Category Archives: Strategy

Make your own Brexit plan

Note: this is a blog about business planning – I have not intended to express any political views here and while I welcome feedback I do not want to start a political debate!

In any other sphere (except possibly wartime) the idea that what feels like the prosperity of the whole country was hanging in the balance the way it seems to be at present would be unbelievable. But still, here we are: less than 100 days to go and no concrete information to make decisions on, no way to realistically plan for 2019, right?

Well not quite. We know that the world will not stop spinning (*actually I’m just guessing on this) and although there will be political, social and economic upheaval we know that the businesses who have prepared will be the best placed to survive, and even indeed thrive.

The government announced in December that they would be writing to 140,000 businesses to help them plan for no-deal, but there are literally millions of businesses in the UK so this suggests that if you are not involved in directly importing or exporting goods then HMRC isn’t interested in communicating with you.

So if you’re an SME with a predominantly UK customer base how can you plan for whatever Brexit comes along?

No forecast ever perfectly predicts sales/ margins/ cashflow even on a relatively short timescale so the most important feature is to set out what you think the future will look like and identify the opportunities and threats that may arise. As a result you are better prepared to respond to whatever real twists and turns appear along the way.

Where are the risks in your business?

How might import tariffs affect your suppliers? Will that affect your profitability or lead times? Do you have other options that may not have seemed competitive before?

What about your customers – do they export your products? Will their business be affected by import or export duty on other items? How might this will affect you?

Even if this does not affect your profitability is there a chance that Brexit may cause them to slow down their payments? I think the answer to this generally has to be yes, because it is a natural response to uncertainty.

What about opportunities?

When it comes to marketing, are there opportunities to challenge bigger rivals who may be more affected by the effect of whatever Brexit deal comes about?

Can you make more of advertising how UK based your supply chain is?

Perhaps there are other opportunities – home grown food producers will be hoping that they can replace a lot of items which are currently imported. However when considering risks it always pays to think the other way around as well: will your market suddenly become more attractive to overseas suppliers, especially as a result of currency fluctuations.

The effect of all of this planning is that while you still won’t know what the future will hold you can make the best possible decisions for your business rather than following the crowd or being forced into making hurried reactions to situations that you are not prepared for.

More than anything else I firmly believe that spending time now considering the implications Brexit could have on your business will ensure you are best prepared for whatever comes.

Where there’s magic there’s margin

At the Food For Thought workshop in February one of the high points was the presentation by Charles Baughan, MD of Westaway Sausages. He gave an energising and inspirational talk which left everyone in the room wanting to hear more.

He began by sharing some of his own survival tips for small business:

As Westaway’s has grown the customer base has become more diverse; now they sell to retail, wholesale, and food service customers both in the UK and abroad. Charles talked us through a comparison of the different channels and markets and discussed the reasons for pursuing this strategy.

It was evident from this that the broad range of customers offered a chance to spread risk and also smooth any short term fluctuations in sales volumes.

However the advice was quite clear: “Sometimes it is better to spend time and effort choosing your customers instead of reacting to every opportunity”, something that supported the business planning discussion from earlier in the day.

Questions that would help work out whether an opportunity was the right one for your business included:

Can they pay their bills?
Do you like them?
Are they high maintenance?
Is their business strategically right for you? (Not just about profit!)
Is the market expanding?
Why are you the best choice for them? Are you cheaper? Better? Faster?

From my point of view this final question is fundamental; success is not just about why “they” are the right customer for you but also why you’re the right supplier for them. That’s where the magic comes in – if you can supply something that fits the customers needs better than the competitors you can make the margin.

The message to take away was clear: make a plan, aspire to great things and then get out there and succeed.

You can find more details of what was discussed at the workshop here