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Franchise Diary

10 ways to market your business as lockdown lifts

I’m Brody Sweeney, the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, an award winning home delivery franchise.  This blog is not about my business, but rather some advice for if you’re thinking about franchising, or indeed already involved in it – and want to learn more.

With most consumers having spent the last year or more locked up in their homes, having adopted lots of new habits, it will be challenging for many businesses to get back to being top of mind and encourage consumers to resume old purchasing habits.

At Camile, we were fortunate to have stayed open during the lockdown. Naturally, we had to adapt how we reach our customers, as traditional mediums were no longer relevant.

I have set out some thoughts about kickstarting your business as COVID restrictions lift. While many tips will be relevant to a retail or hospitality business, the ideas are relevant for every business looking to win customers back. Like most things to do with business, good marketing is mostly about common sense.

Digital First.

It’s no surprise that marketing through digital channels continues to be the most cost effective and relevant way to market your business. In particular, digital’s ability to be hyper targeted by location and demographic means that your advertising money can be well spent.

In Camile, most of our customers come from a 3 mile radius around our restaurant. This also happens to be the best area for us to deliver to. If a customer lives 4 or more miles away, we can’t deliver to them efficiently. We also have a good idea that our core customers are young professionals.

Coming up with good content for your online marketing efforts can include staff stories, product features and relevant offers. If you have a particular expertise in an area, recording a podcast, or typing a blog like this – can help someone with your knowledge – and promote your business by extension.

But don’t forget offline marketing, too

In the rush to digital marketing, we can sometimes overlook the continuing role for offline marketing to back-up what you can do online. When it’s cheap and effective, it deserves a place in your plans.

Knowing where your customers come from geographically means you can target your offline efforts too.

Leaflet drops in a 3 mile catchment still have a place, but you need to do this multiple times to get traction – same or different leaflets into the same house. But post-COVID, what about other ideas like demonstrations, or talks in your premises? Is it appropriate to offer samples outside your location, or drop door to door? A new banner over the door saying you’re open again – flags and balloons draw attention to your building.

Guerilla marketing, like stringing a banner on a bridge over a main road near your home or standing at traffic lights with a sign on a pole bring immediate and relevant attention to your business. Maybe try this at the weekends when the council workers are off!

Say Thank You

Two simple words have such a big effect.

When you welcome customers back to your business, a sincere thank you for the business that they are bringing to you always goes down well. It’s surprising how many forget to do it.

The thank yous shouldn’t stop with your customers – your staff also appreciate the recognition. Appreciated staff give better service.

One of the things we noticed early in the pandemic was that our drivers were no longer getting tips (a practical way of saying thank you) as customers shied away from cash and physical contacts. We discovered a fantastic startup called STRIKE, who enable customers to give tips on their phone by scanning a QR code that comes with their delivery. Keep innovating and finding new ways to show your appreciation.

Encourage trial and re-trial

Your customers have gotten used to living life under lockdown, getting products and services in an entirely new way – and some of these new ways are pretty good. It may require a great deal of effort to get people to change back to the way they were purchasing before.

Getting people to try and re-try your business is key. Try to change their habits by offering a really decent incentive to try you. It does need to be decent. 10% off is no longer considered a decent incentive. 25% off, yes. Two for one, yes. Added product or service for free, yes.

Make service your differentiator.

It’s true a lot of personal services cannot be purchased online (think hairdresser or beautician) – but many goods like clothing or furniture have moved online in a big way. It’s these types of business that can differentiate through great service.

Playing to your strengths – being able to touch clothing and try it on – is something you can’t do easily online. Getting an expert’s opinion, speaking to a human, giving a personal thank you, and making someone laugh are all things that can’t be done online.

Treat your customers like royalty when they come back and experience with you, one to one human interactions again with a business.

Innovate ways to package what you’re already selling.

This is a great opportunity to review old methods of delivery. For many restaurants, reluctantly getting into takeaway and delivery has now resulted a profitable new channel. Packaging may have been thrown together hastily to solve a problem, but if you stood back and looked at it – could it be done better? With our sustainability point below – reducing the quantity of packaging and making it re-usable or re-cyclable will impress your customers. Anyone who has been slightly sickened at the amount of cardboard and polystyrene delivered with a meal kit knows what I’m talking about.

