Tees Talk: most inspiring business leaders’ advice for Covid strugglers

We asked some of those voted as the region’s most inspiring business leaders what advice they would give to any business owners who are struggling to keep their heads above water amid the ongoing Covid restrictions.

Here’s what they had to say…

Gary Dawson, managing director, AV Dawson

Deal with the immediate problem, don’t hesitate to change direction and, if necessary, trim your cost base quickly.

Ask for help and advice, as no matter how big a business you run or how good you may be at what you do best, you don’t know what you don’t know – but somebody else does and will be able to help. Trusted advisers are key to navigating choppy waters.

Bring the whole team with you, the involvement of your colleagues at all levels in finding solutions can be extremely powerful. The cumulative benefits of everyone making a small sacrifice can be substantial. You can always make up for it later as the business recovers – this will generate long-term trust and respect.

Be visible. Constant and honest communication with staff, customers and other stakeholders is essential. Try to remain optimistic – others will take their lead from you, and whilst you may need to pause certain initiatives, don’t lose sight of the long-term strategy.

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Jane Armitage, managing partner, Jacksons Law Firm

It is nothing to be ashamed about that your business is having some difficulties amid current Covid restrictions. This is an unprecedented time and many businesses are facing huge challenges.

The best thing to do is to find someone to talk to about your challenges. Talking to someone not emotionally involved in your business can be a huge help. By articulating your concerns and challenges you will be setting them out clearly, which will help you and the third party may well be able to give you advice. Other people’s problems are always easier to solve than your own!

The Teesside business community is very supportive and lots of business leaders are ready to be a listening ear to other businesses. We are very lucky to have such a supportive community so use this valuable resource.

Sharon Lane, managing director, Tees Components

When things are difficult at work, many of us dig in and spend all our time on-site and engrossed with our own business. I think it’s important to keep sticking your head up – otherwise you can lose perspective and miss out on hearing about opportunities.

We need to make the effort to do it now because there are no network events and so on, but if you haven’t spoken to anyone outside your own business in a week, pick the phone up, text a contact and arrange a video chat or a walking meeting.

I’m always grateful for the advice, information and support that friends in the Teesside business community give.

Bill Scott OBE, CEO, Wilton Universal Group

The first thing is to think of the positives and you will be surprised as to what your fellow colleagues can do to assist, as it’s always important to sit down together and plan a strategy for success.

Look at the challenges from a pragmatic point of view, identifying the best way forward but also having a Plan B in place.

Additionally, reach out to your mentors and utilise all available resources including social media and collaborate with like-minded or similar businesses to ensure you stay one step ahead.

Catherine Devereux Devereux Employment Law & HR Consultancy

First and foremost, business owners have to make sure they are looking after their own mental health and well-being, as if that is not how it should be, it can become difficult to manage all of the other stresses and responsibilities that work and owning a business brings with it or to function at the right level.

If an individual is struggling mentally, there is help available and I would urge someone who is feeling this way to reach out.

Further, there is support for business owners in the form of government schemes. My advice would be to utilise these where it is necessary. Also to consider seeking help from organisations or advisors that can offer advice on how the business can best weather these difficult and uncertain times – whether that be to reduce costs, restructure or put temporary measures in place with staff in the hope that times will improve and jobs can be retained going forward.

Mike Racz, owner, Racz Group (including Domino’s, Costa Coffee and Anytime Fitness franchises)

I believe that if you have had a positive business prior to Covid or you were just a start-up when this all started, you must keep on going. This won’t last forever and, once we are out of the woods, you can really reap the benefits. Do not give up now!

There will be investors who would be interested in some equity or loan notes in your venture.

If you are highly leveraged, you should be looking at waiving covenants or restructuring debt. Banks and financiers should be broadly accommodating. Again, a positive historical business is a massive bonus here.

On the other hand, if you find yourself in a sector that is not going to be viable post-Covid as consumer behaviour changes or you had cashflow pressure, then it’s much, much tougher. But remember, Colonel Sanders founded KFC when he was 65! If you are an entrepreneur, you always will be one – and you can and will start again with a better concept.

Andy Preston, elected mayor of Middlesbrough

The Covid-related factors that are impacting businesses right now are temporary. We are in a very deep, downward path right now and it’s going to get harder – the next four or five months are going to be harder for most of us, emotionally as well as financially.

But I’m immensely optimistic and I think we could soon be at the beginning of a boom. The downward spiral we’re in right now is temporary. It’s going to hit Teesside harder than other places, but our ability to come out of it is going to be there.

So my tip to struggling businesses is to stay in the game, whether that’s adapting, seeking new partners or simply asking others for help and advice. The future is going to be so bright so it’s imperative you keep going.