Next Wednesday is September 23rd. My apologies if it’s your birthday, but it doesn’t seem to be a hugely auspicious day. On September 23rd 2000 Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic gold. In 1862 Otto von Bismarck was appointed Prime Minister of Prussia and – as I’m sure you all know – in 1408 John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, won the Battle of Othée.
But far more importantly – at least for those of us running SMEs – September 23rd is the six month anniversary of lockdown.
March 23rd seems like a lifetime ago: another world, full – we all now accept – of relative certainty.
In the six months since March we’ve all realised the joys of working from home – and that we don’t miss the morning commute. That our businesses can still function without ‘the office.’ And that we’ve had more time to reflect on what is really important.
We’ve also accepted that business life is never going to be quite the same again. Uncertainty was always part and parcel of being an entrepreneur. But now it’s part of life as well. I’m writing this on Wednesday morning: a quick glance at the newspaper headlines tells me that the ‘Covid-19 testing crisis could take weeks to resolve:’ that ‘Covid cases have surged among the middle-aged’ and that a swathe of redundancies is about to hit the economy.
Meanwhile Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ruled out an extension of the furlough scheme – although he is hinting at ‘new ways to protect jobs’ – and we face the fact that, sooner or later, all this has to be paid for.
It’s easy – and glib – to say there has never been a more difficult time to be in business. I suspect the Spanish Flu in 1918/19 and the Great Depression weren’t such good times.
But this is more challenging than any of us could have expected. As we sat in the (now almost mythical) motorway service station and decided that ‘something has to change’ none of us had ‘global pandemic’ on our mental SWOT analysis. Being an entrepreneur, though, means dealing with things as they are – not as you want them to be.
And right now that means dealing with uncertainty. Last month the government was encouraging us all to ‘eat out to help out.’ This month we’re being told that meeting more than five other people is a criminal offence. Next month? Who knows?
But sudden changes in government policy are going to be the norm – so we’re going to have to adapt. We’re going to need to react quickly – which in many ways means we’re a lot better off than our 1918/19 and 1930s equivalents. Most businesses don’t need the huge investment in plant, buildings and machinery that were needed then – as lockdown emphasised.
We’re going to have to make tough decisions as well. Every member of TAB UK I know has a lasting commitment to the people they work with. In many cases those people have been with them since Day 1 – but over the next few months there are going to be plenty of conversations starting with, ‘I’m truly sorry: I simply don’t have a choice…’
All of this is going to put a very big strain on the owners and directors of SMEs. If I look back through my posts for the last two years ‘mental health’ was a topic running through them. And yet now we have uncertainty, tough decisions and a faltering economy – a series of factors and policies that could have been specifically designed to undermine the entrepreneur’s mental health.
But if the economy is to recover then it is only the UK’s entrepreneurs that will make it recover.
The Chancellor is said to be mulling over tax breaks for companies that invest in property, plant and machinery as he looks to stimulate economic activity. Good, because we’ll need all the help we can get.
But ultimately it won’t be tax breaks that rebuild the UK economy. It will be the invention and enterprise of entrepreneurs. Their hard work, their sheer determination not to be beaten and their persistence.
It may be that the last quality is the most important one of all. The Spanish Flu pandemic lasted for a little over two years – which means that it could be March 2022 before you can finally put your mask to one side.
Rest assured that however long it takes, everyone in TAB UK will be with you every step of the way – whether that’s as mentor, guide, cheerleader, or simply as a friend.
We’ll get through whatever difficulties and uncertainties come our way, and we’ll do it together.
That’s it for this week, but it would be wrong of me to finish without saying ‘thank you’ for all the comments and messages of support we received following the last, rather more personal, post about Dan’s A-level results. They meant a lot: thank you.