Do market research.

There is no excuse for even the smallest business not to find time to listen to where customers are at – it’s common sense in action.

We listen all the time in Camile, but probably our cheapest and most valuable research is what we call “In Home Research.” We give customers a free meal, and in return we get to quiz them for half an hour about their habits around food. It costs almost nothing, and we always learn something useful.

Finding out how your customers are thinking and feeling about lockdowns lifting can help you adapt your business to the new reality. Customers have gotten into hew habits, whether it’s shopping online, or entertaining themselves at home.

Some simple research – say, 10 relevant questions to both a group of former, current, or non customers – may wake you up to the new commercial world around us.

Make a plan.

Even though we know that plans almost never quite work out, its an indisputable fact that you’re better off with one than without.

For many businesses, lockdown lifting will not mean an instant return to pre-pandemic business levels, where business returns gradually as confidence grows and people get out and about more.

You should start with an initial reboot marketing plan, which you can adjust as reality unfolds.

Some changes from the pandemic are likely to stick – like the acceleration away from cash to mobile payments. What does this mean for your business? Is there an opportunity to reset?

What about price changes you would like to make, or changes to the style of service, or shutting down some parts which you believe will no longer be profitable, or developing new business opportunities? All this is related to how you will market your business into the future.

This is an ideal time to make changes that perhaps you had been putting off, as all rules are off and big changes accepted as part of post pandemic restructuring. Go for it!

Think sustainably.

The pandemic was a huge distraction to the inevitability of climate change (what a sentence!) As lockdowns lift, consumers are growing ever more mindful of a business’ stance on sustainability, which creates a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from your opposition who might not be as progressive as you.

Review your supply chain and operational practices. Perhaps you could move away from single use containers, more plant based foods, saving water, re-purposed clothing etc. – all these things contribute to doing the right thing for the planet, while also ticking boxes many customers now expect.

No matter your venture, reducing, recycling and re-using can all be applied to every business.

Sell local

Consumers are clamouring to support local businesses which have been having a tough time in the last year. Supporting local jobs, reducing carbon footprints, and doing the right thing are some of the reasons consumers feel like this. If this is relevant for you, you should promote this for all its worth.

For those lucky ones amongst us whose business returns quickly and profitably – fair play to you. For the rest of us – the future is still uncertain. Common sense ways of getting back to customers attention is what this blog is about. Planning your marketing carefully and sensibly will give you the best chance at success.

Good luck and stay safe.

Read more about Brody’s franchise model

Follow Camile Thai Kitchens on LinkedIn

Camile Thai Picture Conor McCabe Photography.


10 ways to know if your new business idea is a good one

I’m Brody Sweeney, the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, an award winning home delivery franchise.  This blog is not about my business, but rather some advice for if you’re thinking about franchising, or indeed already involved in it – and want to learn more.

It’s a truism that the world is full of good ideas, but short of people who can execute the idea. Dreaming about starting a new business is a heady, thrilling and exciting adventure.  But starting any new venture is fraught with risk, there are so many unknowns, not least of which is your ability to run it. Here’s the 10 step plan run through whenever an idea pops into my head.

  • You’ve slept on it.

What may seem like a brilliant idea over a few drinks with a friend may not last the overnight test. After some careful reflection, does it still seem like a good idea? The difference between dreamers and realists is that the realists can look at both sides of an idea, and see the potential problems and downfalls, and not just the upside.

  • You have explained it to 10 people who aren’t family.

Running your new idea past 10 people from different backgrounds is one of the best ways of testing your concept. Your family saying it’s a good idea is probably the worst reason to take the plunge, because your family love you, want to support you, and will tell you your fantastic because they don’t want to burst your bubble. 10 people will have ten different takes on the idea, and will spot flaws with your plan, which you may not have seen yourself. Honest feedback is what you need at this stage, and is worth its weight in gold. If you have access to independent professional advisers like Lawyers, Accountants or Bank Managers, even better. They will have seen lots of ideas, and will be able to give dispassionate advice (if you are prepared to listen to it!)

  • You can actually do it.

It’s not something people often consider, but running a new business where you have to make difficult decisions is really hard – and definitely not for everyone. For most people who start a new business, it is the most difficult thing they ever do. Understanding the commitment you have to make in time and energy, is obviously important.                        

