Stories from the pandemic: GPMD

In the wake of lockdown restrictions easing and businesses ramping up, we would like to share some stories of how others are getting through these tough and unprecedented times, starting with ourselves.

We sat down with our CEO, Mark Slocock, who shared some insights on how GPMD has been coping.

How has the pandemic affected your business (both negative and positive)?

I have to confess I didn’t realise the potential impact COVID-19 would have on our business or the UK economy. I’d seen some of the news reports from China but had not given them much thought, that was until Friday 13th March, when we made our first COVID-19 decision to move everyone to working from home. Fortunately this was fairly easy for us as half the team work remotely anyway, so we’re set-up for it.

We had a board meeting on the 16th and the projections for the year were looking great, we were on track for our best year to date. However, things moved very fast from that point onwards. As the week progressed we had the financing for 3 projects pulled and a number of retainers reduced to the minimum level. All-in-all the revenue projections for the year took a 30% hit that week.

In the weeks that followed we had various requests to extend payment terms, but not the major changes we saw the week before lockdown. Overall the lockdown has seen an increase in online traffic and revenues, and we’ve been very busy supporting our clients as there has been an increased focus on online operations with senior management teams taking a very close interest.

What are your biggest challenges, and what are you doing to address them?

Without a doubt the biggest business challenge has been managing cash flow. It’s become difficult to predict when invoices will be paid and, therefore, what our cash position will be in the coming months.

Trying to arrange replacement finance for the 3 projects is an ongoing process. To-date, one project has been put on hold, but it looks like we will get the other two financed one way or another. Also, applying for a business interruption loan is taking some time to finalise.

We’ve had a larger number of incoming requests from clients than normal. Dealing with these adhoc requests has meant working longer to keep up, and of course those of us with children have found juggling full time employment and childcare difficult. It has been hard to manage both, and I expect it has put extra strain on parents in a similar situation across the country. What I find it most challenging is to push back the feeling that I’m not giving either my children, or work, enough attention.

Overall, however, we’re lucky. Online retail has become more important than ever for most businesses as other revenue streams have taken a hit or dried up completely.

And so, one unexpected positive aspect of the pandemic has been an increase in the number of great people applying to work for us. Currently, we have implemented a hiring freeze but we have over 40 quality applicants for a range of positions. We’re trying to find a way to make some key hires and hope to reopen our hiring very soon.

How has your day-to-day work changed during the pandemic

My day-to-day is very different from before. My wife is a nurse and working more than usual, so I’ve had more childcare responsibilities than before. Even though we’ve had amazing support from the children’s schools and nursery, it’s taken some adjustment to balance the two, and I am not managing to work as much as I did before the pandemic. That may be a good thing though, as it’s pushing me to try and maximise my productivity.

Most of my day is spent at my desk, not a bad place to be, particularly on a nice sunny day. But no substitute for being out-and-about though!

Any advice for other businesses?

If you’re struggling, ask for help - there is a lot of support out there. Small things can make a difference, get on the phone and ask people for the help you need, I think you’ll find a lot of people willing and able to help.

We haven’t put any staff on furlough (we need all hands on deck), but I’ve spoken to plenty of businesses who have done so with relative ease. We decided to apply for a Business Interruption Loan to help us offer finance and extended payment terms to clients. My experience of this is that it’s taking a long time (4 weeks and counting). So if you’re planning to apply for a loan, don’t delay!

If you’re looking to start or expand your online business there are plenty of companies who will give help and advice for free, and deals to be had from the major ecommerce platforms. So again, don’t be afraid to ask for help and to push for a good deal!

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