How Businesses Build Resilience in Troubled Economies

Economic headwinds might be nothing new, but increasing talk of recession can put even the most resilient leaders in the doldrums. Yet Winston Churchill famously advised us to “never let a crisis go to waste” and encourages us to set sail for new opportunities. 

Recession or not, many entrepreneurs live life with all hands on deck solving problems as if merely trying to stay afloat and–often by sheer willpower–steer their business back onto the right course. There is a way, however, they can find real tailwinds to drive the company forward during bad times and good. 

The case for systems

‘The E-Myth’ author Michael E. Gerber recently said that businesses failing during another recent crisis, the Covid19 pandemic, would have sunk regardless. “The tragedy for them is not the (pandemic),” he said, “it’s the lack of understanding of what a business is, how one must work in order to grow effectively.” 

As with a sailboat and its crew, “how one must work” is using systems. Without systems such as navigation, sail trimming, counter weighing and more, a boat will get stuck in neutral, with no wind in its sails—or it can capsize and even worse, sink. So too with business. 

In the UK, 60% of UK small businesses sink within the first three years. Reasons include getting outcompeted, having the wrong talent, and burnout. Systems can solve these problems, and play an active role in harnessing the energy that drives a company forward. 

What are business systems?

They are simply processes, composed of detailed procedures that business owners can replicate for consistent, measurable results. Simple. They can exist for every single part of your business, from people and training, to sales and marketing and everything in between. 

In sailing, all forms of navigation, whether satnav or celestial, have the same four step system: 1, locate your position; 2, determine a course; 3, monitor the course; and 4, repeat. Kind of like tracking your progress towards your sales target or marketing director’s KPI, right? 

Let’s look at a couple of my favourite business areas where processes make a huge impact. My top two areas for systemisation will get you more out of your ‘ship and crew’ with headwind or tailwind alike. 

1. People and education

“Systems run the business and people run the systems,” Michael E. Gerber says.  

Hiring is a clear concern for business owners, so systemise the hiring process starting from the very top. Even hiring a single wrong person, particularly at a senior level, can set your plan back a year (and yes, your plan is also a system). 

You can build systems to create an optimised hiring process, develop effective job listings, ensure you search in the right places, ask the right questions and much more. 

During this process you can use system-friendly tools like DISC profiling to help you assemble teams of diverse thinkers and you can rely on instruments like positional contracts to be abundantly plain and clear about people’s roles. And of course, you can systemise onboarding and performance tracking too, not to mention training and learning in order to offer equal development opportunities consistently to your talent.

2. Testing and measuring

Your business should be in a journey of continuous improvement. How do you navigate that journey? Test and measure everything you possibly can from plans to budgets, job ads to sales leads origin, sales conversion rates to logistics costs, and more.

Let’s look at a sales example. The entire process from lead acquisition through nurturing and conversion should be systemised and automated as much as possible. And of course, as much of this is digital, you can not only use software but also automated tools.  

Using an email marketing tool and a customer relationship management (CRM) tool (or even software that combines both features, like HubSpot) can help you build automated processes to acquire new leads, nurture them over time, score them and try to turn them into sales. 

What I see too often is entrepreneurs in a habit of sending one-off email marketing messages or knee jerk marketing tactics without strategy or process. Given how important it is, how much time and money are invested, and the potential value of converted leads to the business, it’s crucial to make sure the message, ad, etc. fits into their overall marketing strategy and that there’s a plan and process to engage and qualify leads generated from those investments. 

Start big

So those are my favourite two areas to systemise. When it comes to putting in these important processes, everyone has to start small, right? Instead, and this might sound a bit controversial, I recommend starting big. And by that I mean, envision the company you are going to be when you exit; imagine how professional it is, and what brilliant systems it has in place to keep the wind in its sails after you have exited (and are living life on your superyacht!). 

Start acting with that professionalism now and aim to bring systems into the business as soon as you possibly can. The journey towards your exit will never be plain sailing. And your systems will always be catching up, but as they do, they will blow your business forward in stormy or optimal economic conditions alike. And start now; as the saying goes, “time and tide wait for no-one!”