Probably the no.1 determinant of the success of a new business idea is not the prices you charge, the quality of the product, or the toughness of the market – it’s you. In my experience in 40 years of franchising,  the most successful franchisees are ones that are inherently good at business (even if they have no previous experience.) The opposite is also true – the poorer performers are often just not very good at recognising what’s important in the business and dealing with that. 

The good news is that starting or running a business is not rocket science. The very best business people apply common sense to complex problems. Looking after your staff so that they look after your customers is just common sense. Minding the money, selling for more than it costs you to produce, marketing your business in a way that reaches most customers is just common sense. Surprisingly in short supply with lots of business owners, which creates opportunities for the smart ones to thrive. 

  • Think about starting a business in an area that you are familiar with.

It seems obvious, but how often do we see people starting things in an area they are not familiar with? They jump in, risking everything, and find out the hard way the nuances of the business they are looking at. If you think about it, lots of people start businesses in areas they have previously worked in. Someone who worked in a boutique may start a fashion business, an accountant may branch out on their own, having worked for a big firm, to start their own practice. When people come to me with a business idea, asking me what I think, I nearly always advise, if it’s in an area they’re not familiar with, to go work in a company that does what they’re thinking of and learn the trade. 

  • You can afford it, or are able to get it funded.

Having an idea to build a Cruise Liner for your unique new singles cruise business may be a fantastic idea, but if you’re not able to come up with the €100 million you need to buy a boat, the idea can’t get off the ground. Most businesses start small and then grow, and as they grow and can demonstrate success, they have an increased ability to get investment, or to borrow money. Camile is now a substantial multi-million euro business, but at the start I had to find the money to open a single restaurant. That was a challenge, but one I knew I could overcome. Once the first one was open and successful, the bank was willing to fund a second one and so on.

  • You have researched the idea and made a plan.

Researching your idea properly and making a plan are the first serious steps in getting started. And the good thing is doing research doesn’t have to cost money. You can find out a lot about the market by looking at competitors or businesses in a similar space. You can find out what it costs to make something, rent space, advertise and market a product. While doing initial research you can start to write the plan for your business. A business plan is like a road map, to give you some idea of where you’re going. Who will you need to hire? How much will you have to pay them? Where will you operate the business from? How much space will you need? These are some of the questions you try and address in a plan.

  • You are able to deal with things not working out, and can change and adapt accordingly.

The only certainty about a business plan is that it will not work out the way you plan. You will either do better than you think, or worse. The important point here is that when it doesn’t work out as planned, that you are able to respond to that, and tweak the plan accordingly, to make up for any shortfalls. This is what successful business people do. When the plan doesn’t quite work out, they change it, and then they change it again, and they keep on changing it until they figure it out.

When I was setting up the business that became Camile, it started as a Chinese takeaway. That didn’t work, and I quickly change to Thai.  I went into partnership with another Thai operator, and that didn’t work out, so I got out of that. At the end of the first year of my new business, I had changed the cuisine, changed the name over the door three times, and gone into and come out of a partnership – and the business survived. None of this was in the original business plan.

  • You’ve trialled it.

There a concept in new technology companies called developing a “Minimum Viable Product” or “MVP”. It’s a brilliant idea we adopted wholeheartedly when developing new business ideas. The basic concept is that you should try a really basic version of your idea out on as many people as possible, and start getting feedback which helps you refine and improve the idea rather thain waiting for perfection. 

For example, we might have an idea for a new dish for our menu, which we think is briliiant. Before we heard about MVP we would just have put it on our menu and seen what happened. Now we don’t do that. Before going on the menu, we get 100 people to try it and get feedback on the name, the packaging, the price point etc. before we launch it. Sometimes after we do this 100 test, we abandon the idea, because we now know it wont work the way we had planned. 

New entrepreneurs tend to obsess over the product or service, taking months to get it right, almost to the exclusion of everything else. The MVP method says get a basic version developed and expose it to customers ASAP and see how they react – maybe before you decide to bet the bank on it. 

  • You’ve figured out that it can be sufficiently profitable to satisfy your requirements.

If you dream of making a lot of money, then you need to set up a business that has a chance to deliver on that. If your dreams are more modest – a good living for example, or just to be your own boss and not have to work for someone else – then you might think of a different type of business. 

