Right now, business owners and employees are facing threats such as bankruptcy and redundancy. Phil Hobden, head of education at Capitalise, has been there, done that, and emerged safely on the other side. Here is his advice on how to remain objective and balanced when the going gets particularly tough.
It was 5.32 in the morning at Clapham Junction and I’d just learnt, for the third time in my career, that I was facing redundancy. I’d taken a job in banking because I’d wanted a career for life. Somewhere I could grow, be rewarded and develop. However, the industry was still reeling from the 2008 financial crash. Roles, departments and brands were disappearing on a regular basis.
I remembered how difficult it had been the last time I was in this position. How I’d applied for over 100 jobs and, for most of these, didn’t even receive a polite rejection. I thought back on how, out of all those applications, I’d only had a few interviews but nothing landed. I recalled the many long months it took to find a new role, with the looming pressure of mortgages, horses, cars and everything else, peering over my shoulder. With the redundancy date looming closer and closer, there was so much to pay off.
And lastly, I thought back on the effect it had on me and my relationships with my wife, daughters and friends. I just knew I didn’t want to do this all over again, while edging further and further towards the platform edge. I hadn’t consciously made that decision, to move slowly in the direction of danger. The fear, the emotion, it was all so overwhelming but I stopped and the train sped past me. I stepped back.
For a long time I never told anyone about that day, or about how I was feeling, but I still reflect back on that moment regularly. For whatever reason I felt lost, overwhelmed, as though I had no way out. I’d never felt like this before and thankfully never since. It was an all-encompassing moment I never want to repeat.
Looking back, and even weeks later when I’d stepped away from the situation, things were very different. I would find a new, better job, quite quickly. I would soon be on my way to the world of fintech (finance and technology) and accountancy, which is where I remain today. My life would return to normal, sooner than with previous redundancies, but for a short period it was deep despair once again. And I know I am not alone in feeling such emotions.
Now, more than ever, that sense of loss, of being overwhelmed, of hopelessness, is being felt by more and more people every day. Business owners are going through some of the toughest times on record. They are making employees redundant, seeing their own livelihoods threatened, with many closing the doors on their businesses forever.
In fact, from my conversations with businesses, accountants and lobbyists across the industry, I have been hearing terrible stories about owners of SMEs feeling at breaking point already. Stories about suicides, which are the consequences of failing businesses due to this pandemic, are starting to creep through. The feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming (https://forgottenltd.com/).
So what can we do? Firstly, speak up. There is support out there but people need to know you need help. Don’t just look to those who can support you physically and emotionally, but also to those who can support your business through the challenges it faces. You’re not in this alone.
At Capitalise, we believe that an accountant should be at the heart of all SME businesses. After all, they understand your company, the market place and industry. They can give you the reassurance and tools that your business needs to proceed when the going gets tough. Do not think of an accountant as being ‘a necessary evil’ or as someone you ‘have to use’. This may well have been the case many years ago but in today’s world it’s as outdated as that old Nokia phone that sits in your bottom draw.
Nowadays, accountants can offer far more than just compliance. A good accountant can advise on cash flow, lending, credit control, payroll issues and even help with furloughing. Most of all, they can support your business so you don’t have to shoulder the challenges alone.
Let’s quickly look at one of those areas. Did you know that just 27% of SMEs have drawn up a cash flow forecast? And why is this important? Well, a cash flow forecast can’t fix a problem but, if you have one, it makes it a lot easier to identify past and future challenges. Knowing the financial hurdles your business may face, before they happen, allows you to act rather than react. Put simply, would you go on a long journey without a sat nav or a map? Probably not!
Yet this is exactly what many businesses face every day. If we’d have known more about Covid-19 before it arrived, and the effect it would have, businesses would have braced themselves for tough times ahead. The impact and shock faced, when it did arrive, was overwhelming. Although we couldn’t have predicted these terrible times, we can certainly prepare ourselves better for such occasions by being in the best possible position to survive.
Of course, these next few months will have their challenges. Reduced business and footfall, as people start to re-adjust to a new way of life, and also the potential threat of local lockdowns or a possible second wave. There will be times when it all feels too much, or when things feel hopeless. But remember, there are people out there who offer support. We can be there for those who teeter close to the edge.