SMEs are at the tipping point for bouncebackability

Kevin Fitzgerald, Managing Director – Asia, Xero

Many SME leaders whom I’ve been talking to have expressed a strong sense of frustration about their endeavours being battered for the last few years by events beyond their control. This stretches back beyond this year’s COVID-19 outbreak to include the simmering global trade tensions of the previous years. With the easing of quarantines and other outbreak-related measures in the region, however, we are finally starting to see a shift in the winds.

SME leaders are no longer asking, “how do we cope with the massive setbacks caused by the COVID-19 outbreak?” Instead, I’m hearing  “are we prepared for the new normal?”

At this point in time, it’s critical that SMEs have a firm idea on the next steps they need to take. As business conditions start to improve, small business owners and their advisors should be preparing to bounce back, to make up for the lost months of time and revenue.

I’d also like to add some nuance to the conversation about “the new normal”. As business owners and leaders, the onus is upon us to identify the changes that are happening in the business landscape, and plan accordingly. Yet to simply embrace “the new normal” implies adaptability. The bar has been raised – it’s no longer sufficient to be adaptable, and we need to be forward-looking by anticipating challenges well in advance while also actively embracing new business opportunities where they arise.

At this critical juncture, this difference is what will truly define the bouncebackability of both businesses and business owners alike. Here are two core tenets that I think will be key in this:

Anticipating your business’s next arc

It’s easy to proclaim that small business owners should be bold; that they seize new opportunities; that they should look to open up new revenue streams; that they should innovate their businesses. And these statements remain absolutely true. Yet, at the same time, the margin for error has shrunk significantly; errors in judgement can spell the end for a business.

The key here is to ensure that you have sufficient insights into both your business and the business landscape to be able to develop a truly strategic mindset. Part of this is keeping a careful eye on your resources – do you have full visibility into your business cashflow? Many SMEs have been felled by their leaders making significant investments or business pivots right before challenges that could have been foreseen. Small business owners should also be actively engaging with small business advisors to ensure that they can identify any business opportunities open to them.

Making sure your team is ready to bounce with you

Another aspect to consider is your wider team – are they ready to bounce back at the same time as you? Many employees may be unconsciously suffering from motivation or productivity issues, and these can’t be fixed overnight. If these issues are not properly addressed, it’d be impossible for the business to mount a comeback.

As business leaders, it will be essential to maintain close communication with your teams to ensure that they’re aligned with your strategic vision, and that they are fully capable and ready to bounce back in time with you.

The idea of ‘bouncebackability’ is a topic I’ve been increasingly passionate about in recent months, and something that needs to be embraced by the wider small business community to ensure that local SMEs succeed.