Planning for 2021? Think like a start-up

Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.

Strategic planning can be tough in a normal year. This year, it has been anything but normal as the coronavirus trampled the rulebook and forced businesses to cope with urgent needs, and change and adapt on a massive scale.

Although we don’t know about what next year will bring, here are six short- and mid-term strategic ways you can deal with uncertainty and improve your 2021 recovery planning.

Expect challenges.

The virus’ disruptive impact across sectors will carry into 2021. Demand has been reduced, budgets are tight and virtual life is real life. Commercial clients’ have found out they do not need as much real-estate/office space and are under often severe cost-cutting measures. Residential clients may have reduced income from either a spouse leaving the workforce to stay home with their children or they may have been furloughed or let go.

Internally, your own company has probably reduced overhead and implemented budget cuts to get through this year. There are not a lot of areas left to cut. The temporary help of PPP loans does not look like it will be available again any time soon, and regardless of who wins in November, there will be social and economic fallout that will last well into the New Year.

Have a Plan B (and C, D and E).

Contingency planning should focus on scenarios for risk, opportunity and ways to become more operationally agile and resilient. Concerns such as a potential second wave during the traditional flu season; the timing and effectiveness of a possible vaccine; and trends that have economic implications will all frame planning discussions.

Speed and the ability to take decisive action will be key. Make sure your plans consider alternatives when thinking about staffing, revenue targets, capacity and capital spending. Give your team creative license to innovate and contribute to change the way you do business. Necessity has a way of bringing out the best in a team.

Maintain focus on your core.

Much of 2020 has been about surviving and adapting to change. Companies have altered services and delivery models, expanded or contracted reach and adjusted internal processes and staffing. For 2021, focus on re-defining your full potential, consider deep strategic change to improve performance, find new ways to tap insights into new and existing customers and make flexibility your new growth driver.

When planning for 2021, make sure you have contingency plans in place and expect the challenges to continue.

Invest in marketing.

In times like these, word of mouth will not be enough. Pipeline generation, community relationships, networking alternatives, positive PR, communications strategies can all help the top line get moving again. Cutting marketing just hands more business to your competitors. Ironically, new clients may be easier to find as less sophisticated competitors go out of business or fall back.

Use technology and follow the numbers.

Zoom calls, virtual site visits, drone photography, video marketing, digital proposals and e-signatures will be business as usual in 2021. Even as physical workspace opens up, many clients and companies may prefer the cost- and time-effectiveness of virtual meetings. As client interactions go virtual, invest in ways to become a polished presenter, master video production techniques and virtual meeting etiquette. Technology-led innovation and data will be your competitive advantage. Make sure to understand the true cost and benefit of each service you provide, which types of clients are most profitable, and invest in benchmarking to strengthen your performance.

Be honest.

No industry is going to make it through this pandemic untouched and some companies won’t make it through at all. Are you well positioned for next year? Really look at your numbers, your business and your personal goals. Would you be better off to join a more stable organization? Some contractors are struggling financially. Some don’t want another year of anxiety. For contractors that were doing well pre-COVID 19, it may make sense for them to align with a bigger company. Likewise, if your company is well positioned for the New Year, there may be an opportunity for you to complete a strategic acquisition that will help you really take off when the pandemic is over.

Contact Joe Kujawa at

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