Tips to help entrepreneurs make 2021 their best year

Here are five things that business mentor Anton Ressel has learnt from 2020 and how organisations can thrive in 2021.

By Anton Ressel

While there are a few people who sailed through 2020 as if it were business as usual, or in fact even better than usual, for the majority of us 1 January 2021 could not have come soon enough.

Unprecedented uncertainty, change, fear, hardship – 2020 had that in spades. To add insult to injury, we had to suffer through much of it without any alcohol or cigarettes – the horror!

However, they say that adversity is the best teacher, and it would be a colossal waste of a year like no other if we did not take some lessons from it. From a business and personal perspective, here are five things that I have learned from 2020 and how we can thrive in 2021:

1. PIVOTING CAN BE GOOD

As a mentor and a coach, I have always placed a lot of emphasis and value on the importance of focus. I have generally advised my clients to rather do one thing really well, than do many things half-baked. However, I have changed my tack on this somewhat.

Watching businesses pivot in a matter of days from selling art or food or clothing into masks and sanitisers was initially a bit disconcerting, but once I got over the shock it dawned on me that survival and adaptability, above all else, is the essence of entrepreneurship. When the chips are down, we do what we need to for survival.

2. LEAN AND AGILE IS THE WAY

The vast majority of businesses that weathered the COVID-19 storm had one thing in common – their overheads were manageable prior to the pandemic. No top-heavy management structures, no bloated organograms, limited rental or bond commitments and a healthy cash flow cycle were all common traits of businesses that were able to batten down the hatches and get through the worst of it in one piece. The lesson – keep it tight and keep it lean, whether we are in a pandemic or not.

3. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

If you had told anyone at the start of Twenty Plenty that they would face an unprecedented global pandemic that would see entire industries shut down overnight and forever alter the way we engage as humans, you would probably have been dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or a doomsday merchant – or a lunatic.

One thing 2020 has taught us is that we need to be ready for change – often very rapid and unexpected – and that we need to have a Plan B, and sometimes even a Plan C, if our businesses are to survive and thrive for the long-term. Scenario planning and risk mitigation are key.

4. MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES

I have always encouraged my clients and the businesses we support on Fetola programmes to get into the habit of putting away 5-10% of every sale or invoice into a working capital/rainy day fund. Imagine how different your approach to unforeseen business interruption or the need to suddenly pivot would be, if you know that you have 4-6 months of cash flow available whether you sell a single product or service or not.

Importantly, the simple knowledge of having a nest egg makes tough business decisions easier, and creates a sense of calm and confidence in situations where panic is the norm. 

5. DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE VISION

A final lesson that emerged from the carnage of 2020 was the importance of keeping an eye on your ultimate destination. Pivoting into new areas, hustling and doing what you need to survive are perfectly okay, but don’t forget why you started your business in the first place. Be very careful that your efforts for short-term survival do not take you so far from your intended vision and goals that you are unable to get back on track to achieve them.

Nurture your client base, even if they are currently dormant or experiencing the same challenges that you face. Keep working on and innovating your core business model, even if you are earning your income from elsewhere right now. Things will normalize eventually, and you want to be in a position of forward momentum when that happens.

In addition to the above five lessons, we have all also learnt that having a solid and visible online presence and embracing technology is the way of the future, and that is unlikely to change. While many of us are feeling the effects of ‘zoom fatigue’ or ‘death by video’, the truth is that we have been able to communicate effectively through these channels in spite of global lockdowns on travel and face-to-face engagement.

I would go so far as to say that if you do not have access to the latest technology and have not yet invested in online engagement and sales platforms, your business will struggle for the foreseeable future.

The year we just lived through was unlike any other most of us have experienced in our lives. Over and above the financial and business challenges we all faced, was the emotional toll that losing loved ones, colleagues and staff exacted on so many of us. Remaining optimistic and positive – and finding the learnings – in the face of such overwhelming challenges is neither easy nor comfortable. However, it is the essence of what makes us entrepreneurs.

May 2021 be a safe, positive and profitable year for you. Let me know if you have creative way to deal with the unexpected by emailing catalyst@fetola.co.za

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About the Author

Anton Ressel is the head of the Mentor Portfolio at Fetola.

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