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 Finding a path ahead through a changed landscape

 

 In the aftermath of every crisis there are moments when you are able to stop struggling, stand still for a minute, look around, and think about what just happened. By now, most business owners would have experienced some of these lulls, however short, from the emergency mode into which the Covid-19 lockdown and its repercussions had thrown them. And hopefully these breathers will become more and longer as time goes on.

​​​Business owners who are able to make use of moments such as these to plan ahead are likely to emerge much stronger when Covid-19 is over, says Debbie Kapoock, external consultant for the Technical Assistance Programme at Business Partners Limited. She provides the following tips for business owners on finding a path ahead through a changed landscape:

 Try to do it formally: As strange as it may feel to follow a formal planning process while trying to get your business off life support, there is so much to be said for having a clear, written strategic plan that it is appropriate for nearly every business. Writing it down helps to focus your mind, forge consensus and pull your team together. A formal process also helps you and your team to think through every one of the many aspects of a business.

It is not just for struggling businesses: Even if you are one of the lucky business owners whose enterprise is booming because of the pandemic, a strategic plan can only strengthen your business and turn your good fortune into long-term success. And if it is business as usual for you despite the Covid-19 crisis, remember that the landscape is changing fast. You will need a strategic plan to ward off the dangers of a market influx.

Draw in all your staff: The pandemic has been extremely stressful for workers as well as managers and owners. Working from home, short time, and seeing the sales numbers drop have been traumatic for everyone. A formal strategic planning process can be an important way to reinvigorate your team. Also, people who participate in planning tend to want to own the plan and run with it.

Look at the short and longer term: The most useful planning processes produce a short-term plan, focusing on the next few months, as well as a long-term plan, which looks one to three years ahead.

Start with an assessment of where you are: A thorough SWOT analysis - a scan of your business's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats - is a  very good place to start. Strengths and weaknesses refer to the internal characteristics of your business, while opportunities and threats refer to the landscape around your business. Make sure your analysis includes a careful consideration of your customers, your suppliers, competitors, the capacity inside of your business, the skills in your business, as well as the broad political, environmental, social, technological and legal environment in which you have to survive.  

Now think where you want to be: After an in-depth analysis of where your business finds itself, think carefully about where you want it to be. Depending on how the pandemic has affected your business, your new targets and vision can differ significantly from those you have before the crisis. 

Then work out how to get there: Once you have your team's mind focused on a new vision and set of goals, it is time to work out detailed steps of how to get there. Tools such as a prioritization matrix are handy ways in which to translate your plan into action. 

In summary: Your planning process needs to answer the questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? And how do we get there?

Find a strategic planning framework that suits your business: Business thinkers throughout the decades have devised several methods and frameworks to help businesses plan their strategies. For young businesses a business model canvas could work well, or Porter's generic strategies and Treacy & Wiersama's value disciplines model. More established businesses can use  Ansoff's matrix or the Boston Growt​h Matrix. There are lots of books and online resources that explain each method. It is fascinating to explore them with your own business in mind.

Bring in help from outside: Chances are that by this stage, after months in survival mode, you are fairly exhausted, and even if you still have lots of petrol in your tank, your view of your business is surely no longer fresh. It is therefore always a good idea to bring in a capable outsider who can help facilitate your strategic planning process. If you have the resources, you can hire a professional who is an expert in one or more of the processes mentioned above. But it can also be a wise friend or mentor who can help you take a fresh look at your business.


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