Ledger Business Solutions Spotlight
Mark Ledger, Principal of Ledger Business Solutions works with owner-managed and family-owned SMEs throughout East Anglia. Whilst he describes himself as a Portfolio Finance Director, the title does not give justice to the roles he performs for his clients. These range from creating a business plan, to providing a regular senior strategic leadership role. During the past six months, his clients have included organisations in a variety of sectors including logistics, telecoms, engineering, commercial laundry and waste management to name but a few. He reflects on how his clients have reacted, and lessons learnt for the future.
“I’ve worked as a Finance Director for over 30 years, providing a strategic and business planning role,” explains Mark, “Despite working through various recessions and economic challenges nothing could have prepared me for the impact of COVID. Looking back, those first few weeks were an emotional roller coaster for many including panic and despair”.
However, business owners are by nature optimistic. Mark saw that after the initial shock and panic, their natural reaction was to work out where there were opportunities, and how they could evolve to manage during the pandemic. Some clients changed their business plan to attract different markets, others offered different products or services, or changed their working procedures.
One of Mark’s main roles during the first few months was supporting companies in their efforts to obtain funding. Whilst some funding, such as the Bounce Back Loan, required a simple online application, by taking the opportunity to review business plans in their entirety, business owners gained a clearer picture of what they needed to do. This enabled them to start driving a controlled, and logical, plan forward.
The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), for larger organisations, has been a more complex process and Mark provided invaluable support to his clients to help them through this process. “Banks needed to be confident that the debt could be serviced and that it was a valid need resulting from COVID-19, so it wasn’t just a basic application,” explains Mark. “Banks have a cap of government support and some of the banks have reached their threshold so the process hasn’t been easy”.
Mark says “I know the government has come under a lot of criticism but trying to support every situation was almost an impossibility. I found the speed of implementing the Bounce Back Loan facility and distributing the funds, setting up the Furlough scheme and being able to process claims and receive the money quickly, was amazing.”
Whilst Mark’s clients have had a mixed experience of the past five months the majority of them have been successful in some form and have a robust plan to move forward. Some clients developed new products and have had near-record results in recent months. Others that work on longer-term contracts carried on as they were before, with the changes mostly being working from home more. “Cash flow, and how sectors traditionally operate financially has not only influenced options over the past five months but is now impacting on the risk profile going forward. Whilst the majority of sectors are now allowed to re-open, funding options are now coming to an end. For some sectors, we are entering a traditionally quieter time of year which will bring further challenges,” explains Mark. “Planning and having a dynamic business strategy in place is now absolutely vital”.
A big talking point at the moment is whether people will return to the office and the impact that working from home is having on the high street, productivity and mental health. “Whilst working from home may save costs it will bring different challenges to managing staff which needs to be considered”, says Mark. “For East Anglia, it will be interesting to see how much we will be affected by businesses, and indeed people, wanting to move out of the city, and what that means for our local space”.
For Mark himself, it has been a period of growth. “I felt my client’s pain and anguish for the first few weeks but once the natural entrepreneurial optimism kicked in, we were able to move forward with how to deal with the challenges faced. It’s been a productive few months with many clients being busier than they expected,” explains Mark.
Looking at the future, Mark believes that businesses have learnt some tough lessons and will need to adapt their approach to be stronger, more efficient and ultimately more profitable. “Companies will need to be more disciplined in their planning and change their attitude to retaining reserves. This situation has shown some companies to be weak, with their future threatened after just a couple of weeks of not trading, so a policy of cash retention is likely to become more prevalent”.