It’s a good idea at the time you are thinking of starting a business, to do a personal life plan. How much would you have to earn in a year to make you feel fulfilled – for you to feel that you had arrived? Where do you want to live? Do you like working nights (good if you want to run a restaurant business), or are you more an early morning person? Your new business ideas should tick some of these and other boxes. 

  • You have worked out your USP’s.

Every business should have something different about it that will differentiate it from it’s competitors. It doesn’t have to be a huge obvious difference – but it needs to be there. Better service than the competition is not necessarily a ground breaking idea, but if you had stayed in a Four Seasons Hotel and compared that to a Premier Inn, the difference is obvious. In Camile we developed Health, Wellness and Sustainability in hot food delivery as our USPs. 

There is an old saying in business that you can deliver two of the following three things, but not all three – Low Price / Good Service / High Quality. If you think about our Camile business we have picked service and quality, but not price. Ryanair have picked quality and price, but not service. Which are the two for your business idea? 

Turning your business idea from a dream into reality is what we all aspire to. But having that realistic look at the idea, understanding your own wants and desires, and capabilities will help you make a better decision.  

Good luck and stay safe.

Read more about Brody’s franchise model

Follow Camile Thai Kitchens on LinkedIn

Camile Thai Picture Conor McCabe Photography.


Drone Food Delivery: Why Our Restaurant is Going All In by Brody Sweeney

Note: this interview originally appeared in FastCasual.

Why Camile Thai Kitchen is going ‘all in’ on drones, robots

“We are going all-in on drone delivery, planning to have customers receiving their food by air in the next year at the latest within Ireland, and shortly after that in the U.K.,” said Brody Sweeney, founder and CEO Camile Thai Kitchen, a delivery-focused chain in London with 35 outlets and 12 franchise partners. “Our drone delivery is being provided in partnership with well-known drone delivery startup Manna with whom we successfully trialed this year.”

When the service is live, according to Sweeney, customers may select a square on Google Maps in order to choose their location. After cooking and packaging the food, employees will load it into a drone, which will take off to about 400 feet at 50 miles per hour.

“A text message lets the customer know that the drone has arrived, at which point it drops to 40 feet, and the food is lowered on a piece of biodegradable string into the square selected,” Sweeney told Fast Casual. “The technology works perfectly and it is cheaper, faster and of course far more environmentally friendly, than traditional delivery methods.”

A drone delivery costs about half that of a delivery driver, has no emissions and can fly in 90% of weather conditions and, Sweeney said.

“A food delivery for two people is the perfect weight for a drone delivery,” he said. “Drones could complete around 80% of the deliveries currently made by traditional transport. Londoners can expect the service in around two years, likely starting in the relatively easier to serve suburbs followed by more central locations.

“At Camile, we are confident that drones in the sky will quickly become commonplace, and once the logistics of aviation clearance are automated, other authorities will quickly follow suit.”

Drone technology isn’t the only way Camile’s is looking toward the future. It’s also investing in robotics, which Sweeney explained in detail to Fast Casual. See the rest of the interview below.

Q. Do you have actual dine-in locations? If so, how many?
A.
Before the pandemic we were already 75% for off premises consumption, most of that being home delivered and ordered through our proprietary app. We have 35 outlets across Ireland and the U.K., including six in London.

Being suburban based and delivery-focused was really a winning formula for Camile. We feel very fortunate that during the lockdown there was a high demand for our product and home delivery service, especially in London where we saw a 50% increase in like for like sales.

Due to the pandemic, we decided to adapt our franchising strategy and offer flexible options for business owners with well located but underused commercial kitchens (like restaurants, bars and hotels) in regional towns. This allowed new franchisees who were forced to shut down their restaurant, bar or hotel dine-in premises due to restrictions to survive. The first recently opened in Sligo, in the west of Ireland and cost the franchise owner €40,000 as opposed to the €300,000 required for a conventional Camile franchise. We are expecting to open five or six such outlets in the medium term.

2. Why are you interested in robotics?

A. Camile is bringing robotics into the cooking process to ensure even more automation from the point of an order. If you consider the process of wok cooking, it is very repetitive and easy to replicate mechanically. Camile is working with engineering design consultants and manufacturers in China and Korea, and we plan on replacing our manual wok cookers with a semi-automatic version and are trailing a version of a mechanical wok.

