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My Strategy For Surviving Coronavirus
By Debbie Williams, co-founder of John Williams Heating Services which is based in Chippenham yet works with clients across Wiltshire, Swindon, Bath and Somerset. The company was set up by Debbie and her husband John 16 years ago. The couple are also well known for sponsoring and supporting community events in Chippenham as well as regularly raising money for charity. In recent years this has been for the British Heart Foundation in memory of John’s dad Steve.
When did you realise the Coronavirus could be a problem for you and your business?
Very early on in March we began to anticipate there may be difficulties as the fear of the virus spread and social distancing began. We started to plan how to manage safely visiting the homes of our customers to give them peace of mind.
What has been your plan to continue?
This has been the toughest time in business during the last 16 years, tougher even than starting up – mainly because so we have staff we value and want to keep with us. Our plan has been to turn to our financial advisers and access support that we’re entitled to as quickly as possible. Currently we have 19 staff furloughed and we’ve applied for a business continuity loan to keep the business afloat. We understand the need for restrictions to fight Covid19 and to all try to keep safe and to safeguard others. That does not mean this is easy when it comes to business.
How have you changed your business as the weeks are passing?
We now have a small team working and we are only able to do jobs which are a clear emergency for our clients such as fixing a leaking pipe, replacing a boiler or similar. All of our staff have PPE and we’ll discuss safe behaviour with each customer we need to visit and work with during this time.
This is not negotiable and most customers understand that is the result of lockdown.
However we are always on hand via social media and on the phone to offer advice and to offer encouragement to others. We can also help plan a bathroom or kitchen project remotely using pictures and videos and set a provisional start date for later in the year.
Have you been able to access any government support or funding?
We’ve applied though the government portal for furloughing money to pay our staff and we’ve applied for the business continuity loan. We’ve also applied for help to cover the cost of our office premises which we are not able to use at anything like full capacity at this time. Now we are hoping that those funds will come through quickly. It’s cashflow which is vital.
What have you seen about business which has been positive?
Much. To see business owners, particularly in the SME sector, changing their behaviours, volunteering, introducing new services which are safe at this time does give hope.
Also to see communities come together to support the NHS, our emergency workers and all key workers who are out there every day ensuring our basic needs are met.
I’d also like to thank our own team for helping us to obey the law and still operate in a small way during this difficult time.
Have you seen any behaviours you feel have been negative in business?
I’m not one for ranting in public however in very general terms, I’ve been occasionally disappointed by the lack of support some businesses have shown for their fellow business owners who are unable to access any financial support.
Also for some would-be clients who get angry when we deem their ‘issue’ to not an emergency when we say we cannot attend to fit that new shower or similar. That’s been a little disappointing. I’m glad to say that has only happened a couple of times.
What advice would you give to others in business?
Be kind. Be patient with other businesses and be honest. Pick up the phone and talk to customers and suppliers honestly about your situation. Ask for deferrals and time to pay and be really grateful when people meet you half way or say they are going to work with you for less money or for nothing to help you out.
With clients who owe you money, ask for the money and set up a payment plan if they are struggling or if they are concerned and want to ensure their own household cash flow.
If you remember that business is about good customer service and good relationships, even when times are difficult, you will maintain goodwill and maybe even increase it dramatically.
What can we do to help each other?
Keep each other visible. Social media and strong public relations helps with this a lot. Share, like and engage with the content of businesses local to you, especially those you know, have worked with and would recommend. If you get an opportunity to take part in any press articles, take them and be grateful.
Keep in touch if only to say ‘hello how’s it going?’. Burying your head in the sand and going quiet won’t help your business to recover during what is likely to be a slow journey out of this Covid19 crisis.
Your parting thought?
Previous generations have been through worse. Many families have faced the worst in this crisis. Keep some perspective if you can, be grateful for your own health and that of your family. Keep faith in the best of British true grit.
For more information visit www.jwheating.co.uk