How to succeed in the covid environment – Paul Waite (CEO of Aspen Waite) talks to SME Today

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Covid started in China at the back end of 2019 and few of us could have foreseen the impact the virus would have on the global economy, business, our way of life and mental well-being.

I am, by nature, a highly positive person, I have had more than my fair share of “issues” but survived them to become quite a wise man, always defaulting to positive.  Prior to Covid, I was quite fortunate insofar as I had, inside Aspen Waite, launched the concept that “nobody ever needed to be alone any more”.

When Covid hit us, it seemed intuitively obvious to me that we should respond to this quickly and positively.  So I launched the “Friend Programme”.  We all need a friend from time to time.  I know from my own experiences that owning a business can be extremely lonely and, therefore, being able to liaise with like-minded people who understand has to be a good thing.

I care about the Community and understand my responsibility as an individual and my businesses’ Corporate Responsibility to it. Undoubtedly, the Friend Programme we are currently delivering has helped scores of businesses.  I am also proud that my many media appearances have helped to inspire others and make them feel that little bit better.

I like to think that we at Aspen Waite have been role models as to how to adapt and evolve to not only cope with the challenge but to become even stronger.

I occasionally think about what it must have been like to live in Britain in 1940.  Alone in the world, the fear of invasion at any time, the disaster of Dunkirk and a country ill prepared for war.  Along came Churchill, bulldog spirit and a good smattering of luck.  But then you make your own luck?  Supremacy in the skies, a massive scaling up in the production of arms, planes and equipment to a point where we comfortably out produced the Germans.  Against all the odds, we won!

Life is beautiful but it is also cruel.  In any situation, there are winners and losers.

I am not pretending for a moment that there won’t be some people whose businesses will fail and many hundreds of thousands of people have been abandoned by this Government.  Depression and even suicide are serious but highly relevant subjects.

Failing is not the end; it might even be the beginning.  Many great entrepreneurs have failed, some more than once.  Pat Lam, the Bristol rugby coach, has a saying I really like – “there is no losing, there is only winning and learning”.  Sometimes a door has to close for another to open.  It is the learning from mistakes process that is so important.

There is little doubt that those in the hospitality, leisure and catering type sectors have been thrown under the bus by this Government.

Many people have a fatalistic attitude – what am I supposed to do, I can’t open, so they baton down the hatches, cut costs as far as possible and basically stop.

Many businesses have not only survived during Covid but have flourished in many cases through adapting and getting involved in new commercial activity.  A lady who is a great inspiration to me and one of the best business people I have ever met is Mel Curtis, founder of Winter in Venice.  Winter in Venice is an award-winning cosmetics producer and wholesaler (www.winterinvenice.co.uk).

At the start of lockdown, Mel was approached by a global giant with a view to supplying anti-bacterial sanitisers and gels.  Like myself, Mel has a “can do attitude” so saying “no” was not an option.  Relatively quickly, she put together the means to supply a quality product and, over the last 10 months, millions of pounds of product have been sold.  Mel’s challenge is more on how to spend the profit wisely.

I also have clients originally producing quality alcohol who have also diversified into sanitiser products.  My favourite café is Ollie’s and the young owner really knows his trade. Over Covid, he has adapted and now has a food delivery business.

When lockdown took hold, I made a conscious decision not to furlough my staff; in fact, I told them if I had to work 24 hours a day to avoid that happening, I would.  A decision to baton down the hatches may seem the low risk option but it is also a rather defeatist one.  Extraneous factors can get in the way.  For instance, none of us thought that the first lockdown would turn into a second and then a third.  The “do nothing” option looks to be an increasingly poor decision.

We can see the High Street dying, the travel industry, theatres and cinemas too.  It is difficult to see them recovering.  Most businesses have skills and resources that are relevant to wider activities than the core one.  I take the view that for the most part I can run a successful business in any sector.

What is it that customers want regardless of the product or service?

  • Value for money
  • The best service possible
  • Consistency/reliability
  • Best choice
  • Convenience

Trust is hard earned so the ability to offer your customers multiple services has to be a good thing.  Good decision making also means taking positive action in a negative or distressed situation.  Knowing when to stop is also a skill.  Doing nothing is the problem.

The ability to make good decisions can only come off the back of top quality planning.  This should include forecasts, profit and cashflow.  Cash really is King!  I am fortunate in that I am a quality adviser and I am able to look at both myself and my business objectively.  For most of those reading this, it is essential you receive the best possible advice, especially in areas you are not so strong in.  At the current time, that includes advice on all the Government assistance and loans available and tax planning like R&D Tax Credits.

In my life, an extremely important person is my Coach.  I think that the discipline of talking to another person is in itself helpful. It helps to get one’s thinking straight.  At other times, talking to Coach is like a fog lifting from my brain.  I go into the session unclear and leave with clarity.  Every now and then, the sessions really are worth their weight in gold.

The Coach (advisor) can also be like the priest.  I made a decision to always tell the truth to Coach, even if it showed weakness or made me look foolish.  Often I realise as I’m talking that what I am admitting is unacceptable and I must do something about it.  Life can be hard and also unfair.  We live in highly challenging times but you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to give it your best shot.

In the early days of my business when I often got low, I found that my love for my children gave me strength.  My desire to look after them was greater than my fear.

I have written three books about my life experiences and I called my second book “Winning 2-1”.  This recognises the nature of life, i.e. even during good times, bad things also happen.

If you can “net win” you are doing fine.  It is important to keep a sense of perspective and to worry in context.  You can only do this if you have the necessary information.

Know your business inside out, make sure everything you do is of a consistently high quality and thoroughly appraise everything you do and equally importantly, could be doing.

Aspen Waite’s strategy today is very different to what it was a year ago, and is much the better for it.  It is more ambitious, more diverse and, perhaps most importantly, more integrated.

Running a business takes courage and also a lot of self-belief.  Stay positive and make good decisions and you will not only survive the Covid period but emerge stronger and in better shape.

 

Aspen White Aspen White Friend Programme

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