The wok consists of a heated, rotating drum, which allows the ingredients to cook, a rotating mechanism to dispense the cooked food and a further rotation which switches the drum into a self cleaning mode. Adopting this tech means we will be able to redeploy staff away from cooklines into other task areas, such as operations, hub office or our central production kitchen.

Leading in this competitive space means working to redefine the intersection between people and technology. In a restaurant kitchen, it’s all about economy of motion on the line. Speed is everything — whether that’s chopping an onion or flicking a sauté pan — chefs will always try to make sure that every second counts. Camile is adopting this tech to manage the logistics of its kitchens and help it to keep up with larger-than-average delivery order volumes.

If you take into account our mainly delivery-based model, robotics is an absolute win-win for us in terms of efficiency.

Read more about Brody’s franchise model

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Camile Thai Picture Conor McCabe Photography.


10 ways to prepare your business for franchising to others by Brody Sweeney

I’m Brody Sweeney, the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, an award winning home delivery franchise.  This blog is not about my business, but rather some advice for if you’re thinking about franchising, or indeed already involved in it – and want to learn more.

Franchising your business so others can benefit from your winning concept is a rewarding and lucrative way to expand your concept – if you get it right.

There are some fundamental things that good companies do, to give themselves every chance of franchise success. I’ve distilled them below into 10 things you can do which will substantially reduce the risk of it all going wrong.

 

  • Establish a pilot business – test, test, test.

The very essence of every successful franchise is a proven concept. Until your concept is proven, forget about franchising it. You may be coming from an existing successful company owned business, in which case you have half the job done.

But if yours is a fledgling business, then your first job is to get the business model right, and make sure it is replicable.

A good franchise is one where there’s enough customers out there, willing to pay the prices you charge, so you and your franchisee can earn an acceptable profit from it. If you are making too much money, the franchisee can’t, and vice versa.

  • Understand that by franchising your business, you will be running two separate businesses.

Many business people who have developed a successful business think that franchising is something you bolt on to the existing business, like a new product line.

In fact, deciding to franchise your business is like setting up a wholly new business from scratch. The wise operators recognise this, and treat it so.

In my company Camile, we figured out how to run our restaurants as a B2C (business to consumer) business. This involved getting our product range, pricing and marketing right, to make the business appealing to potential customers. This business thrives on thousands of relatively small transactions each week.

But going into franchising is a B2B (business to business) project requires a completely different mindset. Now you’re tailoring your business to a small number of prospective franchisees who have very different requirements than your retail customers. This part of the business has a small number of transactions, for a much higher value.

  • Research your market for similar franchises.

Finding similar businesses who are already doing what you are makes for good shortcuts as you think about and design your own business model. You can perhaps see what their franchise marketing material, their agreements, their website etc. are like before you build your own, and you can be inspired by the good bits of what they do, which you can then incorporate into your own business model.

I have never been one for reinventing the wheel, when there are great businesses out there, who have already done at least part of what you are planning. The important part is having your own USP  (unique selling proposition) and holding onto that – the structural components are bound to be roughly the same.

  • Get a demographic study completed of your target market

In the old days, picking a good location for your business often came down to local market knowledge and “feel”. This may have got you going, but as you grow your network and particularly as your franchisees start risking their money, a more scientific approach will reduce the risk of picking the wrong location.

There are many companies who can assist you in this. Often the works starts with analysing your most successful existing businesses, and why they are successful. Is it to do with the demographics of the area, or the lack of competition, or proximity to a suitable anchor business. Answers to these types of questions can help you get ever closer to the perfect site, and probably more importantly minimise the poor locations (which every chain business has).

  • Protect your trade name.

One of the main assets of your franchise business is your trade name, and prospective franchisees will expect that you have properly protected it so others cannot use it.

This of course implies that you pick a name that is suitable for trademark registration. When we came up with the Camile name (which we did by putting 10 names down on a form and asking 200 people which was their favourite) it had two “ll’s” and was spelt “Camille” – a common French name for a boy or girl – and not trademarkable as it wasn’t unique. However, I realised that if we took one of the “l’s” away  – to make “Camile” – this would be trademarkeable, because it was unique.

