To understand more about the impact of COVID-19 on our clients and the local Brighton community, we have decided to ask them some questions.
This week we spoke with Sarah Jennings, CEO of Oban International, a digital marketing company which specialises in international expansion.
- When did COVID-19 affect your business and was it immediate or gradual?
- Like everyone else we were aware of the virus for a while, so we did some prepping, tested our business continuity plan, and gradually shifted our business to work from home pre-lockdown. Our travel clients have had to pause activity, but the rest of our client portfolio has been able to adapt.
- How did you communicate with your team and clients?
- We went through our plans for homeworking with the whole team and tested things out, so it gave people a chance to feedback on what would make their lives better. Most of our team had already worked from home occasionally, but there is a huge difference in doing it for the odd day and permanently. Everyone rapidly realised the importance of a comfortable office chair and a decent sized screen. We let our clients know we were moving to working from home but essentially for them, other than replacing face to face meetings with virtual ones, it should feel like business as usual.
- Have you accessed or will you be accessing any of the Government support schemes and grants?
- We took advantage of the opportunity to extend our VAT payment deadline to support our cash flow.
- Do you think the Government support goes far enough?
- The intended support is great. It seems that the furlough scheme is working well but the loan scheme not so much. As always, the devil is in the detail. It’s easy to say with hindsight, but it might have been better to pre-approve everyone who met certain criteria for the interruption loan to speed things up. There are clearly some ambiguities which the government is having to clarify and some circumstances where good businesses have fallen through the gap.
- What effect will this pandemic have on your business in the long term?
- We provide digital marketing services to help businesses grow internationally. The pandemic has increased online usage and e-commerce without doubt and many businesses that had not yet focused on selling online have now brought their plans forwards which in the long term will be good news for us.
- Do you now have a crisis management plan in place?
- We’ve always had a crisis management plan and a business continuity plan ready, although our focus historically had been more on meeting the challenges of an online virus than a real world one! We’ve had to adapt the business continuity plan for some new scenarios, but I’m glad we’d done the preparatory legwork as it certainly made life easier in the first few weeks.
- What decisions are being made now for when you can get back up and running?
- We’re focusing on two areas. The first is how to get our team back into the office safely while social distancing measures continue. We’ll take the measures we can keep people safe, but It’s simply unrealistic to think we can keep everyone apart all day long. Some of our team are desperate to get back into an office environment and others are enjoying working from home so we’ll mainly let people choose what works best for them and their circumstances. Longer term, our lease runs out at the end of this year and we’re rethinking our use of office space and how we might keep more of a homeworking/office working mix going.
- How do you think the business landscape will change in Brighton?
- In the short term we are double whammied by the importance of tourism and the importance of Gatwick. Brighton is fantastic for start-ups and has great entrepreneurial and creative energy, so in the longer term it will bounce back better and brighter than ever. We’ll benefit from stay at home tourism when that restarts, and businesses will re-purpose to focus their attention where the new opportunities lie.
- What tips can you give other businesses currently going through the crisis?
- Get your financial people on side – banks, lenders etc – they know the long-term value of your business.
- Do everything much quicker than you think you need to – it takes longer to make things happen than you expect – especially when it’s a new process or scheme.
- Invest in some tech to make life easier – decent microphones and screens make a huge difference to Zoom meetings and it’s less stressful than trying to decipher the crackles whilst looking at a tiny laptop!
- Ask other people for tips – they almost always come up with something you haven’t thought of yet.
Author, Sarah Jennings, CEO of Oban International
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