Now is as good a time as any to ped­dle new ideas

Straight-talk­ing com­mon sense from the front line of man­age­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - SIR JOHN TIMPSON Sir John Timpson is chair­man of the high-street ser­vices provider, Timpson. Send him a ques­tion at askjohn@ tele­graph.co.uk

Q Is it ever a good plan to launch a new busi­ness dur­ing a re­ces­sion? I of­ten read of en­trepreneur­s who say they’ve done it and how well it worked, but they’re just the ones who sur­vived. Surely it’s un­wise to start up an en­ter­prise when things look so bad? A The in­gre­di­ents that of­fer new busi­nesses a bet­ter than av­er­age chance of suc­cess are an in­spi­ra­tional en­tre­pre­neur with a re­ally strong idea, an en­thu­si­as­tic team of tal­ented peo­ple, and enough fi­nance to give it a go. When you think about it, those in­gre­di­ents are more likely to ex­ist in 2020 than any other time over the past 50 years.

In­spi­ra­tional en­trepreneur­s sel­dom find suc­cess with­out the good idea, but the pan­demic has been the in­spi­ra­tion for an out­burst of in­ven­tion. Take the pub­li­cans and farm shops that de­vel­oped their own on­line home de­liv­ery ser­vices, the re­vival of drive-in cin­ema, or vir­tual con­certs.

The mas­sive change to the way we’re liv­ing our lives has been very bad news for sev­eral slices of the econ­omy. Night clubs, ex­hi­bi­tion sup­pli­ers, air­lines and shops in Ca­nary Wharf are at the cen­tre of this re­ces­sion. But some in­dus­tries have been im­mune to the pan­demic’s eco­nomic dam­age. In­deed, a num­ber of new com­pa­nies will make their money out of this so-called “new normal”. At a time of rapid change, there will be an unusu­ally abun­dant num­ber of fresh ways to turn a profit.

A wide range of new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties will ex­ist – and there will be plenty of tal­ent ready and will­ing to join you. We’re see­ing a sharp in­crease in the num­ber of re­dun­dan­cies, which comes as no sur­prise, but what is sur­pris­ing is that lots of peo­ple have been able to find a new job over the past two months. De­liv­ery com­pa­nies and on­line re­tail­ers (Tesco in­cluded) are con­stantly re­cruit­ing to sat­isfy the un­ex­pected spike in de­mand.

Far from be­ing cau­tious, this seems likely to be a par­tic­u­larly fer­tile pe­riod for in­ven­tive start-ups – but even the best ideas need care­ful cash con­trol in their early years. It would be easy to take the avail­abil­ity of fi­nance for granted. With in­ter­est rates lit­er­ally next to noth­ing and the Gov­ern­ment hand­ing out fur­lough sub­si­dies,

“Bounce Back” loans and half-price pub meals, it’s tempt­ing to think there will be plenty of cash around to back a good new team.

How­ever, the cau­tion that was im­plicit in your ques­tion will also be felt by bank man­agers and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. For a lot of new firms, the big­gest chal­lenge will be to find in­vestors will­ing to back a good idea.

Q

How can a small high street shop be ready for a sec­ond wave of coro­n­avirus? With so many lo­cal lock­downs, there’s ev­ery chance it could hap­pen and I don’t want to be caught out like I was the first time around. A Don’t crit­i­cise your­self for the prob­lems you faced ear­lier in the year. At the be­gin­ning of March, no one had heard the words “Stay at Home. Pro­tect the NHS. Save Lives”. How could you be pre­pared for some­thing well be­yond con­tem­pla­tion?

But you’re right to be con­cerned about fac­ing the same chal­lenge again. For­tu­nately, there are plenty of lessons to learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence last time round.

My ad­vice? Write a list of all the things you would have done be­fore March if you had known the lock­down was go­ing to hap­pen. Take note of ev­ery­thing other re­tail­ers did to keep in­come com­ing in and cut costs to a bare min­i­mum. Your list could in­clude de­vel­op­ing a new web­site, chang­ing your open­ing hours or pro­vid­ing a per­son­alised home de­liv­ery ser­vice.

Lo­cal lock­downs are of course a worry, but know­ing what it can be like will make a big dif­fer­ence.

Don’t be­come para­noid about the next few months. Your main fo­cus should be on hav­ing a busi­ness fit to find suc­cess in 10 years’ time.

Some ar­eas of the econ­omy have grown in the down­turn, such as de­liv­ery ser­vices. This month SoulRiders un­veiled Scot­land’s first in­te­grated e-cargo bike de­liv­ery and food waste ser­vice

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