COVID ESSENTIALS EDITION 1
We know it’s not an easy time for anyone, but we’re here to help if we can. We've covered four important issues here - prioritisation and agility, remote working, business tracking and client relationships. We hope these points will guide your own thinking and give you confidence about your plans and actions. But if you’d like to talk more about any of your own issues, we’re available and here to help. [26 March 2020]
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON - BUT DOING WHAT?
It’s a strange time. A lot of things have stopped, and many people have nothing much to do. But as an agency leader you’ll be more than busy. You’ll be striving to maintain normal business and be challenged by the raft of new things you now need to sort out.
Some people have really embraced their new-found challenges and have become overly involved in business planning scenarios or new technology - at the expense of optimising immediate business. Others are thinking quietly about what’s going on around them but without doing what’s really needed. And many are trying to do everything and falling short on all fronts. All committed people, but with a misguided approach.
So, at a time when there are so many commercial priorities and the viability of many businesses is at stake, what’s the best way to stay on top of things? Here we offer you some practical suggestions.
Prioritise what you know.
Nobody knows how long this disruption will last or what it will mean for your future revenue, headcount and ways of working. But you do know that you have live client relationships, projects and opportunities that deserve the highest level of care and attention. And you have a team that need to be actively and positively managed in the coming weeks. So, with so much uncertainty around, try to prioritise the things you know need to be done well and don’t be too distracted by the future downside scenarios, many of which may never become real.
Make informed decisions.
It’s easy to act on instinct and jump quickly into action. But many of your decisions will have a fundamental impact on your business and the lives of the people involved. Only make big decisions when you’re clear about what needs to be achieved – and confident that your actions will deliver the desired results. There’s no point in reducing you staff costs by 20% if you need to save 40%, as you’ll still run out of cash. And it doesn’t make sense to take on loans to get you through the short term if this will cripple the business for the future. So please make sure you know the real facts, do the assessments and forecasts and get expert advice when required.
Embrace the need for agility, don’t fight it.
In normal times you make a plan for a year. You set objectives for 90 day periods. And you only have to make a decision once on any issue. But now things change from day to day. A client can change or cancel projects at any point. Cash can come in - or not. And, as we’ve already seen, Government announcements can change staffing strategies in 24 hours. So, create a reliable system to track what is actually happening in and to your business, on at least a weekly basis. And then be willing to deal with many different things in a day, understand situations, revisit plans and refine decisions. Not an ideal situation, but great experience for the new world we’re all moving into.
Keep an eye on the future.
You obviously need to prioritise your short term challenges and make sure your business can survive. But you shouldn’t ignore how you will move forward when the commercial environment improves. Don’t cut out all business development activities now or you could be left standing when clients get back to normal and opt to work with the new, friendly agencies they’ve ‘met’ during the downtime. And do give some thought to what the new world will be like and what it will mean for your services, ways of working and business model. Some simple foresight now might just mean you deal differently with today’s challenges and give yourself a real edge for the future.
DO YOU ALWAYS HANG OUT THIS MUCH?
Working from home has become the new normal overnight and under the most challenging circumstances. Like many you’ve probably mobilised very quickly and made a great effort to keep people connected, creating a positive sense of community. But whilst it’s helpful to know we’re all in this together, not everyone responds or works in the same way - just like it would be in the ‘real’ office. Some people will welcome regular check-ins to keep them on track and stay productive. Others will not, preferring more space and flexibility to think and work in their own time. Some people will want to have a ‘virtual pint or G&T’ every other night to keep the spirits up. Others will not and will respectfully decline. So, what’s most important as things settle down is to find a balance that best suits your team and is the most sustainable for your business. Because right now it’s everyone’s best guess - but your lead.
Some things to think about:
- Define clear expectations that make it easier for people to keep delivering in their own way. Rally people around goals and outcomes, not timesheets.
- Make sure you are getting value from your collective screen time. Avoid the regular read outs, prepare well and move things forward.
- Ask regularly how individuals are adjusting and offering flexibility where it’s needed. Show how to be accessible whilst respecting each other’s boundaries.
- Prioritise the smaller rituals as well as the bigger social ones. A casual coffee break can be as reassuring as an organised office quiz.
ARE YOU TRACKING THE RIGHT THINGS?
For many years, experts have made the case that it’s the things that are measured that become important in a business. But in this environment, you can’t afford to choose what you’d like to pay attention to. You have to understand what really matters and make sure you’re tracking those things. For the moment, things are different. Cash matters much more than profit, revenue counts more than margin, the short term trumps the longer term and certainty has great value.
A few things that might be helpful:
- Always know your cash position and have a rigorous plan for the weekly and monthly changes ahead. Don’t leave anything to chance and only let important payments out the door.
- Identify and understand the value and reasons for all project cancellations and revenue changes. This will give you the hard facts to support decisions and the insights to re-shape your offerings for both the short and medium term
- Create a revenue forecast for the weeks and months ahead that you really believe in – don’t just go through the motions. Get the commitment from the people closest to each client to make sure you have the sharpest possible view.
- Plan to have up to date information available quickly on a daily and weekly basis. Engage your team in understanding the need and in contributing to the accuracy.
ARE YOU SHOWING YOUR CLIENTS ENOUGH LOVE?
Like many, you’ll be reviewing and adjusting your approach to business development. Hustling for new business from cold leads won’t be a good use of your time - although don’t cut all new client activity. Instead take a ‘client-first’ approach. There will be opportunities - if handled in the right way. It’s a time for giving your clients the love they deserve, strengthening your relationships so they survive the toughest of times. Stay in close touch and offer support. Be empathic - always. Understand the dynamics of your clients in this new world. Help them adjust to the new marketplace and to new customer demands. Work with your clients to plan and decide what is, or could be, of most value to them - and what work might be put on hold for now. Get involved - but with no personal agenda. Being by their side, you’ll know how to shape your services, resources and pricing to create the best outcome for everyone.
Here are some practical suggestions to help stay close to your clients:
- Make sure you have a person responsible for each contact in the client team (we call this man-marking) - pitch your people and conversations at the right level.
- Timing and quality of conversations will be critical - how you ‘show up’ (and when) during this time is going to be key, be authentic and true to your values.
- Choose tactics carefully as clients will be bombarded with approaches from other agencies - there will be webinar blindness so only use those that will add real value.
- Adjust your ways of working to make your clients’ lives easier – old processes and behaviours may no longer apply so listen, react and be proactive.