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How to survive the ghosts of business past

Inspired by Dickens’s Christmas novella, Growth Lending offers advice to SMEs on overcoming their business woes

Maddie Dumpleton

The past 18 months have created unprecedented challenges for even the most prepared businesses. Companies that were quick to adapt and leverage their strengths have been able to thrive, with strong management teams, speedy strategy adjustments and a willingness to re-evaluate business plans characteristic of the most successful firms. 

But lots of great businesses are still reeling from the fall-out of this testing period.

If you feel as though the ghosts of business past still linger, it might be time to focus on the present and the steps that you can take right now to prepare for a more successful future. After all, it worked for Ebenezer Scrooge…

Face up to your demons

Don’t let the past make you tense

The advice that Scrooge received the night before Christmas was particularly pertinent because it was specific to his circumstances, so perhaps it’s time to address the situations that you could have handled better during the past 18 months.

Did your turnover decrease because you didn’t react quickly enough? Could you have helped cash flow constraints by being more organised in your approach to funding? Did you underestimate the longevity of Covid-19’s impact?

Whichever decisions still haunt you, the blessing of past experience is learning from it. Take the time to assess the challenges your business has overcome and recognise which situations could have had more positive outcomes. This knowledge will help you to focus on your short- and long-term goals.

The present is a gift 

Although accepting past failures is a necessary part of moving forward, the ghost of business present would advise against dwelling on them. Instead, consider the actions you can take right now, to get your business on track for success. 

Comparison doesn’t have to be the thief of joy…

Spend time conducting a competitor analysis. Identify the key players in your market and look at their pricing, product offering and other differentiators.

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your business in comparison. What opportunities are there to out-perform rivals and promote business growth? Is there a new market you can enter? Is there a new product or service you could offer? Now is the time to find out.

The customer knows best

Interact with your clients and ask for feedback on your products or services – as the end user, their insight will be better than anyone’s. Ask them about your performance in 2021, too. Were there areas of delivery that particularly impressed them? Which parts of the experience were more disappointing?

The information you gather will help to prioritise areas of improvement and show you where the business is already excelling. 

Funding is key

The end of the year can often cause cash flow headaches for businesses, but access to cash beyond day-to-day working capital is essential for firms looking to accelerate their growth.

Lots of business leaders see funding as something to think about in the future, but ensuring that you are aware of the options available to your business now means you are more likely to find the right product, amount and provider. If funding is something that you think about only when you desperately need it, you are more likely to end up with a bad deal, or even be denied funding completely. 

It’s also important to consider whether your business is surviving or thriving on the resources it has. Getting a financial boost could enable you to improve your working capital, acquire another company, invest in growth and even expand your team, among other things. 

Do your research and establish how much cash your firm needs on a rolling basis, not just when it’s struggling or seeking large-scale change.

Make the most of your prophets 

The ghost of business future is a reminder that if you don’t have a vision for your business, it’s easy to go off-piste. 

Think SMART about your goals

Goal-setting enables you to make an action plan for success. With January just around the corner, take the time to think about what you want your business to achieve in the next year and how you can empower your teams to make it happen. 

If you want to launch new products to broaden your range or side-step into new markets, you will need to focus on research and development, which could require additional investment and potentially even new team members who bring more expertise to the project. 

If you want to expand into different geographies to capitalise on a gap in the market, you will need a clear market-entry strategy, as well as extra capital for new employees and premises.

Figuring out where you want the business to go will shine a light on the path to getting there. 

Get your funding application ready

Once you have decided on the goals for your business in 2022, the next step is ensuring that you have the capital available to implement these plans, which might involve applying for funding. 

At Growth Lending, we have transparent eligibility criteria that make it easy to prepare for an application. As an alternative lender that makes its own credit decisions, we can be flexible about which businesses we fund, often lending where banks cannot. Our main focus is on your company’s potential for growth, so if you can convince us of this, you could gain access to funding before you know it. 

Unlike Jacob Marley, the ghosts of business past won’t be hammering on your door in the early hours, dragging the chains of guilt behind them – but that doesn’t mean they don’t keep you up at night.

Take a leaf out of Dickens’s book: it is Scrooge’s willingness and determination to change that is the moral of the story, so business leaders who wish to see genuine success and growth in 2022 must do the same.