Yee Von Lim’s clients were in trouble. The Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia, which shut down the country during the early months of the pandemic, was having an immediate impact on small and medium business enterprises (SMEs), which were the backbone of her clientele.
“Their businesses were badly impacted, and their lifestyle changed so much,” said Lim, a five-year MDRT member from Selangor, Malaysia. “People were directionless and didn’t know what to do next. Our team decided we had to do webinars right away to help them.”
Her first webinar, which she produced with her colleague Sabrina Tan, focused on two things: how businesses should manage their finances during this time and how business owners could maintain their mental health. They developed a Facebook Live presentation with a certified mental-wellness consultant from the United States to handle the personal side of their challenges.
They also hosted panels with successful entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants who shared their strategies around leadership during crises, as well as tactics to financially weather the economic turbulence. Lim ultimately created a series of 10 webinars to walk the business owners through what she refers to as the new normal, and how to manage their reserves and cash flow, as well as their risk management.
Lim was able to address business owners’ needs so quickly because she has spent the past eight years attending their industry events, asking questions and listening carefully to identify their pain points. When the pandemic hit, she again joined their virtual calls and industry meetings to understand what the pandemic looked like from their viewpoint.
About 90% of businesses in Malaysia are SMEs, and talking to them about topics like cash flow and the separation of business and personal finances was often challenging, Lim said. The pandemic helped open up these conversations.
Prior to the pandemic, most businesses were interested in growing, not saving. “They only focused on expansion. And then COVID-19 came fast and hit them very suddenly,” Lim said. “So a lot of companies, at a large scale, were not agile enough to be able to change quickly. A lot of them are stuck with high overhead costs. So I think cash flow management is a big pain point now.”
Additionally, the cash flow issue often extended into their personal lives, because many business owners in Malaysia don’t separate their personal and company finances.
Lim spent time with each business owner to identify individual solutions and keep them afloat, which in one case meant temporarily withdrawing some of the cash value out of one of his life insurance policies while still retaining the plan. It gave him enough to pay his employees and care for his family as he reconsidered his business operations. And, he was much more open to talking about the value of separating business and personal finances.
Lim also drew on the experience of one of her clients who had listened to her in previous years, and kept his finances separate. When the business began struggling due to the pandemic, he cut his own pay 50% and his employees’ pay by 25% to keep the business open.
“I asked him if he would have been able to make this decision to cut his pay, if his personal finances weren’t separated from the business,” Lim said. “He said, ‘If my personal finances and personal commitment to my family weren’t already taken care of, I don’t think I would have been able to make this step to cut my pay by 50%. That move itself is the most effective and wisest for the company.’”
The owners of SMEs have also been more receptive to risk products, understanding that in business you sometimes have to take risks to expand but then you have to manage the risks.
Lim actually spent so much time talking to business owners during the pandemic that in addition to the webinar series, she also created two ebook survival guides for them. The ebooks outline steps businesses needed to take to survive the crisis. Tips include setting realistic goals to support employees, building closer relationships with suppliers and businesses whose goals aligned with the SME’s, and understanding the difference between profit and cash flow.
But the most important role she serves is being a listening ear for worried business owners who often have no one else to turn to.
“They will start to reveal to you not only things with their company but things that have happened in their family, because they know you understand them and will try to help them,” Lim said.
“A lot of business owners are quite lonely, because who can they talk to? They can’t share it with their staff or they’ll scare them away,” Lim said. “There’s only a small group they can share their worries with.”
For Lim, it comes down to being human first and relating to clients in a personal way, rather than thinking about sales. “I think, in this pandemic, it’s very important to put value first.”
Lim shares with business owners
- Draft a contingency plan with your key management to mitigate impacts and risks during times of crisis. Form an emergency team to provide countermeasures for unexpected business challenges.
- Use scenario planning to be prepared for situations such as sales decreases and staffing shortages or overages. Also use this planning to develop different scenarios and how they will be handled in terms of operations and overhead, and how to sustainably grow your business with less risk.
- Understand the difference between cash flow (the amount of money flowing in and out of a business at any given time) versus profit (revenue remaining after deducting business costs). In today’s climate, cash flow is more important to keep the business running.