If you have not done so already, I encourage you to read Andy Key’s guest blog of last week: “A pivotal moment: opportunity or threat”. It was interesting and thought-provoking, and has got me thinking a lot about my own practice as much as it has my clients’ businesses.

All of us responsible for business activity should surely take some serious time out to reflect on what Andy writes, to consider where we are at right now, to assess what threats and opportunities are in front of us, and to start to respond, positively, to the situation (if we haven’t already begun to do that).

Immediate threats

When it comes to my own practice, it is fair to say that consultancy work is in greatest demand during times when our clients are at their most active – and “active”, for this purpose, tends to refer to setting up new ventures, hiring staff, negotiating deals, formulating strategies, promoting business offerings, reorganising, introducing partners, extracting wealth, planning for key lifetime events etc, etc, etc. These things happen most, of course, when an economy is firing well and when business in many, if not all, sectors is fully functioning (if not vibrant).

When the economy slows down very significantly, for whatever reason, the demand for this form of consultancy tends to slow down with it. Many businesses are facing similar predicaments. It’s at times like these that the behaviour of stakeholders changes, and a business’s overriding priority turns to commercial survival. We are seeing plans shelved, aspirations postponed, expenditure avoided.

As a result, it seems the immediate threat to most is the curtailment of income and growth. In a worst case scenario, the loss of demand could mean that income dries up to an extent that those who depend upon the business need to find new, additional, or alternative sources of income to fund their commitments. We know that this is a reality faced by a significant proportion of the privately-owned business sector at the current time.

Work the problem

Andy encourages us to “work the problem”, and that must be right.

There clearly is a problem, but maybe the practical extent of that problem depends upon what we might be able to do to mitigate it. In turn, what we might be able to do to mitigate it depends upon all the things he refers to – defining the problem, identifying and considering opportunities, and determining strategies to mitigate or counter it.

We, like you, want to work our problem. Like you, we want to maintain our trajectory, stay fully active and profitable, continue to add value in the marketplace. Further than that, we would like to be seen to be of particular help and assistance during this extraordinarily challenging time for so many, and to emerge from it with even greater credit and repute than we had prior to its commencement. As Andy makes clear, these aspirations are very likely to be obstructed by significant obstacles.

Taking stock

Andy’s blog post refers to an early “take stock” of where we are at, establishing the current position from which any manoeuvres or initiatives might be launched. Below I outline some initial considerations:

1. Do you have work on hand? An active pipeline is precious at a time when paid work cannot be taken for granted. The global virus confirms to us that paid work (inter alia) can’t ever be taken for granted. Clarifying work on hand and forecasting outcomes (and the timing of those outcomes), is routine monthly management but is even more important than usual today. There are new risks of interruption, deferments, cancellations, all of which need to be considered in this part of the “take stock”.

2. What services do you have to offer, and how can they be adapted? We are seeing all kinds of creativity coming out of different sectors. To name a few in the broadest of senses, we are seeing retail B2B businesses turn their hand to B2C; businesses in the entertainment industry going online to stream their services; artisan markets who rely on footfall setting up online shops; and various restaurants calling on their staff to offer delivery services. At a time of crisis, colleagues have rallied together and pivoted in a new direction at lightning speed. In “normal” times, such a shift might have taken months, if not years, to approve and implement. For me, this is the biggest area of opportunity to which Andy refers.

3. How can you use your network to help “work the problem”? You will have colleagues, clients and intermediaries – these are valuable connections who are capable of facilitating efforts to “work the problem”. In so-called “normal” circumstances, we may not always feel that we need to undertake special effort towards communication and connection with our networks (or, perhaps, we might find that time for such effort is limited by a volume of work to be executed for delivery), but in today’s circumstances this might need to change.

Initiatives for action (or discussion)

Ultimately this time of review and reflection needs to lead to some explicit actions (initiatives), or at least proposals for action which might then be discussed with colleagues and advisers.

At this early stage, the focus for most will inevitably be upon generating a continued pipeline of work for delivery, as well as being seen to be directly relevant by their marketplace. Accordingly, initial outputs must be drawn up in that context. It may be that these are unashamedly somewhat short term in perspective and almost certainly in need of a longer term context being overlaid, though it is difficult to predict what the world will look like in 12 months.

I, myself, have found the above reflection useful, and have identified six thoughts for action, or discussion, with the senior team at Harold Sharp (not reproduced here). Reading back my first draft of short term actions, I realise that many are arguably actions and processes which we should be doing at all times, irrespective of the economic situation. While this therefore arguably omits any particular radical new thinking, at this stage, it does nevertheless yield a defined action plan which must surely have a much greater chance of achieving the desired short term business continuity and relevance that is sought.

I have no doubt that Andy’s vision will be substantially wider, deeper and longer term than this, which is absolutely why those in business benefit from his consultancy. I look forward to speaking with him about all of this very soon!

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