  • Write your processes down in a manual.

One of the key things a new franchisee buys off you is your experience in running the business – what to do, and more importantly what not to do.

Capturing all the right ways to do things in a manual serves two purposes. One is to capture good ideas, and ways to do things, so that everyone can share them. Secondly if you share these things with your franchisee through an operations manual, and something is not then done properly, it is clear where the responsibility lies.

  • Seed the market for prospective franchisees.

Getting your first franchisees off the ground is a long drawn out process. It can take a long time. In Camile we started marketing our franchises in 2012, but didn’t open our first franchise until three years later in 2015.

For this reason, you should start seeding the market well in advance of when you actually plan to open your first franchised outlet. Seeding the market means starting to get your name out there in front of prospective franchisees. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Franchise Opportunity websites, limited social media marketing on LinkedIn and Facebook can all help.

  • Do anything to get your first proper franchisee on board

Not everyone likes being a pioneer, and not a lot of prospective franchisees will want to be the guinea pig as you get your new franchise off the ground.

For this reason, you should do anything within reason to get your first franchisees on board. If your thinking long term, then the initial fees in the big picture for a first outlet, may not be so important. And the royalty fees could be staggered, to reflect the newness of the business.

In Camile we’ve done things like given a soft loan to help a franchisee make up a cash shortfall, or discounted the royalty for the early years (never have we reduced the marketing contribution, because we need that to build the business).

  • Be so careful with your first few franchisees

It’s so flattering to have a stranger express an interest in your new franchise that it can be hardc to turn a new franchisee down. In Camile, we currently turn down about two-thirds of prospective franchisees for a variety of reasons.

If your first one or two franchisees are not right for the business, that can mean the end of your franchise before it gets started properly. Selecting franchisees (and vice versa  – a franchisee selecting you) is not an exact science, but I have found the following analogy helpful. Getting involved with franchisees is like getting married in a business sense. Your new franchisee will agree to be with you, in our case for 10 years, so it makes sense to get to know them as well as possible before making a commitment to them. After receiving an application form (the first indication of intent and commitment), we do a discovery day, where the prospective franchisee gets to meet all our team, and see who is running the business. We then do a psychometric test, and follow that with observing them working a shift in one of our branches.

  • Consider using a franchise consultant

After almost 40 years experience in franchising, and understanding pretty well the nuances of the business, if I was starting again, I would use a good franchise consultant to educate me about the business.

There are many things all new franchisors should do – from registering the trademark, to writing operations manuals, to creating a website and franchise prospectus, and a myriad of other details that will be expected and demanded from serious prospective franchisees. A good consultant (and they’re not all good) will give you peace of mind, and make sure you do it right.

I have been involved in launching three different franchises in my career, and like Murphy’s Law, it costs twice as much, and takes twice as long as planned.

Doing it right from the start not only should make it quicker and more cost efficient, but will give you the best chance of getting past your first few franchisees, and go on to develop a larger business.

Good luck and stay safe.

 

Read more about Brody’s franchise model

Follow us on LinkedIn

Camile Thai Picture Conor McCabe Photography.


10 ways to manage the finances of your business during the pandemic by Brody Sweeney

I’m Brody Sweeney, the founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, an award winning home delivery franchise.  This blog is not about my business, but rather some advice for if you’re thinking about franchising, or indeed already involved in it – and want to learn more.

Making sure your cash doesn’t run out is arguably one of the most important things you have to do with your new business. Inevitably things cost more than you think, and business takes longer to pick up. If you run out of cash while this is happening, the game is up. I’ve set out below my best thinking about how to make sure you don’t run out of money, before your business gets established.

  • Stop the bleeding.

Even though we are well into the crisis, and you would imagine that all costs have been cut as much as they can, reality is only now setting in for many business owners – particularly that the recovery may be in the distant future. If you haven’t stopped the bleeding, you won’t make it. Income supports and grants have given many a false sense of security, but you are paid to be a leader, and putting off tough and hard decisions is not being a leader. Act now, you owe it those whose jobs can be saved.

  • Make a plan and adjust as you go – early and often.

Having a road map out of the coronavirus crisis is a vital step to getting your business to a steady and profitable state. And even though you know intellectually that your plan wont work out exactly as you think – there are so many things you can’t control – its still better to have a plan, that you continually adjust to achieve your objective.

