Feb 12, 2021

COVID-19 and Brexit have meant many businesses had to adapt to a different environment – fast. As 2021 progresses, what will the future look like and how can businesses seize new opportunities? Mairead Connolly of PwC explains.

We are well into the new year and the business landscape remains dominated by COVID-19. Many companies, especially private and family businesses, are also battling with the post-Brexit trading landscape. However, times of change are also an opportunity to reshape, and we are seeing an acceleration of a range of trends that had been brewing. As businesses assess the new landscape, positioning for future growth should be a priority. Here are five key considerations for private businesses to continue to scale-up and become fit for the future.

1. Strategy for growth

It is important for businesses to reassess and set a growth strategy with clear targets. This should include sensitivity analysis for different levels of sales, products, month-by-month reports and geography. Headcount and training costs, along with new customers and markets you may target, should also be factors.

The old adage “cash is king” still holds resonance, and any additional funding requirements should be considered with plenty of time allowed to prepare projections and attend to formalities.

Don’t forget about sustainability in your planning. Adopting sustainable approaches can help differentiate and build confidence in your brand, as well as generating cost savings.

2. Upskill your people

Your people are critical to your growth and success. Availability of key skills remains a challenge for many businesses. PwC’s 2020 NextGen Survey, published prior to the pandemic, highlighted that a major concern for family businesses is gaining the skills required – with leadership and strategic thinking regarded as the most essential skills needed.

Upskilling the people you have and who understand your culture is critical for plugging any skills gap. Family or team members who have the potential and agility to help grow the business into the future should be identified. While formal training may certainly be warranted, the power of shadowing and mentoring should not be underestimated.

3. Digitise

Any business wishing to grow and scale must keep pace with technology, and the COVID-19 backdrop has brought home how this investment can pay dividends. We have seen many family and entrepreneurial businesses creating or expanding their online presence, initially as a lockdown survival strategy. Now positioning for post-COVID-19 growth, the same companies recognise that this pivot to digital is also an opportunity to futureproof their business.

Digitisation can also take place in smaller steps, however, starting with automated reporting or dashboards for real time financial data, for example. Levering technology to have meaningful information available at the touch of a button allows valuable management time to be spent on proactive strategy, rather than distilling and reacting to historic data.

Successful digital transformation will give companies the competitive edge they need to become world-class.

4.  Maximise cash flows today

As your business grows, it is important to ensure the controls you have around spending and other day-to-day decision-making remain robust. Rigorous debtor and creditor administration ensures that cash is available when needed, and can minimise the level of dependence on debt or other third party funding.

Tax should be carefully considered, as well, with any available reliefs and benefits claimed. For those companies which suffered losses during the pandemic period, a review should be undertaken to ensure that loss reliefs are utilised to trigger refunds where applicable.

5. Protecting wealth for the long term

As well as strategizing for the business today, developing a clear succession plan for the medium- to long-term should remain a priority for ambitious family businesses and SMEs. This is something that is overlooked by many businesses. Tellingly, PwC’s latest Irish family business survey highlighted that less than one fifth (18%) of respondents had a robust, formalised and communicated succession plan in place. Key elements include structuring for ownership transition, with/without retirement of key founders, ensuring governance frameworks are fit for growth, and identifying the correct next generation or non-family management to drive the business forward.

The succession journey is an opportunity to reinforce the broader business strategy, digital and upskilling objectives. If proactively managed, the “perfect storm” of disruption via COVID-19 and Brexit uncertainty could well become the accelerator for business and family success in the long term.

Mairead Connolly is Partner of PwC Entrepreneurial & Private Business Practice.