(Guest Blog) Limbo

Chambers Dictionary – the borderland of Hell, reserved for the unbaptised; any unsatisfactory place of consignment or oblivion; an uncertain or intermediate state; prison.

(We’ll not add the West Indian dance although the contortions necessary may well be understood by many business people at these uncertain times.)

How do you plan, let alone execute, in times of uncertainty?

Let’s face facts – even in this post-truth world there are still some – whatever your viewpoint on the EU, many businesses are finding themselves unable to plan properly due to uncertain markets, uncertain access to employees and uncertainty over whether costs of imported items will materially alter.

The correct thing to do is ignore the distractions and make an educated guess (or two) and make a killing while everyone else dithers but, in the real world, you’re going to be the one doing the dithering while someone (braver?) steals a march on you.

It’s just life.

The old fight or flight response (technically the hyperarousal or acute stress response) has been revisited and is now the fight, flight or freeze response.

And all too often the answer is freeze.

It can be that it’s not your “fault” – just take me as a for instance – a couple of presentations that I know have gone really well have not (yet) led to new assignments. They will – of that I am certain – but the other parties are suffering from said freeze.

So it’s not MY freeze, is it?

Or is it? Am I not just as guilty as my prospective clients?

I’ve a number of possible responses to this but they can realistically be summarised as:

  • Persuasion – you know you want to, if you do so now you steal a march on your rivals
  • Resignation – it will happen in the fullness of time so don’t push too hard for fear of jeopardising the relationship, and
  • Substitution – if not X then Y. If prospective client A is dithering I can use the time to firm up with client B or use the downtime to deal with all those “nice to haves” that never seem to get to the top of the to-do list (writing guest blogs for instance)…

Which should you use and in which circumstance?

In much of what I do there is a coaching element rather than a mentoring viewpoint (ten points for those who can tell me the difference in a sentence) so, while there is the perpetual temptation to cajole, one must ask if that is the right thing to do at that time with that person. Sometimes it is, sometimes it really isn’t. Learn to be honest with yourself.

But do be wary of the snake oil salesmen – everything is wonderful if you buy my A or B or C – it’s the wonder cure for all ailments, personal as well as business. The new wonder cure – won’t take any hard work, preparation or staying power – just give me your money and all will be well.

Of course, I’m going to say that. Aren’t I?

It’s not in my best interest to give you a simple cure and go – one off payment and that’s all you’ll ever need – when I can sell you something that you will need to come back again and again. That’s what people like me do, isn’t it… Better the single payment for the panacea and, if it doesn’t work, try again. The grass is always greener.

But deep inside we know that life is really not like that, although we all know those people in business who act as if it is.

And we’ve got (a minimum of) two more years of this.

My confidence levels in our negotiators are not very high… I suspect the best we can hope for is that the economy acts as it does when coming out of a recession – eventually enough people get fed up with being miserable that things start to pick up because of a collective desire for life to improve.

Of course, the vote of last year demonstrated a deep division in our populace – as near as damn 50:50 – which suggests, whatever happens, half the country is going to be disappointed. But we are where we are, whether we want to be or not.

Certain sectors of the economy may well be more resilient than others. If you are selling UK purchased goods to UK consumers the likelihood is that, increases in bank base rate permitting, your audience is unlikely to disappear overnight. That doesn’t mean that, if you are selling snow to Eskimos, your market will disappear but you might find you have to be more flexible in your trading terms.

Do remember too that business is not a zero-sum game. Too many people treat it as such. If I make a profit it doesn’t mean that you don’t. One thing I am certain of is that SOMEBODY will be making money out of these conditions, be it a “disrupter” or not.

Just have the attitude that says that somebody is me.

Colin Bielckus is The Outsourced Finance Director, delivering a bespoke service for aspiring SMEs, and MD owner of Avenue Business Services, Chartered Accountants based in South Hampshire.

Also check out Colin’s brilliant tongue-in-cheek blog Re: Accountancy.

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