‘NEVER let a good crisis go to waste’ has been attributed to Winston Churchill. Seemingly he uttered the words in reference to the status of the world post the Second World War. It is a catchy phrase and to me sums up the attitude Irish businesses should take to Brexit.
At this stage, there is little doubt but that Brexit is a crisis for the Irish economy and Irish businesses. In particular, if there is a hard Brexit, all Irish businesses will be affected. Of course, the scale of impact will vary depending on your business. On one end we have the local convenience store — it will see a reduction in sales as Ireland enters a recession, the prices of goods sourced in the UK go up and discretionary spending falls. On the other end we have businesses who currently rely heavily on either goods sourced in the UK or sold to customers in the UK.
When the business environment is stable it is easy to fall into the trap of just continuing as you are — sure hasn’t it worked well until now. The problem with this approach is that while the business might continue to perform well, it could actually be doing better, and when something unexpected happens (like Brexit), the business is not as fit as it could be to deal with it.
Irish businesses should look on Brexit as a wake-up call and use it to give them the motivation to take a close look at all aspects of their businesses. But how should a business go about doing this? The best approach for an event like Brexit is to conduct a structured risk assessment on the business. This involves a 7-step process — identify the risks, identify the impact each risk could have on the business, assess the impacts (including financial), identify mitigating actions, assess the mitigating actions, select the best options an d develop these into an action plan and finally implement the plan.
With just over a month to go to Brexit, why is it that many businesses have still not prepared for it? The following are some of the reasons I routinely hear from business owners.
There are too many uncertainties so it’s not possible to plan. This is actually not the case.
The main risks for your business and the best and worse-case scenarios can be easily identified and once identified planned for. For instance, do you sell goods to customers in the UK? If so, you have a currency risk. It is easy to assess the financial impact of this on your business — what is the impact on your bottom line if sterling goes to parity?
Less obvious risks can also be identified relatively easily — for instance are your Irish based customers very dependent on the UK for sales? If so, demand for their products will fall post Brexit and this will have a knock-on effect on your business.
I am not sure how to plan for it.
In fairness to the Irish state agencies, they have invested heavily in putting supports in place to help businesses to prepare. The supports available are very broad ranging. For instance, the Local Enterprise Office provides one to one expert advice to businesses under its mentor programme, InterTradeIreland offers support under its ‘Brexit Start to Plan’ voucher and also has a very useful WTO tariff checker on its website, while Enterprise Ireland (and the Local Enterprise Offices) has a useful online ‘Customs Insights Course’ which can be accessed from their websites. The full range of supports is too extensive to go into here but details of these will be covered in the ‘Brexit – never waste a good crisis’ workshop which is scheduled for Cork City on the March 5.
I’m too busy and I don’t have the time
to do it.
Yes running a business is a full-time job and while we can’t create time, we can choose what to do with the time we have. Based on my experience it takes between two to three days to go through the risk assessment process and to develop it into an action plan.
Put another way, if you invest three days of your time, you can have a good understanding of the impact Brexit will have on your business and have an action plan to deal with those impacts. Apart from anything else, this will help you to sleep better at night for the next few months.
Having supported many companies through their Brexit planning process a thought struck me one evening. Many of the actions appearing in the action plans were good for the business even in the absence of Brexit risks. These actions make the business fitter, stronger and more profitable in the absence of Brexit. While the actions are a good defense against Brexit risks, they are also simply good for the bottom line.
For instance, implementing a lean programme to reduce waste and improve efficiencies within the business is a good idea. If Brexit happens, this will help to lessen the financial impact. If Brexit doesn’t happen or it is a soft Brexit, the savings made go straight to the bottom line. The Local Enterprise Offices provide support to businesses under the ‘Lean for Micro’ programme to assist with implementing this.
The upcoming ‘Brexit – never waste a good crisis’ workshop being offered by the Cork City Local Enterprise Office will guide people though the risk assessment process referenced above using a case study. The workshop will outline the extensive range of Brexit supports available to businesses through the various state agencies. It will also identify the most common risks posed by Brexit for Irish businesses and identify effective defenses against them.
It takes place in the Republic of Works on 5 th March and runs from 10am to 12.30pm. As the event is part of its Enterprise Week programme, it is free to attend, however booking in advance is essential. This can be done online through its website - https://www.localenterprise.ie/CorkCity/Training-Events/Online-Bookings/Brexit-never- waste-a-good-crisis!.html.
While the Brexit deadline is rapidly approaching, there is still time to plan for it. While I believe some sense will prevail in the 11 th hour, time spent planning for a hard Brexit is time well spent. Even if the deadline is pushed out or there is a second referendum, the actions built into your Brexit action plan will make your business stronger and more profitable anyway. So, my advice is to use the Brexit Crisis as the catalyst to drive change and to improve your business.
Denis Casey is the founder of Casey Business Consulting and has considerable experience in conducting business risk assessments and in preparing continuity plans to make sure organisations are ready to deal with disasters. Denis will be facilitating a workshop on Brexit at the Republic of Work on Tuesday March 5, as part of LEO Cork City’s series of free workshops and events for Local Enterprise Week from March 4 to 8.