Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, Lightyear have been able to pivot their business strategy and accelerate new revenue growth during lockdown.
Here our founder, Chris Gregg, shares how Lightyear pivoted to survive and thrive during the global pandemic.
We had spent a lot of time, pre-pandemic, building industry-agnostic features and opening up new geographical markets in a deliberate strategy to create a broader customer-base and accelerate growth.
This strategy was working well. In March we processed more than a quarter-million invoices, worth more than £300M in invoice value, which is more than 150% year on year growth.
However, going into the pandemic, our client-base was still 60% retail, hospitality and tourism and our sales pipeline was still heavily skewed to these industries.
We had online retailers specialising in homewares through to traditional high-street pharmacy groups. In hospitality, we had everything from international fast-food chains, through to fine-dining Michelin Star restaurants. In tourism, we had large hotel groups, through to small airlines.
We thought we had a very robust business model, ready for any eventuality. But, a global pandemic? Like everyone else, that was not factored into our worst-case modelling.
In the first month after lockdown, we saw a 60% drop-off in the volume and value of bills being processed by our customers. And with our volumetric pricing model, that left us in a precarious position. Our sales pipeline was heavily filled with Retail and hospitality clients, who shut down overnight. We knew we had to act fast and quickly find new additional growth revenue streams. Here’s what we did:
There are 5 main strategic pillars we have pursued to tackle the pandemic:
1. Activated Lightyear’s remote working contingency plan.
As soon as the government announced lockdown measures, we immediately moved to remote working, with all of our staff working from their own homes.
The team was able to make the transition to remote working quickly as we were already a fully cloud-based business, utilising the cloud across every area of our business including video conferencing and a chat collaboration platform.
We have more daily meetings now to increase communication and compensate for a lack of face to face collaboration.
Employee mental health is a big focus. We’ve introduced virtual social quizzes and other activities on Friday’s to keep the team’s morale high and have introduced a flexible working arrangement for all employees to ensure they can meet family commitments.
Since making the move, we have seen productivity and business results improve.
2. Meet the customer, on their terms.
We realised quickly that the new norm for businesses was no longer 8 AM-6 PM due to family commitments. We’re seeing large spikes in enquiries at the oddest times, 11 PM at night has become a hotspot of activity. When businesses are working all hours in a fight to survive, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to reach you.
We have expanded our team’s coverage to offer 24-hour availability for new enquiries and this has fit in well with our team’s requirement to also work strange hours so they can support their families during the day.
We introduced an online tool to allow our customers to book meetings automatically at a time that would suit them.
We have also expanded our knowledge of communication tools and we meet customers via whichever platform they prefer. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Zoho…. You name it, we’ve had a meeting on it.
3. Have your existing customers backs.
Our first priority is always our customers. Many of which have had to close their businesses due to government mandates. This, of course, means that they are not making any money and they aren't buying supplies at anywhere near the same rate as the previous month.
For any customers that have come to us and said, ‘Look, the government has just shut us down, can you help us with your subscription too please?’, we have deferred their fees until their businesses are allowed to re-open. So long as you can afford to do so, your customers will remember you for having their backs when they most needed it.
Once we sorted our current customers out, it was time to reach out and help other businesses that did not have a solution in place. These companies were facing their own huge financial challenges, managing a remote payables process during what is an unusual spike in demand.
4. Stay relevant, use data and pivot your marketing.
Marketing is no longer about finding businesses that are looking to improve their AP process because the traditional AP process is gone. Loading docks are now contactless. Printers and scanners are in offices under lockdown. Getting a bill to a person for signature/approval is impossible. Attaching bills to POs and delivery dockets is the stuff of years gone by.
Overnight, the search terms we were paying for changed. ‘Remote’ is the new ‘paperless’. ‘Solution’ is the new ‘efficiency’. We saw huge spikes in remote search terms. Rather than cut spending, we doubled down our efforts in marketing to target and help businesses who needed to implement a remote working solution fast. When you hit a roadblock you either turn back or put your foot on the gas and drive straight through.
5. Focused product development to meet the immediate needs of SME’s during the lockdown.
We quickly re-prioritised our product roadmap and started introducing new features that would help people to do their jobs remotely.
One of the main pain points for businesses is remote approvals and collaboration. We introduced several features designed to help with this:
Dynamic notifications in the software to allow teams to stay connected in real-time.
Automatic email notifications for any users to be informed whenever a document needs to be actioned.
We brought Lightyear into the palms of everyone's hands by adding notifications to our mobile app, so users can stay connected anytime, anywhere.
We had an instant messaging service within our application planned for Q4. We are now due to release this in 2 weeks. These notifications enhance the power of the approvals process in Lightyear to allow a user to communicate back and forth about a particular invoice before approving it. This keeps all communication regarding invoices in Lightyear and provides more context to the audit trail.
This pandemic will be the making of the next round of business leaders.
CoVid-19, unfortunately, has and will put irreparable stress on many well-managed businesses. Many businesses will fall victim to a once-in-a-generation global pandemic. This is the harsh reality of 2020. However, If you can take a proactive approach to solve new problems in a new manner, there is a great opportunity for certain businesses to thrive and grow. April & May have been Lightyear’s strongest sales months on record.
I’ve seen some great examples of this ingenuity amongst our Lightyear customers. For example, many food and drink outlets have adapted their business models to deliver restaurant quality food to your doorstep. We have seen other businesses in the manufacturing industry lean in and develop PPE equipment. I’m really proud that we are able to support these businesses’ operations as they deliver front line value.
Don’t sit back and wait for this to blow over. Think out of the box - find new ways to deliver your products and service while this continues. Stay focused on your team and your customers and do the right thing by them, you won’t go far wrong. Don’t forget to have hope. It may take time, but this will end and as a planet, we will recover. Keep hustling hard until the sun shines again.