The plan you may have prepared at the start of this is by now probably completely out of date, and you need a new one, reflecting the new realities as soon as you can.

Preparing a new plan starts with an honest analysis of where you are today, not three months ago. Look at the 4 main areas of your business – finance, marketing and sales, operations, and HR and be hard. Tell it as it is. From this honest analysis should come a detailed vision of where you now think the company could get to with a reasonably fair wind – under the same four headings. And finally, a detailed plan of what the business needs to do over the coming 12 months to make concrete progress towards your new vision.

Knowing things wont work out as planned, means you need to be prepared to adjust as you go, and keep adjusting – daily, weekly or monthly – until you are on track to achieve your objectives.

  • Constantly update your running cash flow.

Running out of cash is how most businesses grind to a halt, and in the fast moving and highly unpredictable environment around the virus, you need to keep on top of where you are with your cash. Making predictions as new information comes to hand, and you see your actual trading performance, allows you to update your projections, and anticipate cash problems before they happen, so you can take action.

  • Find out and use available supports.

Refresh yourself as to what supports are available to you to help your business during the crisis. The obvious one like the pandemic payments and Tax warehousing you will probably have availed of already, but there are a plethora of new state supports including restart grants and online retails scheme – as well as cheap ways to borrow money, with a partial state guarantee, that may have been introduced since you last looked.

  • Don’t pay yourself too much.

No one likes taking a pay cut, and what’s obvious to you, you’re intricate knowledge of the business, may not be as obvious to an ill-informed employee. Lead by example, by taking the largest pay cut for yourself, if that’s necessary.

  • Get a good money person around you.

Having the comfort of someone really good with money, at your side, during a crisis make life a lot easier. The wise counsel, and unemotional help with decision making is very valuable. If you are not blessed with one already (which could be from an external accountants), then do yourself a favour, and make it a priority to get one.

  • Communicate with everyone affected by your financial decisions.

The pandemic is a time to over communicate with anyone who may be affected by your financial decisions. At the outset of the Lockdown, we cancelled all our direct debits. We communicated this and the reason why with our suppliers. As soon as it became apparent that our business was not being badly affected, we re-instated them – and communicated this and the reason why to our suppliers. We communicated with staff about wage cuts, with the bank to re-assure them we were OK, and with landlords as we needed. Especially with the staff, who were worries about losing their job, or getting sick – it removed a lot of the stress and worry they may unnecessarily have had.

  • Run weekly profit & loss accounts

Keeping a close eye on the financial performance of the business, not just your cash flow – keeps you close to when you have to make decisions that reflect the business that you are actually doing, as opposed to what you projected.

In our business, we run weekly Profit and Loss Accounts for each restaurant, and these become a tool with which we can measure the effectiveness of our decisions, and the wisdom of our managers. If we weren’t measuring that frequently, bad stuff could be building up, that we are too late acting upon.

  • Measure your KPI’s and act on them

Undrstanding the effect that lower sales are having on your KPI’s is no brainer information for your business. It is a fact that model margins for labour as an example, are much harder to achieve with lower sales. Most businesses have 3 or 4 key numbers that explain the businesses health. If you aren’t running those numbers at least on a weekly basis, your not running your business properly.

  • Double down on pockets of current or future growth

While your traditional business model may be in trouble during the pandemic, resourceful companies are exploring new ideas and ways of doing things. This is a time for speed over perfection. As you find pockets of business that are doing well – for example takeaway meal kits have worked really well for some restaurant businesses that were not able to do dine in business. Smart owners have doubled down on this new and unexpected source of revenue.

If I have any good advice to give around running the finances of your business, it’s this: get a Shabu. From the beginning, my co-owner and accountant Shabu Mani took charge of the money – making sure we kept our books up to date, and that we knew exactly where we were at a given time. He also sense checked me when I wanted to try something, and became quite mean, when money was tight – exactly what you need with an accountant.

These are taxing times for many businesses, and keeping control of your finances seems obvious. But with so many other aspects of the business occupying your thinking and time – losing track of the money, or indeed running out – can bring the whole pack of cards down.

Good luck and stay safe.

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Camile Thai Picture Conor McCabe Photography.