OPINION: Business lessons learned during Covid-19

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Opinion: South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith

Whether we are through and out the other side of Covid-19 has yet to be seen. However, our team of 5 million has learnt a lot.

Sadly for some, this has been extremely painful and there remains a rocky road ahead.

If you’re a business owner, a manager or team leader you will have taken on responsibilities you possibly never dreamed of and faced decisions that have been painful and needed to be made quickly with no textbook guidelines.

Our colleagues and fellow Cantabrians at the Canterbury Chamber have been here before with the earthquakes, and their insight into survival, packages from Government that enabled businesses to survive the impact of closure (albeit short term) and clear and measured guidance has been extremely helpful.

The South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce became the Business Advisory Response Team for all South Canterbury businesses and since late March fielded hundreds of distress calls from businesses.

The chamber’s immediate response was a “respond and survive phase”, to assist businesses to survive and save jobs, keeping as much of the economy functioning as possible.

To date, more than 738 business connections have been facilitated, from advice on the wage subsidy to wellbeing packages, commercial lease advice, access to PPE, connections to appropriate Government agencies and a never-ending catalogue of HR inquiries.

The chamber ran informative and up-to-date webinars to 1750 people and distributed more than $207,000 of Covid-19 Government advisory funding support to assist businesses with the crisis they faced.

More than 40 Covid-19 information flyers were distributed to provide up-to-date guidelines, information on Government support and other relevant information and the South Canterbury website now has a free marketplace where all South Canterbury businesses can join the other 200-plus businesses as we promote South Canterbury to our locals, and with joint collective excellence promote our businesses and services outside the region.

So, for many of us we have learned the lessons of resilience and adaptability, to fight for survival and to understand what survival looks like.

This may be very different from the original plan – taking classes on line, selling remotely, letting employees work from home, focusing food services/restaurants moving into takeaway, online retail and adapting goods, services and even entire target markets.

While almost no-one saw the pandemic coming, disaster can strike at any time and having a plan that enables survival should be part of every business’s risk strategy.

Having a healthy cash flow, understanding costs and having sufficient reserves to cover a few months’ operation are essential.

Being reactive in an emergency situation can lead to the wrong decisions being made, based on emotion rather than facts.

Having backups and being able to operate remotely are also essential – again, something learned from the Christchurch earthquakes.

Staying connected becomes critical when faced with a disaster – staying connected and and supporting your employees, staying connected to other businesses and staying connected to the chamber and other professional advisers.

These networks are beneficial in a standard working world, but when faced with a crisis like Covid-19 or even your own business crisis these networks are the lifeline to get you through.

In business you are not alone, although at times it can feel a very lonely place.

So, although Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact on all of us, South Canterbury is well positioned to lead the way though the recovery phase.

For all businesses and industry sectors planning ahead, being adaptable and staying connected are all strategies that ultimately provide the greatest opportunity to survive and thrive.