5 Proactive Actions in Downtime

Most forms of business whatever their product or service offering will undoubtably face some form of downturn in trade at some stage or another. It may be due to market forces, seasonal impacts or as a lot of businesses have experience recently, restrictions due to COVID. Whatever the downturn is related to and whatever the severity of the impact on businesses, there are some proactive things to focus on so your business is in the best shape it can be when operations pick up again. 

Don’t Panic! Reset.

The first response to downturn or restrictions on trade is usually related to the effect on cashflow and how to keep the business afloat. Considerations around staffing, wages, liabilities, rent and other expenses are a constant in most businesses regardless of the current turnover amount.

It’s a similar effect when business is booming and owners are trying to cope with high demand. So what are the pain points you face when business is pumping and you are in the throws of managing job bookings and finding staff to service these? Is it your operational systems causing headaches or is it staff skillsets or both?

A downturn in trade will put stress on cashflow but similarly an influx of business will put stress on your systems and operations. Downtime is a good time to assess your business pain points and identify what changes you need to implement.

Review Market Trends

Are the services you provide going to be relevant for the foreseeable future? Downtime offers a chance to look at what was working before a downturn and assessing what is possible for your business.

A good example of this is the restaurant and café industries shift from dine in to take away options. Faced with the prospect of having no trade and closing their doors to diners due to COVID restrictions, restaurants observed that cafés were still able to offer take away services and quickly adapted their menus for home consumption.

For trade services like plumbing, electrical and HVAC, you might want to consider where your business is based and what staffing structure you have in place. Are you based at a site that is still relevant to your business operation and market? Modern trade businesses are able to operate more remotely if they have the right operational and job management systems in place. They are able to set up smaller sites for tools and materials and manage the administrative side of the business online through digital technology. This means they don’t have the added expense of accommodating the traditional onsite office or additional office administration staff.  

Trades businesses have also applied their infrastructure to diversify and offer similar services that can succeed within their current operational systems. For electrical companies, this might mean researching opportunities and requirements to get into solar installation. For plumbers it might mean researching possibilities to supply air conditioning installation and ongoing maintenance services.

All successful businesses have had to adapt to market trends at some stage in their lifetime and downtime is a great time for researching new possibilities and income streams.

Research Competitors

A big part of business success in any environment is knowing strengths and weaknesses and a big part of this is who your competitors are. Whatever their strengths are – cheaper pricing, better marketing, better skilled staff or just seeming to be better than you – it’s good practice to be aware of what your competitors offer. More importantly, its good practice to know why this works for them and if there are good reasons if you haven’t got similar strengths in your own business.

Network

Another common reaction to business downturn is to “batten down the hatches”. Whilst this might be relevant from an internal operational perspective it doesn’t mean that you should stop communicating with your customers and suppliers. 

Customers are your income stream, and they need to be nurtured through good and bad times. It’s highly likely they have experienced great challenges of their own and making an effort to check in with them and see how they are faring will only strengthen your relationship. Pick up the phone, give them a call and ask how they are coping.

It’s also a good idea to contact your main suppliers. Restrictions put a strain on supplies which could affect current job completion and also scheduled jobs. Likewise, they have alternate materials to offer that are still suitable but more cost effect for your business. Keeping an open line of communication with suppliers may add efficiencies in planning your operations as well as keeping up to date with any product delays and development.

Start Planning

Whatever you have identified by taking the time to reset, there will be ample time to start putting together a plan of attack. Start by identifying what is the best improvement for your business and put together a timeline on how you might achieve this.

You may have internal staff that have expertise in areas they don’t utilise that can help with the improvement process. Once you have an idea of improvements you can meet with staff to discuss and get their feedback. Involving staff empowers them to get the best out of their roles and also builds a good team culture. Use it as a team building session to identify what staff are experiencing – both in the field and in general – and put together some achievable action points.

If you wanted to take a step further, identify who can help you make these achievements and put it into a strategic plan. Raise the plan as a job in your job management system with allocated tasks and time frames. Alternatively, if you don’t have a job management system there are lots of job management platforms that offer free trials. You could use this as a trial for business operations or simply to improve your business.

Whatever your situation is during a downturn in operations, doing nothing is not an option. Use your downtime wisely to review all corners of your business from identifying prospects or income streams.