News Special: Expecting the Unexpected

By Shannon Kilgariff / 01 May 2020

With new stats highlighting a low rate of business contingency planning for practitioners in the industry, Aesthetics explores the importance of expecting the unexpected

These are unprecedented times. No aesthetic business owner could expect or foresee that by March 2020, clinics all over the country would be closed and, for many, this eventuality is extremely difficult. But for a second, pretend that you haven’t even heard of COVID-19 and consider; as a business owner, have you ever thought about what would happen if you were suddenly unable to work tomorrow?

A new survey by Hamilton Fraser Cosmetic Insurance focusing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that chances are, you haven’t.1,2

Of 1,360 aesthetic practitioners surveyed between March 22 to March 24, 72% said they did not have a contingency plan in place should they not be able to carry out aesthetic procedures. Of the 28% who did, returning to the NHS for work was among the top responses. 

Other plans included a focus on online product sales for revenue, continuing to engage with patients through education via social media, blogs and vlogs, contacting suppliers to delay any payments due, claiming insurance, upskilling through online training, and potentially using time away productively, such as increasing CPD, and improving the business.

The figure comes as no surprise to Mark Copsey, healthcare associate director at Hamilton Fraser Cosmetic Insurance, or to business consultant Ron Myers, director of The Consulting Room Group. “All our survey participants come from a medical background so treating people is life to them, but business planning and marketing doesn’t usually come quite as naturally,” Copsey says.

Myers adds that many individuals who run single and small business enterprises, or those without a business or entrepreneurial background, will be less likely to have a level of future planning. 

He explains, “It’s certainly important for business owners to think about potential unlikely eventualities that might lead to business disruption and cause them to be unable to carry out aesthetic procedures. Although no one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, in other circumstances these eventualities could include a fire or flood in the clinic, the unexpected absence of a key person or perhaps the theft of vital machines. Planning can help manage these circumstances if, or when, they occur.” 

Aesthetic nurse prescriber, Lorna McDonnell Bowes, has extensive experience owning and running aesthetic clinics and is now the CEO of product distributor AestheticSource. In 2018 she suffered a health issue forcing her to step away from managing her business for for a period. Speaking from experience, she highlights the importance of business contingency planning, explaining, “I think it is a business essential to have a disaster management plan and to have thought through how you will keep your business going should something unforeseeable happen.”

However, Myers adds, “A lot of business owners struggle to put together what I call a straightforward strategic plan and won’t include issues related to business interruption and its associated financial implications. This would include looking at best and worst-case scenarios from a cash flow perspective because every aspect of business interruption will relate to cash flow – how much is going out and coming in, and what reserves you have.”

What should your contingency plan involve?

Your plan doesn’t need to be a large formal document, Myers says, but it should be written down and easily accessible. “A few pages of steps you would take is all that you need to really make a difference to the way the situation is managed,” he advises.

When McDonnell Bowes was practising, she acknowledges that her business contingency plans were never actually written down, however it had been thought about and discussed with relevant parties. She says, “My medical director and I had regular conversations about how the business would continue if either of us were to fall ill. As we had others to rely on it mainly consisted of how we would take on each other’s work loads. Product supply was another thing we had looked into; we knew that there were various sources of the products we needed and if anything were to happen that would damage supply we had these contacts ready.”

As mentioned, the number one issue businesses will likely face is cash flow, and in usual circumstances insurance can be of huge benefit here, Myers highlights, adding, “This is what most people’s contingency planning involves and particular policies will help cover you if you need to stop trading at a particular time, but I find that for the majority of businesses this is as far as they get. You should also consider how you might be able to keep money coming in. This could include remote or video consultations, which could either be paid for or complimentary, depending on your business model. You might also look to continue with sales of products that you can send directly, such as skincare, nutraceuticals or at-home devices, or in some situations you could look to temporarily hire suitable treatment rooms in other clinics nearby.”

