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Gloucestershire Business News

Planning for Recovery: Expert advice to get on the right track

"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."

The words of American actor and cowboy Will Rogers were summoned as an unusual business mantra in an online session giving advice on planning for recovery.

Richard Neale, director of Staverton-based business support company Ops-Box Group , used Rogers' advice to illustrate the importance of planning and taking action ahead of the gradual return to more normal trading.

He was speaking as one of a panel of experts at the session hosted by Jonathan Rathbone, director at Cheltenham solicitors Hughes Paddison .

The panel also included fellow Ops-Box director Hayley Parker, James Harper from chartered accountants Harper Sheldon  and employment lawyer Kimberley Whalen-Blake of Hughes Paddison.

Introducing the session, Mr Rathbone said: "There is a great opportunity to look at new markets and efficiencies.

"We need to consider if we can learn from and if we can use how we are working now.

"It is important to be realistic. The much talked about bounce back is some way off and the nature of the recovery remains uncertainty. That makes planning particularly difficult."

Focusing on the financial side of planning, Mr Neale warned that businesses cannot afford to be inactive - or merely sit on what they thought was the right track.

He said: "Survival has been the priority. But have you thought about the cost to the company long term?

"This pandemic has effectively seen many businesses starting from scratch and planning is essential. But you have to be honest.

"To understand the financials for your business, you need to forecast. Real planning which needs to be honest and challenge your thinking across three scenarios - best case, realistic case and a worst case.

"We are not here to be the voice of doom but to raise awareness of what you can do with careful planning. Those who take effective action can really thrive."

He said the number of grants and loans which have been made available to companies throughout the pandemic have provided a real opportunity, but also something which needs to be factored in with repayments.

"There are many loans and grants out there, why wouldn't you take advantage?" he said.

"Many businesses have parked this finance with no immediate plan for it, which could be prudent. It needs to work for your business positively.

"It will be even more crucial to consider a wider range of funding solutions and select their lender and options wisely.

"Done well, the financials are the starting point for every decision you make in the business."

The need for proper forecasting was echoed by James Harper, who called on firms to take the chance to rethink their whole operation.

He said: "This is a chance to think about our businesses. Being on pause may cause us to revisit why we started in the first place.

"Are we going to need the property we are sitting in? Are we going to need the staff? Has lockdown made us consider our business? Have we still got a market? If not, what are we going to do? Or will our business have shrunk? We don't know yet."

He urged businesses to continue referring to their forecasts as they move out of the current crisis.

"We need to forecast," he said. "It is time to open the spreadsheet and see what our business is going to look like in the future.

"We can be quite accurate with our costs, what we don't know is our costs and how quickly they will come back to 2019. What if it is longer than six months? That's when the difficult decisions have to be made.

"The forecasts need to be prepared, looked at and monitored. If we don't look at them weekly, monthly, they are no good at all. If it is not working, we need to revisit it, revise it."

He continued: "It is very important we are prepared to budget and forecast.

"As business owners we have to be flexible. There's no reason if we focus and be flexible that 2021 can't be as good as 2019."

Hayley Parker turned her focus on operations and taking advantage of the advantages and changes of the last few months.

She said" "What I am talking about is the right operational model of your business. It's about looking at your sales forecasts and looking at your operational needs to reach those sales and also to service your existing customers.

"The thing that inspires me is how quickly companies have changed the way they operate. They have done it overnight. It will be interesting to see how many of those changes stick.

"It should not be about planning for survival but how you come out of this stronger."

She continued: "Understanding the needs of your business is vital. Your operational needs translate to understanding what skills you need in your business.

"Scenario planning will help you to make decisions such as when and how you bring staff work.

"Don't look at things in isolation. Planning is so important and needs looking at through different lenses - strategic, financial and operational."

Kimberley Whalen-Blake addressed issues of employment law with the announcement of the tapering out of the Government's Job Retention Scheme focusing minds on how businesses are going to deal with staffing levels.

She said: "The furlough announcements have fed into the word of redundancies and provided some certainty for businesses.

"We are seeing lots of operational designs being restructured, be it in terms and conditions being changed or redundancies.

"You can never start exploring this early enough to see all your options and communicate.

"Now, more than ever, is the time to explore and start costing up restructuring and possible redundancies."

She stressed the importance of good communications between employers, staff and other bodies such as unions ahead of any changes around staffing, terms of contracts and health and safety.

"The best way is to try to seek consent from both parties," she said. "It it is not available, it is not straightforward and takes time so planning is essential.

"If your business needs to pivot and make these changes, it can be done fairly, legally and while keeping the goodwill of the workforce.

"The key is communication. If there was ever a time to over communicate it is now.

'Communicate all the good stuff you are doing and the good stuff you are putting in place for their safety."

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