Adapting to coronavirus – investing to come back stronger

As lockdown measures are further eased, many businesses across the UK are starting to open up again for the first time. But even for businesses that have remained open throughout the whole of the pandemic, adapting to coronavirus hasn’t been easy. 

Cambridge Rapid, a metal manufacturing business in West Suffolk, has been continuing its operations throughout lockdown, but has had to make rapid changes to keep pace with the changing business landscape. We caught up with Esther Cornell, Managing Director, to learn more about how she’s adapted her business, and how she’s using her Funding Circle CBILS loan to make her business even more competitive.

Adapting your business in the coronavirus pandemic

What did your business do before coronavirus?

Cambridge Rapid is a complete manufacturing service. We manufacture sheet metal work and assemblies for all industries.

How has the coronavirus affected your business?

Coronavirus had quite a big impact on us, especially as we’d only just relocated 12 months ago. There was a settling down period after relocation and we’d had quite a challenging 9 months getting settled. Then coronavirus hit. We lost some staff through self-isolation quite early on and, in the first 6 weeks of lockdown, we also crafted medical equipment. As time continued, our orders dropped quite considerably. In May, we had just 60% of our normal orders coming in, and by June it was down to about 35%.

How have you adapted?

We had to review all of our costs. We did furlough some staff during May — those that were non-essential non-production staff. In June, we even had to furlough some of our production staff, but we wanted to be able to train our workforce, at the same time as furloughing, within HMRC’s guidelines. To achieve this, we’ve actually set up a training school in-house to train some of our younger employees, as well as some of our older ones, to make sure we could be more competitive when the markets improve. We took the opportunity to do something we wouldn’t have had time or funding for normally.

How are you operating now?

We are doing our own sales and marketing. With my job in particular, now we have funding, I’m able to re-focus from managing cash flow to how we market ourselves. With our strides in training, this means we can make people more aware of how competitive we are, and hopefully build back our order book.

How have you supported staff and customers?

Because we’ve worked all the way through the crisis, we had to put controls in place straight away to allow us to continue working. Fortunately, it’s easier to implement social distancing in a large factory environment, and ensuring we follow those guidelines has been very important. 

In the early days of lockdown, we also had to allow time off for shopping, because we were very aware of all the food shortages in supermarkets at the time. As lockdown measures continue to be eased, our renewed focus is on training and supporting our staff, and using this opportunity to better ourselves and our processes.

Using a CBILS loan to fund your business

What do you plan on doing with your CBILS loan?

We’re keeping some of it as a safety net. We’ve also used some of it for working capital, and we’ve invested in our staff with our training programme. We’ve also used it to further our sales and marketing. It’s primarily being used to help us improve the business so that we can grow from this and become much stronger within the marketplace.

How was your Funding Circle experience?

It took us under half an hour to apply online. It was very simple and straightforward — we sent all the information through, got a decision in 24 hours and the money was in our bank account 48 hours after that. We couldn’t believe how easy the process was, and the fact that we won’t have to pay anything for the next year has been a huge weight off our minds. It gives us the flexibility to focus on what we need to and to get the business in tip-top shape.

What advice would you give to business owners considering funding?

Obviously everyone needs working capital, and obviously there are significant issues with cash flow at times like this. For us, our Funding Circle CBILS loan is great because we won’t have to repay anything for the first year, and if you can manage to pay it back by the first year, it won’t have cost you anything. That makes it so flexible, and means that you don’t have to use it unless you need to, but you’ve also got the ability to trade at a normal level even when your order numbers have been dropping. 

Support from the business community

How has your community pulled together?

We’re part of West Suffolk Manufacturing Group, so our local Economic Support Officer contacted us within a week of lockdown to offer their support, which was really helpful. We also recently met as a group since lockdown restrictions have eased, to discuss what we were doing, to see how others in the group had adapted and see how we could work together. We’ve been very lucky being in West Suffolk — there is a fantastic support network. We’ve also received support from our Proaction business coach, who’s supported us every step of the way — even to the extent that he recommended we go to Funding Circle for our CBILS loan.

What advice would you give to other businesses trying to adapt to coronavirus?

Look at every cost you have within your business. Value your staff — they’re your most important asset, so you want to support them and keep them at the heart of all you do. But most importantly, stay positive. Rise to the challenge, and use this time to focus on becoming the best you can be.

Katie Deacon