Also from an insurance perspective, Copsey highlights the importance of having sufficient planning in place to be able to maintain medical malpractice insurance contracts. “Although practitioners may not be practising in the event of clinic closure, this insurance should still be in place as it covers them for medical liability and dissatisfaction claims and has to be in force at the time of the claim, not when the treatment was carried out,” he says.

Although cash flow is a major consideration, it’s not the only one. Myers says, “There are actually very important and simple components of basic planning that every clinic should have in place. For example, how will you keep engaging with your employees? I recommend to communicate with your employees on a one-to-one basis at least once a week; give them a call and check in, ensure they feel they are updated and not forgotten about. Also, what about your patients? For example, how will you handle the phones and customer enquires? Many clinics work with call answering services like Aesthetic Response anyway, but it might be worth considering this. I have found that a number of clinics that are closed at present just have an answering machine saying that they are closed, but they risk alienating existing patients or losing new enquiries without human engagement.”

McDonnell Bowes also recommends that business owners assess each individual person in their business and determine critical roles. “Look at these people working with you and make sure that someone else knows what’s going on with their role and how they might be able to take over if they ever need to. Important information about their role should be written down and easily accessible,” she says.

McDonnell Bowes’ top recommendation for practitioners is to ensure they have a good support network if something goes wrong. “For example, if for any reason you are unable to practice or look after your clinic, ensure you have someone you can trust who might be able to take over from you for a length of time should something happen. Think what information they would need, such as accessing patient data – following GDPR of course – and who the critical people are to the business such as the suppliers. If this is another practitioner, perhaps a pre-arranged financial agreement could be beneficial,” she explains.

Myers also says a plan on how to deal with your immediate bookings is essential, as is accessing their details. “Do you have a CRM system that is cloud based? Or do you physically need to be in the building? If your clinic burns down then not being able to access this remotely is a huge issue,” he says. Overall though, Myers emphasises that any plan is better than none.

How COVID-19 will change business planning

Myers and Copsey say that although no one was prepared for the disruption caused by COVID-19, they are certain that it will have a positive impact on many businesses’ contingency plans. “As a result of COVID-19, I think future planning will change forever with much greater thought and resource applied – this event will see business change forever on many levels and that can only be a positive thing,” explains Copsey. McDonnell Bowes adds, “I am convinced that the current COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity to learn and look at business structure, the relationships your business depends on and how these can be improved. Every experience I have had has been opportunity to learn and grow so I encourage others not to be afraid of it.”

Myers notes, “It’s forced everyone to run through many of the steps of disaster planning as they have not been able to go to their clinics, so now they have a template on what they can do in future.” 

He encourages practitioners to reflect on this time and assess how they managed the situation, explaining, “I suggest practitioners get their staff together when they are back and talk through what everyone has learnt, what worked well and what could have been done better. Be sure to document this to help in the event of another business disruption. It is really important that clinics do this because we might all go back to work following COVID-19 and then a few months down the line we might be in lockdown again. Or, perhaps something else will happen that causes a business closure. It’s good to know what needs to be done to make things easier and slicker.”

Live and learn 

After being forced to step back from her business, McDonnell Bowes suggests that good things did actually come of it. “My business changed when I was unwell, but for the better as it made us all stronger. I found that the amount of time I spent developing relationships with my team absolutely payed dividends, and from a practitioner perspective having a strong relationship with your patients will do this too.”

Myers emphasises, “At least if you have a business contingency plan, if something happens you can go to that and say what is applicable at that time. Hopefully you have some kind of guideline or blueprint around the immediate and longer-term things that you need to do.”

Copsey concludes, I think contingency planning has to be central to every business now and when we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Business will have changed, sectors will have adapted and people will be more experienced, so it is unlikely that we will be caught by surprise in such a huge way again. Life is always going to send surprises our way but we are resilient, mentally tough and will learn from the experience. I firmly believe that the sector will bounce back to life pretty quickly as it’s part of our natural being to take care of ourselves.” 

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