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The Great Opportunity: 6 trends shaping the post-pandemic world

May 12 2021 by Paul Bulpitt

The COVID pandemic has challenged business owners as never before in our lifetimes. The consequences of the pandemic will continue to be felt for years to come, both personally and professionally. 

There are many stories of people being opportunistic and using COVID to their advantage. That’s not what this article is about. This article is designed to help identify and help maximise opportunities for businesses who have weathered the storm of COVID and are looking to emerge from the pandemic, thriving. 

We’ve identified six trends that are shaping the post-pandemic landscape. We believe that within these trends lie clues as to where the most exciting opportunities are.

Revenge spending

What happens when you lock up a society for over a year? We’re about to find out. The UK population is sitting on more cash than they were 18 months ago as many people have continued to work through the various lockdowns but have not been able to spend. Cash has accumulated, as has the desire to go out and spend. The concept of revenge spending is the idea that people unable to spend during lockdown will overcompensate by spending more than usual now they can. Finding the pent-up demand related to your industry or specialisation and positioning yourself accordingly could be a transformational opportunity. It’s probably one that needs to be seized sooner rather than later.

Digital transformation accelerated

In his book,  Post Corona, Professor Scott Galloway talks about “The Great Acceleration”, where the pandemic has brought a decade’s progress in a matter of weeks. Online retail is the most obvious example, where in just eight weeks from March 2020, e-commerce’s share of retail increased by the same amount as it had in the previous ten years. 

Take any trend – social, business, or personal – and fast forward ten years. Even if your firm isn’t there yet, consumer behaviour and the market now rests on the 2030 point on the trend line – positive or negative

The Customer Experience

The experience for customers has changed, probably forever. Doing things digitally has become the pervasive expectation. There’s an opportunity for those able to create beautiful, frictionless experiences. And there’s an opportunity for those able to successfully digitise that, which is still hard to do digitally in an online/remote world.

Look at the SaaS boom: since the start of the pandemic, the escalation in the value of cloud companies is eye-watering. The top five cloud companies alone (PayPal, Adobe, Salesforce, Shopify, Zoom) are now worth $1trillion, having increased in value by 70% year on year. 

The Employee Experience

In many cases, employees’ experience has been transformed as organisations have been forced to adopt new ways of working. Everything from paperless technology, messaging platforms (eg. Slack), project management apps (eg. Monday.com) have replaced spreadsheets, and finance systems have been automated (Xero, Dext, GoCardless, Stripe).

What’s yet to be seen is if we will see the benefits of accelerated digital transformation in a productivity boom. The UK went into the pandemic with a productivity problem, being one of the least productive developed nations, but will we emerge more productive……we could. There’s a huge opportunity for organisations of all sizes to take advantage of this, either by increasing their productivity or offering products or services that will make others more productive. Whilst it might be unfeasible to think about building the next Salesforce.com – building a focussed (possibly vertical) solution that addresses just one per cent of Salesforce’s customer base would make a ‘unicorn’.  

Talent Explosion

The lockdowns have inadvertently exploded the addressable market for talent. Leaders of many organisations have realised they can operate perfectly well remotely, which offers the prospect of more flexibility for their staff. Imagine if you didn’t need to find people within a commutable distance to work for you – wouldn’t that increase the chances you could find the dream person for your business? What an opportunity to truly find the best talent in the world for your team! As more people work remotely, there’s a huge positive network effect: now, when you’re at home, so are many of your friends and family. There’s a massive opportunity for us to reimagine our lives and for businesses to capitalise on this. People being forced back to the office could then become the next opportunity, and those who’ve not been treated well in lockdown, as they look for an employer that will allow them to work remotely and treat them better.

Cheap finance

In the UK, the panic of the pandemic was largely managed with the offer of cheap finance. Bounce Back Loans, CBILS, furlough payments – and HMRC deferring tax payments have bulged UK businesses’ bank balances. There are still Recovery Loans available, and mortgage rates remain extremely low. With the panic having receded and the post-pandemic world coming into view, now could be the time to invest. If you couple the cheap finance with reduced infrastructure costs from people not needing as much office space, the cash required to operate effectively will likely be less. What an opportunity it is to decide what to do with it. 

The Great Culling

The furlough money and the cheap finance has kept some businesses alive that really shouldn’t be. For many, such as leisure and hospitality businesses that were ‘unfairly’ affected by the pandemic, the furlough scheme has served its purpose. Elsewhere, insolvencies are down on pre-pandemic numbers, which tells you that there are a fair few Zombie businesses around and probably some in your industry. We’ve already seen in retail what Scott Galloway calls ‘The Great Culling’, and it’s coming to an industry near you once the government support ends. If you have a profitable, sustainable business model with a clear long-term strategy and cash reserves, this is an opportunity for you.

Zombie businesses aside, people are tired, and some people are tired of running their businesses. We’re going to see an uptick in M&A activity and some of that will be driven by people tired of their businesses and ready to cash out. 

And then, the flipside. Partly as a result of the great culling, but also as happens after every major economic shock – more companies than ever are starting up. This could be the best time ever to start a business – revenge spending, all the digital tools we ever imagined, access to a global talent pool, cheap finance, and a competitive landscape littered with zombies. 

Humanity, reconnected

When the pandemic hit, we wondered if the Beautiful Business philosophy we espouse would remain relevant in the midst of a crisis. What we soon realised was that the Beautiful Business principles were needed more than ever. Speaking to numerous business owners throughout the pandemic, many of those that have fared best talk about how early on they reconnected with the reason they started in business to begin with – their core purpose. It’s the connection to this purpose that has guided them through, not forecasts or growth targets, but their driving purpose, their ‘why’. 

If you haven’t already, the opportunity here is to engage your whole team in your purpose. It’s great having a purpose, but if you don’t talk about it often, with your team, your clients, and your partners won’t come to life. The more you talk about it, the more you’ll connect with people who believe what you believe, taking you on an exciting journey filled with opportunities that align with your core values. 

A place to start could be to make a grand gesture that shows the world that you’re serious about your purpose…and may just start a movement that has a life of its own.

Final thoughts  

Why don’t you sit down with your leadership team and talk about where the opportunities lie for your business. At Wow, we love talking about building businesses. Please get in touch if you’d like to talk through your plans with us.

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