • has previously raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from third-party investors in the last 5 years

There are also eligibility criteria for investors.

Find out more about Future Fund


Loans on offer depend on your circumstances and I would always advise you analyse your cash flow fo the next 6-12 months, taking into account the current climate. How many customers can you serve in six months when social distancing measures continue? Do you need to add any element of a personal guarantee? Think carefully and take advice where needed. A loan could help tide you over, but just ensure it works for your evolving business too.

Here is more information on the loans on offer.

Bounce Back Loans

Small firms will be able to take out interest free loans worth up to £50,000 under a new emergency micro-loans scheme. New “bounce-back” loans will be 100 per cent guaranteed by the Government.The Government will cover the interest on the loans for the first 12 months, with firms able to pay back the remaining balance over the next five years at “very low” interest rates. This scheme will help small and medium-sized businesses affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) to apply for loans of up to £50,000.

Find out more

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) supports small and medium-sized businesses, with an annual turnover of up to £45 million, to access loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for a period of up to 6 years.
The Government will also make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees. This means smaller businesses will benefit from no upfront costs and lower initial repayments.
The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to pre-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to small and medium-sized businesses.
The scheme is delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the government-owned British Business Bank.

Find out more

Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme

A government-backed loan scheme for large businesses affected by coronavirus for firms with a turnover of more than £45 million. As of 26th May, 2020, companies who qualify will now be able to apply for up to £200 million of finance, with certain restrictions. To apply, companies must choose a lender who is accredited by the scheme.

Find out more

Furlough Scheme- New Bonuses for Staff Brought Back from Furlough announced

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has revealed new “jobs retention bonus” of £1000 per retained employee in next stage of the coronavirus economic plan.

Find out more

Confused about government support?

There is now a helpful support finder on the UK Gov website, follow this link to access.


Trying to stay focussed is my Achilles heel and I think many entrepreneurs are similar.

I’ve developed a unique 90 day approach, taking the best of what’s out there to keep a razor focus on the things that make a difference. Learn how to roll this down throughout your organisation for maximum impact.

Financials and KPIs

Imagine trying to fly a plane without understanding the instruments, don’t do that with your organisation.

Learn how to build financial reports and kpis which enable you to drive the business in a risk controlled way focussing on the information which will inform your decisions. I favour cash flow positive businesses. Learn how to build your business without the need of external investment

Your business

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Learn how to do a deep analysis of your business to make sure it’s worth going after. Develop a strategy to own a space in the market and build a powerful go to market plan. Don’t be a dummy and limit your marketing, learn how to competitively outspend your competition and achieve incredible growth

Your team

Learn how to build an A player team.

The cost of getting the wrong people into your business is way more than the recruitment and training cost, these people need to be relied upon to drive your growth. Get this wrong and your business will fail. Learn how to delegate and hold people to account without constantly chasing for updates.

Saga- Too many suits making stupid decisions

Saga – A prime example of how a management team with no skin in the game can ruin a fantastic business.

I’ve followed Saga for many years and as a shareholder with more skin in the game than the suits running it, I have a strong opinion on the way it’s being managed. Recently I have seen a systematic destruction of value. So let me offer some advice to a company I know well.

I wasn’t surprised to see Saga has asked its banks for a repayment holiday on loans made to its cruise ship business. That will buy management some time, but I am not convinced that more time is going to salvage Saga’s cruise operation.

I believe Saga should close down the cruise business immediately to concentrate on salvaging other parts of the company that are worth saving. I know it’s tough to shut a business but this is a time for drastic action to be taken in the interest of the Saga business as a whole.

It’s my understanding that Saga has around £700m plus of debt on its cruise ships and additional group debt of around £450m in the core business. Management has said each of its two new ships will generate £40m of EBITDA. But, according to the industry insiders I’ve spoken to, that is a highly optimistic assumption. In the current environment, rather than generating profit, they may well have a negative financial impact on the group.

Reuters recently reported Saga is taking on further debt to add to its existing £450m. The management team should be clear about whether they are taking on core debt to support the cruise business. If so, do they have cross guarantees from the cruise business to the group? That seems unlikely to me, because of the regulatory issues it would raise over liquidity.

I’ve admired Saga in the past and it has carved out a unique space in the over 50s market. But the truth is it’s failing to capitalise on what should be a dominant position. Its figures suggest it only sells an average of 1.2 products per person, which shows how ineffective the cross-selling and cross-marketing strategies have been.

That number shows the business strategy is just not working. Saga’s over 50s play is clearly not resonating with the younger end of this demographic, but they do have a loyal, older, customer base. There is no doubt at all they should focus exclusively on that market. The key strategic question is what should they be selling them?

From a purely commercial standpoint I believe the management are about to make a huge mistake. They should shut the cruise business and focus on the parts of the business that are making money – cauterising the wound to ensure the rest of the company remains healthy. They are probably fearful of brand damage should they put it into administration, but consumers will understand that cruise operators are facing huge issues. There is no better time to get rid of it or if possible get someone who will take it off their hands for nothing.

Time for tough decisions

The cross marketing strategy is failing. Cruise is a separate business and it is one that is dragging the rest of the company down with it. The financial facts bear the argument out. The company has £1.2bn of debt, and £90m of profit, with nearly all of the profit generated by the insurance business. In business, as in life, the difficult decisions are often the right ones.

Selling or closing the cruise ship operation would leave Saga with £450m of debt and around £90m of profit – immediately strengthening the balance sheet.

In fact, cutting the cruise business adrift would lead to cost savings, meaning profits could increase overnight to £100m or more. Even with £500m of debt (including new borrowing), that is sustainable and gives Saga a base to build on.

The truth is management – unlike shareholders – aren’t putting their own money on the line. If they were, they might take the ruthless decisions needed to give Saga a chance of survival.

I’m always prepared to be proved wrong, but my bet is that ship has already sailed.


Privacy Policy

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This policy is effective as of 25 October 2019.