Finding those silver linings amongst all the clouds

17 Oct 2022

By Neil Holtschke, Senior Manager

I have worked as an accountant for the last 22 years, but the last 6 years or so have been completely unprecedented for business owners in the UK.

On 24 June 2016 it was revealed that the UK would be leaving the European Union.  Personal politics aside, there is no doubt that the impact of that result was wide reaching and created many challenges for UK businesses as they strived to evolve to operate profitably in a post Brexit world.

We were then hit by the Coronavirus pandemic in Spring 2020 with the first of three nationwide lockdowns.  Covid restrictions placed huge cashflow pressures on business as they tried to survive the crisis. 

The recovery from Covid has also been slow and provided significant challenges, especially within the supply chains.  Lockdowns in Asia caused shortages of important components in common consumer goods and global shipping costs increased as the shipping firms reduced capacity in anticipation of reduced demand.  As a result of all these factors, we started to see prices rising which put yet more pressure on business as they found their margins being squeezed.

If all that wasn’t enough, war in Ukraine at the start of the year has seemingly exacerbated these challenges.  It has acted as a catalyst causing energy price rises which has now required government intervention to avoid a potentially ‘disastrous’ winter period for many businesses.      

One could be forgiven for thinking it is all “doom and gloom” but an old English proverb states that there is a ‘silver lining’ to every cloud. 

Well, given the number of clouds around, it must mean that there are silver linings somewhere to be found!

A number of clients have already managed to find some of their silver linings.  Some have used Covid as a catalyst to digitise their business and therefore make improvements to existing systems and processes or benefit from efficiency savings offered to them by digitisation.  Other clients have looked to make improvements to their current market offerings, further enhancing their USP’s which in turn has enabled them to take advantage of new market opportunities.  Sometimes a silver lining could simply take the form of fixing something in the business that was ‘broken’, but by fixing that issue, the business is stronger going forward.

To search for a silver lining, a business owner needs to understand how their business currently looks by reviewing their current strengths and weaknesses.  These strengths and weaknesses are internal to a business and can be changed by business owners.  For example, some businesses may include things such as highly trained staff as a strength whereas some businesses may include lack of training as a weakness. 

Many businesses will have seen a lot of change very quickly over the last few years and so taking the time to reassess is a useful exercise. 

After identifying strengths and weaknesses, business owners should then look to identify the opportunities and threats.  These external factors and opportunities generally comprise of ways an organisation could obtain more business, whilst threats are generally factors that could damage a business.  Again, there may have been huge changes to opportunities and threats since these were last given any real consideration.

This exercise is commonly known as a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. 

Once a SWOT has been completed, we will have snapshot of how the business is looking.  Some consideration should then be given to the findings as this is where silver linings may be found.

The questions a business owner should ask themselves are.

  1.  “How can I use our strengths to commercialise the opportunities?”

  2. “How do I use our strengths to overcome the threats?”

  3. “What do I do to make sure our weaknesses don’t spoil the opportunities?”

  4. “What if our weaknesses combine with these threats?  What corrective action would need to be taken?” 

If potential silver linings are found, the next challenge for a business owner is to try and act.  It is likely that following such an exercise there are many possibilities, so it is important to focus on where time and energy is going to be spent.  I would recommend filtering these findings and perhaps identifying the “top 3” i.e., which three things would make the biggest impact for the least amount of effort.

Once the top 3 are identified, a plan can be developed.  Once the plan has been developed and implemented, the changes to your business could be considered to be a silver lining amongst the myriad of business clouds. 

Having such discussions facilitated by someone external to the business (i.e., a WR Partners business advisor) can be a real benefit to business owners as a third party is likely to offer some additional challenge and focus leading to better outcomes.              

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