While efforts to contain the virus raise hopes that a return to some kind of normality isn’t too far away, the challenges for businesses are continuing.
For business owners in Scotland the issues they face today and the uncertainty of what is yet to come could be felt by many to be overwhelming.
While modern technology means it has never been easier for a small to medium-size businesses (SMEs) to take their business to the world stage – but taking advantage of that marketplace is something that many will lack the expertise and experience to navigate successfully.
On top of the restrictions and challenges of trading in a world with travel bans, lockdowns and political upheaval, there is also the not inconsiderable feat of changing business models for a post-Brexit landscape, with new rules and regulations, as well as unseen costs.
There are also concerns about the looming prospect of a second independence referendum, and all the uncertainty that could bring.
In such a difficult marketplace, it is vital not only to have the best advice possible but to have a good idea of what might be coming, to help prepare for an uncertain future and ensure that your business can thrive.
The ‘wisdom of crowds’ has never been more true, but as many small business owners will know, the best advice can be hard to find.
Having access to a trusted peer group with a wide range of expertise is invaluable – and that is what Vistage International can offer.
Vistage International is a peer mentoring membership organisation for CEOs, business owners and executives of small to medium-size businesses (SMEs).
The organisation has strong roots in Scotland, having operated here for 15 years, and understands the specific challenges of the region. This allows them to offer business leaders the chance to access valuable insights and fresh perspectives to make big decisions and shape their futures with a peer advisory group and executive mentor.
At the heart of the Vistage experience is the confidential peer advisory group, composed of 12-16 executives from non-competing organisations, which meets once a month to work through challenges and opportunities and help create solutions.
Discussions are led by a carefully selected executive mentor or ‘Chair’, who will guide group discussions and keep them focused on the issues at hand, as well as provide one-to-one executive coaching if needed. In Scotland there are currently six chairs and 12 groups operating across the entire country.
“A worthwhile and essential investment in myself and my business”
Heather Stuart, chief executive of Fife Cultural Trust OnFife, has found her membership invaluable.
"There is genuinely no other development opportunity of this type available which combines monthly one-to one-coaching, with monthly day-long development sessions, including access to world class speakers,” she says.
"On a monthly basis I am meeting with my own group of senior leaders and we have all come to know each other’s businesses and each other well. It is a genuinely safe space where issues which are challenging you in relation to your business can be shared in confidence, and the differing perspectives that I get in dealing with these issues is unique.”
Practical help for business
Having input from experts outside your business can be an invaluable sounding board for new ideas, and can flag up problems many small businesses might not have seen otherwise.
As an example, just over a year ago the groups were advised by a member that the coronavirus outbreak – at the time confined to Wuhan in China – had the potential to become a global pandemic. That prompted discussion amongst the group about how to mitigate the effects of a possible global outbreak, and as a result the businesses involved were far better prepared for the challenges that have seen so many firms forced to close down.
Vistage members can also learn from world-class speakers at workshops, regional events and executive summits, and take advantage of research compiled by some of the world’s top business minds.
Paul Hilton, CEO of ESPC, says the ability to talk to a coach helps him to gain clarity on issues as well as realising that amongst his peers "your worries are their worries as well, so it is a safe environment to use as a sounding board".
He adds that the speakers have been a huge boon, with many lessons learned over the seven years he has been a member.
"There hasn't been a single session where I haven't taken something away," he says. "It is great to commit to that lifelong learning."
Online networks allow members to connect with business leaders around the world for real-time advice, referrals and troubleshooting – a vital service in such a rapidly evolving business landscape.
“Fundamentally business-and life-changing”
Jo Macsween is Vistage Group Chair for Scotland's central belt, including Glasgow and Edinburgh. She left her role at family business Macsween to become a Vistage chair after finding her seven years of membership "so fundamentally business-and life-changing".
"I have experienced the results first-hand having grown my leadership potential, my company and improved my wellbeing – it is a very holistic approach," says Jo who was named Vistage Chair Excellence Award winner in 2019.
Among the many benefits of being part of a peer group is the greater confidence in decision-making it can instil in leaders, she explains, along with the "challenge and accountability that is often missing even in organisations that have boards with non-executive advisors, as the peer group is diverse on a number of levels".
Other benefits include "support and insight from peers who understand the ups and downs of growing and leading a business – offered with no vested interest other than they want the best for you", along with ideas and inspiration that can really motivate leaders to review their strategic approach and test out new methods.
With programmes that can be tailored for MDs, CEOs, key executives, emerging leaders, business owners and service providers, Vistage offers the opportunity to build lifelong leadership excellence that elevates companies, strengthens performance, and fosters sustainable growth.
To find out more about the value of the support provided by being a member, visit the website at: https://vistage.co.uk/.