Surviving Lockdown 2: Tips for SMEs

So, here we are again, in another lockdown during which non-essential businesses must close their doors to customers. As an SME owner, you’ll know you’re not alone in battling a mixed feeling of deja vu and dread at the prospect of such another difficult disruption to trading.

While there are no doubt numerous similarities with the lockdown of the spring and early summer, this second lockdown will also be a different experience for many business owners and perhaps even more difficult.

For example, if you own a retail business, then this lockdown is occurring at the worst possible time, coming as it does during the so-called “golden quarter”, the busiest quarter of the shopping year as customers flock to shops for Black Friday and their Christmas gift needs.

For that reason, and due to the fact that many businesses still won’t have recovered fully from the first lockdown (even if they did survive it), the current lockdown perhaps calls for a different approach. Here are our five tips for SMEs looking to survive and emerge strongly from a second lockdown.

1 – Learn from lockdown one

Surviving the first lockdown is no mean feat, it’s something to be applauded and it has the value of giving you experience handling a similar situation. Having made it through one lockdown, there are undoubtedly lessons that you can learn to help you make it through this time around.

Most obviously, what tactics worked for you during the first lockdown? If there was a particular strategy, or strategies, that worked the first time then chances are that this is something you can utilise again and perhaps even improve upon.

Furthermore, the benefit of hindsight now enables you to look back on what didn’t work for you during the last lockdown and work on those things. Think about where and how you struggled during the last lockdown and then think about how you could do those things differently.

2 – Don’t get caught up in cynicism

Having made it through one lockdown, perhaps by the skin of your teeth, it’s understandable to feel downhearted right now. After all, you’ll probably feel like you’ve barely had time to get going again and try to get back to normal before a second lockdown has come in.

However, it’s important not to fall into the trap of negative thinking. As the head of your business, your mindset and attitude will shape that of your employees and, if you’re cynical about a second lockdown, it’s likely that this will filter down and effect others.

Of course, there’s no point in engaging in unrealistic blue-sky thinking. There’s no denying that a second lockdown will be hard and that the reality of it needs facing up to. However, what there’s no use in is pointless despondency.

It may be tempting to curse your bad luck, but it’s important to remember that many SME owners, and business owners more broadly, around the world are currently in the same boat. A determined, resolute frame of mind will go some way towards approaching and tackling lockdown successfully. After all, you’ve survived lockdown once before.

3 – Adapt

This could fall under both learning from the experience of the first lockdown and under approaching the situation with the right, pro-active frame of mind, but the importance of adapting to the situation cannot be overstated.

In a world where face-to-face transactions are once again off the table, utilising digital and online in any possible way that suits your business, from online retail to social media to remote working, will be vital to your chances.

What’s more, staying abreast of any and all changes in regulation, no matter how slight, will help you adjust and scale your operations up or down as quickly as possible. This has the dual benefit of enabling you to take advantage of any relaxing of restrictions as well as minimising the potential disruption of any tightening or extension of lockdown.

4 – Utilise all the help available

A positive mindset and cunning approach is all well and good when it comes to a crisis like the current one, but you shouldn’t forget that there is actual concrete financial help out there for businesses impacted by the pandemic.

With cases rising and restrictions tightening, the government has made the decision to extend essentially all of its business help schemes into next year. Many of these are targeted specifically at SMEs.

Firstly, if the lockdown impacts your ability to pay wages, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) has been extended until March 31 2021. The scheme, which is now more flexible than it was in the spring, allows you to claim up to 80 per cent of an employee’s wages for hours not worked, to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

Furthermore, business loan schemes have also been extended into 2021. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), which provides 80 per cent-government-backed loans of up to £5 million and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS), which provides 100 per cent-government-backed loans of between £2,000-£50,000, are both SME-focused and have both been extended until January 31 2021.

5 – Get ready for Christmas!

In spite of the current situation, there’s no harm in planning a little for the future and, despite the possibility of an extension, there is absolutely no reason to not plan for lockdown ending on December 2.

Getting your business ready and stocked up for a big Christmas uptick will ensure you’re ready, whenever the economy does reopen. That doesn’t mean discounting the possibility of lockdown being extended, but you’ll gain nothing by passively assuming that lockdown will mean there is no Christmas rush.