“We had a webinar with a number of businesses, and they told their stories. It was really surprising how they’ve maintained their positive attitude, how they were not locked into survival mode – but were thinking of taking opportunities,” said Prof. David Hall.
Professor David Hall is a co-founder of For Entrepreneurs Only, a community interest company and membership body helping local entrepreneurs to ‘start, adapt, and grow’ their businesses.
Independently, for over 40 years, David has been helping businesses – some small, others well-known national brands – to take a ‘step change’ towards greater success. Author of several business development books, writer and presenter of a BAFTA award winning BBC TV series on winning in business, David’s consultancy services have been in demand far and wide.
Speaking to HULL IS THIS, he offered some insightful reflection on how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the business sector, and how business leaders might respond.
He suggests business leaders have responded to the coronavirus pandemic, its lockdowns and economic impacts, in one of two ways, ‘fight or flight’.
“They either step up and take it on, all they can, or hunker down and hope it’ll disappear,” said David.
“You phone some businesses and you get an answer machine. There are others, however, that have not only survived, they’ve actually prospered.”
The businesses that are thriving are those that are continuing to pay attention to the basics, David suggested.
“They get the right people on the bus. They treat people with respect and engage them in the business. They seek to go beyond just delivering a service, they try to delight their customers,” he said.
Many businesses have so far survived the pandemic by cutting back on expenditure, including reducing the number of staff they employ and the outside services they commission. That has allowed some business leaders to sustain their enterprise, but at the expense of people’s livelihoods and wellbeing. This doesn’t come easy to those entrepreneurs that take responsibilities to their staff seriously.
“One business leader said to me the other day that there are 200 people dependant on him getting this right,” said David.
The answer is for business leaders to engage their employees and other stakeholders in the operation and direction of the business. The more they are engaged, the easier it is for businesses to move forward, David explained.
Engaging staff in business decision-making processes, though, may mean leaders having to ‘let go to grow’.
David said: “They’ve got to find the next business leaders and entrepreneurs. I try to help clients find the younger people, those that are smart and thinking it through, and get them to work on the business’ projects.
“One thing that will have to come out of all this is that leaders will have to find the energy within the next generation and unleash that within their business. I’m starting to see this, and that’s a real positive, it means those businesses may have a future.”
“The reason I’m a big fan of entrepreneurs,” said David, “is that they take a risk. They start a business. They employ people, and they pay taxes. Those taxes pay for schools, roads, and everything else. Without the money that entrepreneurs generate all we have are costs. Entrepreneurs put the money in The Treasury.”
With more people working from home, and using online tools to communicate with employees and clients, many businesses are beginning to cut the costs of renting office space. This is a short term trend that David doesn’t think will last.
“The Zoom days, I think people are getting fed up of them, to be honest. I try to do consultancy with my clients on Zoom, I find it difficult, I can’t pick up the body language and the vibes.
“The view from the larger businesses that have time on their hands to do research into this sort of thing, they think it’ll end up with people working from home two days a week, and being in the office for the other three.”
With business having to find new ways of working, new ways to engage with clients and employees, one wonders if this is also a good time to start a new business?
“I think it is. Yes,” David said. “A lot of potential competitors have hunkered down, so there will be opportunities.”
These opportunities will come from asking potential clients a simple question, he said.
“What can I do to help?”
That’s the key question, explained David. It’s not about selling or competing on price, it’s about serving a client or customer to the best of one’s ability.
“It’s hard work,” he added.
David shares more insight from his 40 years of consultancy in his latest book, ‘Telling Tales: lessons from a lifetime helping businesses to grow’.
“It’s a memoir really. Just getting them written down – all the lessons I’ve learned.
“It may be helpful to other people,” he added modestly.
Many of the city’s businesses will welcome this author’s insight in the year to come.
[Jerome Whittingham – editor HULL IS THIS]