Thursday 9 December 2010

Recovering from snow – and it’s not just about grit and wellies!

Has your profit margin been as disrupted as your morning commute? I don’t know why, but the snow has surprised us again? Even after last winter’s arctic conditions, the early arrival of a foot or two of snow and sub-zero temperatures has paralysed many businesses. Industry experts estimate the cold snap could cost British business as much as £1.2bn a day.

The media has been full of stories of shops, pubs and restaurants who are feeling the pinch. Hundreds of Christmas parties have been cancelled and friends stay at home rather than struggle out on cold nights. The timing couldn’t be worse for high street retailers too, unless they’ve been sitting on a warehouse full of wellies and bobble hats. But it’s not just the consumer industries who have suffered. Many of my clients in the service and manufacturing sectors have been hard hit. Shorter hours, up to 40% absenteeism, inconsistent deliveries (even Royal Mail can’t guarantee a next day service at the minute), falling orders and cancelled sales meetings have wreaked havoc with the last three weeks of trading.

Some businesses have done nicely mind. Sales of soup, cooking salt and cat litter have risen by 80%, 500% and 55% respectively, and every corner shop has been doing a roaring trade in shovels and sledges.

Although no thaw is in sight, we’ve just about dug ourselves out and ventured onto the roads but now Christmas is just around the corner and everyone is winding down. So how can you salvage a little turnover before Christmas? Here are my top tips to survive the winter weather.

What to do this week:
  • Fulfil any pre-snow orders as quickly as possible in the next week or two. Now that the roads are clear, investing in a little overtime to get a backlog of work complete will mean invoices can be raised this week. January’s bank balance could look very meagre otherwise.
  • Communication – keep in touch with customers by phone, social media and email, keeping them up to date with progress or problems so they know when to expect their orders.
  • Don’t let cancelled meetings disappear into the vague wintery future –make a firm date, or dust off your webcam and do it by Skype.
  • Keep on top of cash flow by ensuring invoices are sent out immediately for completed work. Ask for extended credit well in advance if you see problems ahead.
  • Allow staff to work from home where possible – use the internet, Skype, email and social networks. This may prove to be a profitable experiment and boost team morale.
  • If you’re closed over Christmas, make sure the building has been fully insulated, heating systems are serviced and guttering is secure. You don’t want to return after a fortnight to find your business under a foot of water from burst pipes.
  • Check your insurance policies are up to date and cover you against weather related damage to your premises.

  • Online trading has seen huge growth recently. And it’s not hard to adapt it for most businesses. Investment in technology and your website could reap rewards in future, helping you make the most of the business available.  
  • Chase lapsed customers and leads you thought were dead – maybe their current suppliers are not servicing their needs as well as they’d hoped in these difficult days.
  • Trial working from home as a part of your business structure. See my last blog piece on the benefits and savings you can make.
  • Car sharing with those with 4wd now could be adopted as part of future travelling policy. It saves fuel costs for your employees and contributes to our greener future.
  • E-marketing and communications have never been more important. This is the time to look at how you promote your business and if your website isn’t working, call in the experts.

Planning ahead:
  • Business insurance can guard against weather related disruption. Get a quote!
  • Ask your bank for help, and request short term extended overdraft facilities to cover loss of cashflow, and keep them informed of what’s happening.
  • Use enforced down time to plan next year’s sales strategy. If you’ve lost orders, consider offering promotional deals to boost business next month.
  • Review your energy costs – the Carbon Trust has a free online Energy Analyser Tool to help you make the most of your gas and electricity.
  • Update your business continuity plan – what would you really do in the case of a disaster? If you don’t have a plan, it’s time to make one.
  • Contact a business consultant to discuss ways to diversify your business offer, reduce costs or incorporate online trading into your company. A free consultation could provide you with profitable ideas to help you ride out the rough times in future.

And finally – keep warm, keep your staff warm, and don’t panic! Spring will come, and you will make up for lost productivity in the warmer weather.

If you would like more advice on the financial, logistical or sales impact of severe weather, or help with service, marketing or communications strategies contact Blue Box Consultancy for a free business review.
Contact us at or phone us on 084 3289 3288