When there’s a wobble there’s usually an opportunity, says James Poyser, co-founder of inniAccounts.
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Traditionally, September is the time when we see a rush of new company start-ups. The summer does that to people. Makes them switch off and think about what they really want to do and take the plunge to go it alone or team up with friends and bring the pipe dream to life.
It remains to be seen though whether this year will be different. The number of people deciding to change their lifestyle and become a contractor in the month following Brexit dropped by 11%. The last time we saw a drop of that size and that sharp was in 2008 when we were in the grip of a recession and property crash.
However, we’re now seeing it bounce back to pre-Brexit levels. There’s clearly some resilience and optimism. It reinforces my belief that if we talk about a recession there will be one. If we think that the opportunities for start-ups, and scale-ups for that matter, is dwindling then we’ll put the nail in the coffin.
But I also think we need to ensure we don’t do things blindly and we apply some realism. The IMF, the Consumer Confidence Index, the Bank of England all provide indicators of what might happen in the year to come.
But who can know for sure? I think if the last month or so proves anything it’s that you have to be flexible in your outlook and be prepared to navigate the storm.
In fact, in my experience, starting a business at the cusp of a recession (not that we are talking about one) can be be the best time to start a business – if you do it right.
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1. The first thing to do is validate your idea
You’ve got a life plan. There is no reason to deviate. If you’re thinking of contracting or freelancing then find your forte. And if you already are then there’s no harm in making sure you are clear about why people will want you over someone else.
Remember when things are uncertain big businesses need flexible skills that will support them through the change projects they will be undertaking. If you have strategic experience and can be hands on you might be just what people need.
They won’t want to pay two people if they can pay once. Consider your pricing structure too - think value not cheap.
If you do your research well, you’ll know which businesses will be investing in skills like yours. You might even find your first or next contract this way.
The same goes for new product lead businesses. Do your market research. Know there is a market and be very clear on what makes you a desirable new entrant or a disruptive force. If your product is similar consider how service or price can be your shot in the arm. Don’t restrict your thinking – innovation is far more than a new shiny thing.
2. Be proactive
That brings me to my next point. If you think an existing client or prospect will wobble, work out how you could protect the contract with a proactive review or new way of doing business. What extra value could you give them if they commit for longer?
As brave as it may sound, it can be a good time to ask clients if they are happy. If you can prevent small hiccups from becoming major problems you’ll have a happier relationship in the long run.
3. Build the war chest
Work out reserves before you start. Sounds obvious and frankly it is, but that’s because it works. Get your finances in order, work out where you can save money. But make sure the costs you cut aren’t ones that will make you sluggish to respond to an upturn or unexpected opportunity – think lean and keen.
Also remember that as Brexit is negotiated, regulatory change will take precedent. We have to expect some changes to the availability of skills too. Anticipate how those things will affect you now and review your business model accordingly.
Who knows, they could present opportunities. A better grip on how things will influence your sector’s performance could be the inspiration you need to diversify. Broadening your horizons whether you are running a SME or working for yourself is imperative to stay ahead. Now might be the time to do it.
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4. Invest in yourself and sharpen up
It’s easy to stop investing in you, but very often those who more successfully navigate tougher times are those who improve their own business acumen.
Network, attend events, read, read, read. The more you immerse yourself in what is happening the more your own skills and ability to advise your customers wisely will grow. It’s a way to become invaluable.
Taking time to immerse yourself in what is happening will help you become more aware of the gaps in the market you can capitalise on. For example, it‘s a great time to ask customers what they are worried about and see how you can lighten the load with a new service.
5. Be the one that can capitalise on a surge
All of the ideas above will make you efficient and relevant. But one thing you absolutely must be is agile. You need to ensure that what you do and how you do it can be scaled quickly. Test everything against the principle that one day things will improve.
Ask yourself, how much will the decisions you make now hurt your chances of being first to respond when the market improves? Agility can’t be overestimated.
6. Keep calm
Last but not least don’t panic. Be realistic and review your plan accordingly, because if you don’t others will and they’ll be the victors.