Rising above the recession

Building for the recovery — Mike Jenkins.

Squaring-up to the challenges of the recession, businesses should go back to basics, as Mike Jenkins explains.

We have had more than our fair share of doom-and-gloom press reports over the past 12 months, hammering home the thread-bare state of the UK’s economy — not to mention who’s responsible for the unpicking.

2010 will see businesses re-doubling their efforts in a bid to stay in the game, and never more so than in the building services industry. It is a demanding business, with or without a recession, and the key to survival may not always be obvious.

While managers and proprietors are bogged down in the day-to-day existence of a business, it is easy to overlook what it is that sets your company, products or service apart from your competitors. It is worth going back to basics to major on your key selling points.

What is it that separates your offering from your counterparts? What makes you the preferred option? What kind of marketing really works for you?

Once you’ve reaffirmed the unique selling points of your business, you need to address how it is that you stay visible in a tough market. It might be tempting to slash marketing budgets, but this can ultimately prove detrimental to profits. More than being just an expendable luxury, marketing is a vital tool — a revenue generator.

It is vital to find a means of continuing to market your offering, portraying an air of confidence in your business and the market. Maintaining visibility also provides the opportunity to eclipse your competitors who are making marketing cut-backs.

Investing in your workforce

The recession has forced many companies into survival mode, but by devising strategies and improvements to optimise resources, management can enhance profitability as the economy improves — and one key resource is your workforce.

The Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) has produced a series of ‘Better business guides’, designed to help companies operate more profitably during the economic downturn. The third in the series highlights the importance of a business’s employees; they too have a vested interest in the company and may well offer up surprising and successful ideas to help the company ride the storm. It is a time to think differently about your workforce, and leveraging your employees’ thoughts and ideas will enable to you to obtain full value.

Some businesses may feel the need to make workers redundant, but there are ways and means of minimising such radical decisions. Rule number one is retaining motivation and commitment of your employees, so rather than opting for redundancy, alternatives could include short-time working, loaning labour, or agency redeployment.

This is a prime opportunity to address working practices, such as time keeping, ensuring employees have a proper understanding of the working hours and taking the appropriate number of breaks. Minimising interruption to work flow increases the time your employees actually spend working, so it is also worth tackling any absenteeism issues.

Engaging more regularly with your workforce is also highly beneficial in hard times. Ensuring employees know what is happening and the reasons why you are taking certain measures will help maintain a happier workforce. Managing employees’ expectations and letting them see you have a clear sense of direction for the business will further reinforce their confidence in you.

It may be hard to imagine how you could even consider rewarding employees in this current climate, but more cost-effective remuneration methods can be introduced, with positive, motivational results.

Welfare benefits available through HVCA subsidiary Welplan are a proven way of motivating staff and keeping the loyalty of your best workers. You could also consider benefits in kind, such as mobile phones, childcare vouchers, meals at work and car-parking spaces, for example.

Help is at hand

The HVCA ‘Guide to employment’ is available at our web site (below). Association members can view advice and guidance on employment law, people management, systems and procedures. And through the HVCA Business plus (also below), non-members can also access the industry’s smartest commercial advice, guidance and assistance.

Mike Jenkins is business development manager of Welplan and group co-ordinator of HVCA Business Plus.

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