Back to Basics in the "Next Normal"
In these times many businesses are trying to figure how to keep things going, how to keep customers happy, how to keep employees engaged and so much more. If your company buys or sells internationally you've got some added complications, but nothing that can't be dealt with. You know this because perhaps you've been doing for years already. For companies new to the international trade game, these times may seem particularly daunting. Again, I'll say this - you can do it, just keep reading.
Many companies are thinking drastic change is the only way to keep things going. Change is certainly happening and going to happen in new ways. For most companies though, now more than ever, it's time to step back and focus on the basics. Back on May 29, 2018 I first published an article on the Golden Rules of Exporting and today these are just as relevant...with a slight updating to realize our current situation! So here's my take on what most startups and SMEs really should be focusing on during these times:
You've got to have it going on at home.
What I mean by this is that your business must be sound within its primary markets. You have to be making sales to your primary customers, your receivables are coming in, you are managing payables, etc. In times like these it is your closest and strongest markets that will sustain you. It's not the best of times to be looking for that new market and having to make significant investments in market exploration, product adaptation, new packaging and so on. However...and this is a big one...we are seeing a number of companies engaging in product or sales channel adaptations to meet the demands of customers in these changing times. Just look at all the brewers, distillers, winemakers and others who are now making hand sanitizers and cleaning products based on the alcohols they have available. Look at these same breweries and wineries that are now doing mail delivery or better yet, dropping product right at your doorstep if you order certain quantities or are within their near radius. Sure they are adding new product lines or implementing creative sales channels, but it's their existing lines of business that are keeping them alive in the primary markets they serve. If your core business is sound, this will provide the basic cash flow to keep your business engaged and therefore, you've got it going on at home.
You have to have excess capacity.
If you can't make more, you can't sell more. Sounds really simple right, but it's true and so many companies forget this. Especially during trying times, many companies will try and find more and more customers as changing demand with existing customers ebbs and flows. The challenge often hits them hard in the face though when all of a sudden they realize they have over-committed and are unable to deliver products or services to new customers. This is a basic business precept, but one that interestingly takes many companies by surprise. In challenging times, for most companies it is an important opportunity to remember why you went into business in the first place and refocus on the best ways to serve your customers. A local butcher shop where I live now takes online orders, simply through email. They then call you to confirm your order and take payment. A few days later they call again when your order is ready to be picked up. They will also do delivery for customers who can't get in to see them. Not a big stretch for them to check emails three times a day but this has revolutionized their business expanding their customer base drastically. What makes this possible though is a strong supply of meats from local farmers. They have the capacity to meet new orders. The lesson here is don't overextend your business.
You have to have commitment.
As I write this we are 5 weeks into self-isolation measures, business shutdowns, and changes to our ways of living none of us ever could have foreseen. It has taken a great deal of commitment for you to make it this far, so if nothing else, be proud of your efforts to date! But you are used to this - after all you went into business with a commitment to succeed. If you went into business to sell globally, then surely you realized how challenging that was going to be and how much more you would need to know to do it successfully. Well, times like these are absolutely no different. The conditions we all find ourselves facing now are some of the toughest many of us have ever faced. (But an important side note here - please remember, we aren't at war, we aren't under rationing, we are just being asked to stay home and isolate. Buck up buttercup!) You went into business because you believed in yourself and your product or service. Now is not the time to give up on that. Now is the time to reaffirm your commitment to your business and to yourself. You totally got this!!