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5 lessons learned navigating the coronavirus crisis

As businesses continue to navigate the implications and impact of Covid-19, they're starting to share insights and experiences. Concepts such as 'relevance', 'resilience' and 'readiness' are coming to the fore - and the understanding that one can never be caught napping again.
Image Supplied.
Image Supplied.

In truth, no one could predict the global social and economic fallout of Covid-19. Many businesses have been forced to close their doors. For others, it’s been a comprehensive lesson in crisis management. Now it’s time to take stock.

Destination Think’s senior strategic consultant, Frank Cuypers, put it best when he delivered his keynote address at the BUZZ.travel Digital Travel EXPO at the end of June:

Fight amnesia. Review what you’ve learned. Don’t just jump back into business as usual. It’s critical to fight the human desire to move on immediately.

Of course, he was addressing the travel industry (and with a third of our revenue coming from the travel industry, we can relate), but the same holds true for all businesses.

Here’s what the team at ViaData has learned so far:

1. Be prepared


You’ve heard the saying: cash is king. This is never truer than in a crisis. In order to survive, businesses have to have enough cash to get them through.
A key part of preparation is understanding your cash flow patterns – and building a system or measurement tool that can help you track and manage your cash flow . At ViaData we always want enough cash in the bank to survive for 30 days if our debtors don’t pay, and enough cash and debtors to survive 60 days.

A 60-day buffer may seem low, but it depends on the nature of your business, operating cycle/seasonality, and revenue and payment pattern as to what is right for your business.

While a measurement tool will help you stay on top of your business’s cash flow, a good relationship with your customers is vital. Ultimately you need to know if your customers are able to pay, so manage your debtors closely, ensure you send out invoices on time, address any payment issues quickly and maintain honest and open communication.

Another tip? Get into the habit of forecasting as regularly and as accurately as possible. Not only will it keep your finger on the pulse, but it will give you the ability to ‘course-correct’ or make adjustments as needed. In other words, it’ll help you prepare – and keep you agile.

2. Act quickly


The most resilient businesses in terms of Covid-19 have been able to act quickly and adapt fast.

Although we had no idea how long the crisis would last, in the first weeks of April:

• We contacted all our customers and had conversations about their revenue sources and expected revenue streams.

• We looked closely at how we could support our clients. In the case of our Travelyst clients, we elected to drop per user fees and revert to a simple base fee. We also offered reduced base fees, delayed payment plans and, in some exceptional cases, offered no billing during the crisis.

• We investigated new opportunities for non-travel clients, including new projects, training or maintenance

• We reassured all our clients that we remained open, fully operational and ready to assist.

• We contacted all our major suppliers, explaining the impact of Covid-19 on our revenue streams and exploring avenues of relief, for example, rentals were scrapped or reduced, fixed costs were cut, and new expectations/terms were agreed.

• We spoke to our entire team to reassure them that their jobs are safe (medium term) and that we are there to support them.

• We asked all staff to prioritise their physical and mental wellbeing.

• We placed staff unable to work from home on a fully-paid furlough (and encouraged all employees to do the same for any home-based domestic staff).
In times of uncertainty, it is all too easy to become paralysed by the enormity of the situation. There will be some missteps along the way, but it’s important to keep moving forward.

3. Communicate with empathy and humility

While being prepared and acting swiftly were critical, acknowledging our own good fortune has also been important.

Sonny Sultani of 120/80 summed it up when he said:

Every company has a brand narrative. It has components of luck, struggle, survival and victories.

We landed a large, non-travel related contract at the end of 2019. As a result, we were sitting on a slightly more reserves than usual and went into the pandemic in pretty good shape. But if a few things had turned just slightly differently, we’d be in a vastly different, more precarious position.

With this in mind, we’ve kept our lines of communication open, continually checking in with staff and clients (many of whom have been with us for between 10 and 15 years), offering support when able.

From coming up with solutions for team members battling to balance remote work and home life (having young kids permanently 'on hand') to helping staff navigate anxiety around returning to the office, it has been an interesting and unpredictable time. One we hope we’ve approached with kindness, flexibility and support.

4. Be generous

We quickly realised that the Covid-19 imposed lockdown was going to have a devastating effect on livelihoods, particularly for the those in the service industry. It was important for us to ‘do something’. We set up a fund, and through the generosity of our staff members have been able to support people servicing us at a personal level, including hairdressers, beauty therapists and gym instructors. The support has included food vouchers, service payments and food donations.

In addition, we’ve been able to support feeding schemes in communities connected to our staff and have distributed over 250 food parcels to date.
On a practical level, we also looked at what skills we could bring to the table. As businesses started reopening, we realised the admin burden placed on many small enterprises in terms of health screening and record keeping. We applied our development skills and have built an App (HealthTrack) to assist, offering this free to our existing clients and also to local schools.

5. Embrace opportunity

Even for a company like ours, which is focussed on new ideas, solutions and opportunity, the Covid-19 crisis required a certain resilience and determination. In any crisis, one has to dig deep and recognise opportunity.

In the first few weeks, we did a lot of ‘housekeeping’, taking the opportunity to get on top of our own admin and clean-up our systems. As a team we embraced new systems (for example, Zoom and Trello), automated many of our manual business processes and have planned further improvements.
Importantly, we used the HealthTrack App development to test, streamline and improve our ability to publish systems to a mobile user – solving many problems along the way.

For many companies, lockdown delivered an opportunity (and the time needed) to adopt new technologies and learn new skills – even re-evaluate how they do business.

Now it’s important to pause as a team and document everything you’ve learned over the past few months.

• What would you do differently?

• What did you wish you knew on day 1?

• What worked particularly well, and what didn’t (even though it looked good on paper)?

Check in with your entire team and use your collective wisdom to plan for the future.

About Craig Byren

Craig Byren is MD at ViaData

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