Most businesses these days are deeply concerned about how they are going to approach their business recovery after the economy and our society reopen. The best owners are seeing patterns that are inspiring them to make changes now, in preparation for the buildup that will inevitably return.
Perhaps they have allowed some expense categories to get bloated. They have now put efficiencies in place, started reviewing and fine-tuning systems and procedures they had previously failed to examine more closely, even rethinking some of them completely. They are learning that clients rely on them because of their expertise and service, rather than price. This crisis is forcing them to look at ways that they, and their businesses, need to improve.
One of the things that any crisis does is amplify what already exists. There is a lot of research that indicates that, although we improve faster if we focus on our strengths and manage rather than focus on our weaknesses, we still need to identify our weaknesses. As business owners, we cannot be good at everything. Some of us have a hard time hiring someone who is better than us at something. Some of us think that hiring a certain skill will cost too much. Whatever the reason, even in the best of times, we are dropping some of the balls we are juggling.
Here are some of the areas that I see are amplified in this crisis. Shop owners who are not good at social media don’t have much good messaging going out today. Owners and managers who are poor at cash flow management are panicking, because there is even less cash now. Owners who have poor HR practices are completely stressed out by all the new government laws and bailout packages related to their employees. Owners who are bad at expense management are slashing and burning expenses now, to the possible detriment of their businesses. Owners who didn’t have a good marketing plan in place in good times, now have the lowest car counts in their marketplace. Owners who have too much of an emotional bank account and have too often discounted in the past are probably discounting even more.
And probably most important, shop owners who have been focused on a service- and value-based business that homes in on client experience and expectations in the past, will likely still have those clients reaching out to them in a crisis. But the price- and commodity-based shops, always relying on coupons, discounts and giveaways rather than building those client relationships, are having a really tough time.
What can we do to help recover from this mess? What can we learn now that will make us even more extraordinary when this crisis is over? (Unfortunately, there will always be “a next crisis.”)
I want to elaborate on four areas that I think will be timeless in terms of helping your shop not just recover, but thrive.
- Work towards a comprehensive human resources plan. Implement formal job-offer letters for new employees, employment contracts for all employees, and up-to-date employee handbooks. All HR documentation needs to be current, filed properly, and updated regularly. If this is not your strength, delegate this to someone on your tema or hire outside people to help you. Sloppy human resources management costs shops thousands of dollars when things go south.
- Studies done well before the pandemic arrived show two important things. Some 56% of North American consumers are looking for a shop to have a relationship with. (If you listen carefully, the word price did not appear in that sentence.) They are looking for transparency, for someone to listen to them, for someone to have their best interests at heart. The most recent study found that 60% of North American drivers would pay extra for an enhanced service experience: valet service (pick-up and delivery of their vehicle, either from home or office); the ability to receive estimates and approve work by either text or email; the ability to receive digital inspection and testing results via text or email; and the ability to pay online or by text.
Some of you are offering this free of charge right now, primarily to be of service to essential workers, but also to survive and stay in business. The question will be, how do we maintain our margins and manage the costs of offering these services in “normal” times? The current model may not be sustainable in the long run.
- Have a good marketing and social media plan. Have a current website that is adaptable to different devices and features the ability to take appointments. Ask your clients which method of communication they prefer, and collect email addresses and mobile phone numbers to facilitate that. Have a good CRM (client relationship management) system in place (or delegate it). Have a company Facebook page, Instagram page, and LinkedIn page. Have a personal page on LinkedIn as well. Learn how to post, when to post, and what to post. There are great companies out there that can do this for a fee, or you can take courses. And have a marketing and social media budget and calendar.
- One of the things that you cannot delegate is leadership. Great leadership skills can be learned. But leadership is not always what you might think. Here are two ideas that have proven successful: first, conduct regular team meetings. The best combination seems to be a daily “toolbox” meeting of 5 to 7 minutes, and a longer lunch meeting once a month. Here is the key: have the meeting every day, the same time, regardless of who is there. The second is to involve your team in decision-making about everyday operations. If you are going into digital inspections, work with your team members for suggestions and implementation. If you are looking to purchase a tool or piece of equipment, get them involved. They will be the ones using those tools.
They may be other areas of concern for your particular business, but these four areas will produce surprisingly good results, no matter the political, economic or public health climate. Done well, you may discover that putting these practices into place may not only help your business recover, but set you on a better long-term course for the foreseeable future.