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VIEWPOINT: 2020 Hindsight: 5 Lessons for CNY Business Owners to Use in 2021

By Michael Brunner


While many businesses across Central New York are still dealing with the acute impacts of the economic and social disruption of 2020, innovative companies will apply what they have learned in order to excel in 2021. Here are five ways that companies can build resilience and weather future challenges, while being better positioned to capitalize on emerging opportunities. 

Financial discipline isn’t just for hard times 

A thorough, proactive review of internal processes and key relationships can help protect your company, whereas cutting expenses in a defensive and reactive posture can have unintended consequences. Instead, create “what if” scenarios now and plan allocations for each. Businesses can find resources and help at organizations such as the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency, CenterState CEO, Onondaga Small Business Development Center, Syracuse Economic Development Corporation, Mohawk Valley EDGE, [and The Agency - Broome County IDA/LDC, to name a few]. Then, if the time comes, you can respond with a thoroughly vetted plan. 

Don’t let uncertainty deter you from growth

The M&A market shifted in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus and widespread digital transformation. Companies with strong working capital and cash reserves could have a significant opportunity to put that to work through a merger or acquisition, especially if they have limited debt. 

If your company is not in a position to pursue M&A activity, develop a strategic plan for future growth. Start by identifying the top opportunities facing your company right now and consider the potential hurdles you’ll face in pursuing these opportunities. This will help you formulate an actionable, prioritized plan specific to your situation. 

Cybersecurity is critical, especially for those working from home

Cybercrime is more of a risk in today’s remote-work environment, so companies must prepare themselves. Workers are less protected when working from home, resulting in criminals launching malware campaigns targeting people with insufficiently secured devices. Last summer, one local company discovered that its clients’ personal information may have been compromised in a suspected ransomware attack, driving home the importance of cybersecurity training. Such training can teach employees how to put essential safeguards in place, as well as provide guidelines on the safe use of public Wi-Fi and the importance of VPNs and well-protected home routers.

ESG strategy is no longer just for the big guys

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing is far from a feel-good, concessionary strategy — it helps manage risk and enhance returns, and it can be directly linked to a company’s long-term outlook. 

Best practices for strengthening your company’s ESG commitments include disclosing comprehensive ESG information, having a diversity and inclusion program, and ensuring diverse representation on the board of directors. 

Invest in your employees 

Just as you’re taking steps to safeguard cash flow and business operations, it’s essential to protect the wellbeing of your employees. Management should support employees even more holistically and proactively than before. Comprehensive wellness programs that support employees’ physical, mental, and financial health are more important now than ever before. 

The coronavirus created unprecedented challenges for local businesses, and Central New York executives bravely faced new trials. While no one can predict what’s to come in 2021, these lessons from 2020 can help companies reignite growth and plan for financial success in the year ahead.       

Michael Brunner is Senior Vice President of Global Commercial Banking and Central New York Market President for Bank of America.

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