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By now, even people who aren’t involved in businesses that depend on commodities have heard of supply chains. And most of them know all too well that those supply chains are slowing down — sometimes even breaking down entirely — due to global obstacles as varied as the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Supply chains for the production and delivery of many kinds of products, raw materials, and other commodities have been affected. And while the latter has impacted consumers, the consequences are generally limited to longer wait times for the completion or delivery of something — including consumer goods, a home or a car. But for businesses, the impact can mean life or death. After all, if you can’t deliver your finished products to paying customers, you won’t stay in business for long.
That said, supply chain disruptions aren’t necessarily the end of your business. With some smart planning, a little foresight, and a willingness to switch your focus, you can keep your company going and even growing while supply chain disruptions are resolved.
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1. Get clear on the situation
The first and most fundamental task ahead of you is to identify and understand the root cause of the delay. A supply chain breakdown caused by some aspect of the pandemic is very different from one caused by, for example, the regulatory shutdown of a single key supplier. One is likely to last longer, while the other might be sidestepped by sourcing from a different vendor.
Another key initial task is to assess the damage being inflicted by the delay. Figuring out the extent of the problem means determining how much product has been lost and whether any part of it is still marketable and salable. Coming up with a plan is the first step in mitigating the damage and keeping income streams flowing to the maximum possible extent.
2. Figure out how to move forward
Once you have a clear understanding of the cause and likely duration of the delay, it’s important to shift your attention towards implementing a plan to move forward as soon as possible. Don’t dwell on the delay. Instead, look for actions you can take or delegate right away. Explore tactics to acquire and allocate resources in a way that minimizes the impact of the delay.
As part of this process, review your order history. Track time-to-delivery and other metrics over time, then make your projections for how future delays will impact your business so you can plan ahead.
3. Keep lines of communication open
The worst thing you can do is leave customers, employees, and other stakeholders in a position where they have to guess about deliveries, schedules, and timeframes. Instead, come up with strong strategies for communicating clearly with everyone who might be impacted by the problems with your supply chain.
Even though you have nothing to do with the slowdown, it’s important to acknowledge the impact on your customers, employees, and others. Apologize for any inconvenience caused and give them all the accurate information you can share so they can make their plans accordingly — which is especially important to your customers.
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4. Focus on other aspects of your business
Now is the time to focus on customer service and any other aspects of your business that aren’t directly affected by the supply chain problems. It’s an especially good time to lean hard into customer service because those changes can last well beyond the end of the current obstacles and help you build a more loyal customer base that’ll last well into the future.
It’s also a good idea to take advantage of the delay to improve your business processes. Even the smallest incremental improvements can optimize your business practices. And in the face of such significant disruptions to your customer-facing operations, even incremental changes can give a significant boost to your bottom line.
5. Plan for ways to deal with or prevent future delays
This likely won’t be the very last event of significant disruption to global supply chains the business world will ever see. So after you’ve implemented plans to focus on optimizing other aspects of your business processes, think about taking action to prevent future delays in your supply chain.
First, ensure you’ve got a timely and effective system to track your inventory at all phases of the customer journey. This will help you avoid being caught by surprise when a future supply chain delay or breakdown takes place. Look into affordable supply chain management (SCM) software suitable for small businesses to help track your inventory and manage shipping to your customers.
Next, look for ways to add a buffer to your inventory counts. This won’t always be physically possible or financially feasible. Take advantage of discounts and closeouts to increase your inventory when and where your company’s finances and physical storage capacity allow. Also, explore possible alternatives to your usual inventory specifications. Competitors and phased-out lines can both offer affordable substitute goods.
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6. Keep your team motivated
It’s important to keep your team updated on how supply chain delays are impacting your company. Putting on a brave face will only go so far, especially if there are real problems you need to contend with. Communicate openly and honestly with your team, and keep them informed of any changes while remaining positive and upbeat. Don’t forget to reward your team for their hard work in uncertain times.
7. Don’t forget to protect your physical and mental health
In the “last but far from least” category, take care of yourself. Your company has never needed your leadership more. Prioritize basic self-care, including relaxation and time away from the office to unwind and recharge.
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