By David Prattent

Notes form a bunker

MarketWatch was not alive for World War II, but he is starting to feel an affinity for those souls who spent much of their time underground in bunkers.  Despite the company of his dear spouse, Mrs MarketWatch, and Tess, the black Labrador, even living on what is called “acreage” is losing its shine.

That misery, however, is nothing compared with the agony many of you, as either businesses or employees, are undergoing.  I would like to say that I understand what you are going through but this situation in which we find ourselves defies comprehension.  I can only offer my best wishes and the hope we will emerge from this with at least some of our financial health intact.

MarketWatch has said often he is no good at guessing games.  For his sins, he reads eight or nine newspapers from around the world each day plus a couple of weekly ones.  Just about every permutation of this crisis is being laid out as a pointer for what is going to happen.  Will the economy come back quickly?  Yes, no, maybe.  Will businesses re-open soon?  Yes, no, maybe.  You get the drift.  Today, the massive news is that the International Monetary Fund are forecasting a steep recession for Australia followed by an equally steep recovery (this is called the V-shape).  Hooray, the computer said so, so it must be true.

It used to be said “if you can keep your head, while others around you are losing theirs, you clearly have no idea what is happening.”  At present, it seems that there is no coherent, consistent view of the future.  Some countries, such as Australia, are managing “today” quite well.  But the future is another story.

In terms of the future, worrying thought that it is, the subject needs to be put on the backburner because too much speculation is futile.  We need to focus on what we know and what we can control.

One of the things we know, but may have forgotten, is that in every crisis there is opportunity.  Plenty of people made money from the South Sea Bubble.  Those who lost were holding the stock when the party was over.

Our opportunities can lie in what we have learned through the current crisis.  We have a choice; when it is over, we can go back to doing what we were doing before it as if nothing happened, or we can build on the lessons we have picked up.  Let me put forward some examples:

Most of us have had to adapt in some way.  Office workers are beavering away at home, and we have discovered that for many this is a viable model.  It has meant employers have had to learn to trust their people.  If you trust people they will repay you with productivity and loyalty.  Yes, you will have the odd rogue but you have that anywhere, anytime.  But stop being a control freak for a minute and consider this; if you do not trust people, why on earth would they give you that bit extra which makes a difference to your business?

But working from home has possible implications for the amount of office space you might need.  Ask yourself questions like, does everyone need to be in every day?  Can I manage with a smaller space, or no space?

The other development seen in the working from home phenomenon is the use of collaboration software.  This is a fancy term for holding meetings online.  The use of this has exploded and most of the packages available are pretty good.  Some, such as Zoom, are not without their controversy, but in the main they are a secure way of doing business.  Suddenly, we do not need to leave our desks to join a meeting being held in, say, Sydney.  Or Hong Kong.  Or North Perth.  Travel time is generally unproductive and this can be avoided in many instances.  Perhaps your travel costs are limited then to only attending the final meeting of a project.  The potential for some companies could be huge.

And along with doing meetings online is signing documents electronically.  This can range from encrypted signatures to inserting your own signature.  In many cases this is sufficient.  The need for “wet” signatures (a physical signature using a pen) is more and more being challenged.

The opportunity to review your business practices in this “hibernation” period is there for the taking.  For example, some restaurants have introduced or expanded their takeaway offerings as a means of survival and maintaining contact with customers.  But it could also prove to be a handy additional revenue stream when we are back up and running.  It doesn’t have to be simply a “band aid” solution until normality, whatever that may be, returns.

But probably the biggest opportunity is if you can take advantage of developing a strong online presence.  A report by the US-based online e-commerce fraud-prevention provider, Forter, finds that the following significant increases in online transactions have been noted:

Apparel and accessories                36%

Beauty                                                107%

Food & beverage                             134%

Grocery & delivery                           225%

Virtual coins                                     41%

Video games                                    54%

Yes, some of this increase is a temporary surge, but it is also accompanied by a realisation that online products and services are here to stay.  Combined with collaboration software, and other products, the tools to truly make a different and sustainable business are there, so take the time to think it through.

Depressingly, many business people are simply waiting for the economy to re-open so things can be returned to the way they were.  A definition of insanity (wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, by the way) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  The choice is ours; do we go back to the routine and spend our lives wondering why our business development is so slow, or do we think hard about the lessons we are learning and take advantage of the knowledge.  Over to you.

In times of stress, MarketWatch tends to think of comfort food rather than adventurous cooking. And so it is with his wine.  Welcome back then the Caravan Petite Sirah, a multiple gold-medal-winning red from the great winemaker John Quarisa.  The Petite Sirah grape is also known as Durif, not a popular type in Australia but well worth trying.  And it’s not expensive.

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