Small Business Britain is proud to present the latest report, How To Recover - a practical guide for small businesses on recovery. Whether getting back on track post pandemic or overcoming the regular hurdles encountered by all small businesses, this guide, based on the experience of thousands of small businesses like you, will set you on the right track.
Small Business Britain has been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to support small businesses and understand what their needs are now and in the future. The report highlights some key areas for small businesses to focus on: building a growth mindset, and the opportunities this will open up; reaching out for support from others; the need to try something new and not get caught in a rut; the importance of technology and digital skills in building for the future; and critically the importance of people and mental health in your business journey.
No matter where you are in your business journey, there will be something for you in this report. Critically, it also asks the question, can anyone recover? When thinking about the support available to businesses and individuals across the UK, we need to be aware of the accessibility of this support. This will be at the heart of ensuring the success of all in 2022, and opening up huge economic opportunity.
As the height of winter approaches, small businesses are apprehensive about the coming winter months, particularly with the growth of the Omicron variant and its impact on society. As footfall and spend in key sectors such as retail and hospitality, and their supply chains, have taken a hit, this has raised considerable concerns amongst small businesses for their immediate future.
However, even if far from ideal, we have found a great sense of resilience among small businesses, particularly as the rapid adapting to digital channels during previous lockdowns has small businesses feeling better prepared for the future than before. Changes made over the last two years, such as new products and services that can be delivered even with restrictions, have made businesses feel more able to overcome hurdles that the pandemic and other shocks may put in their way.
And while adapting to an increasingly online business landscape has been key, it is also clear how engagement with staff and customers has been key to recovery and success. Businesses that have taken steps to care for both their staff and their customers are feeling the benefits of this now with increased loyalty and an increased sense of support in the face of upcoming challenges.
Looking ahead to the future, it is clear how those with the business model and infrastructure to adapt to an increasing online landscape have dealt with the issues posed by the pandemic the best. Those that have put people at the heart of their business strategy as well are dealing with the current crisis better too. People and digital will be core to a 2022 recovery strategy for all small businesses.
“The first thing I did at the start of the pandemic was to give hourly staff a raise. We knew the shops would likely be affected and hours reduced so we increased hourly rates and told staff to stay calm and not worry. It was later that facilities like furlough were introduced and we watched similar businesses shed staff prior to this which we thought was unfair. This helped us in later months when we saw people wanting to work with us, rather than others.
Increasing my digital skills has helped me survive the pandemic and helped a lot of other businesses realise the opportunities for networking and keeping operations going when none of us can meet face-to-face. While I definitely miss going to in-person networking events as much as I used to, the pandemic has thrown up networking opportunities, events and conferences in a variety of nations and locations that I previously would not have been able to attend – all from the comfort of my own home.
I think for small businesses that are already online-focused or have been able to pivot to an online focus, the pandemic has changed things forever across the board. It has made many realise that plenty of business is completely effective, time-efficient and easier via Zoom, while also saving on travel costs and emissions.
As winter approaches, small businesses are feeling the financial pressure more across the board, with more debt, more cost cutting and a paring back where possible. This is, however, actually supporting a growing awareness of and activity in sustainability for small businesses. Reducing waste and engaging with customers and the supply chain on sustainability are working well with a more frugal approach to business, and creating commercial opportunities, which have the added benefit of being good for the planet.
With cost increases from shipping, input costs, and financing costs, businesses are looking for new opportunities for growth and engaging with digital more than ever before. Indeed, those businesses that have thrown themselves into new technology are now reaping the benefits with increased optimism and confidence.
This confidence continues to be supported by a customer base that is much more small business aware and small business friendly. Big businesses are actively looking to include small businesses in their supply chain, and consumers are coming out of the pandemic with a greater sense of purpose in their spending, looking to support small businesses and local communities more than ever before.
In the seven years of running this business, no one could have predicted the pandemic would happen. We always try to be prepared, but now we are thinking six months ahead at a time. The pandemic and Brexit have made us more cautious in planning, but also more prepared, which is a good thing.
Stick together, support each other, reach out for help as there are so many people out there who want to help! Government can help with support schemes etc, but there is support from within the small business community too.
With the pandemic, we have seen two types of people and business: people who get angry and caught up, and people who work out what needs to be done. People who embrace new and changing opportunities are the ones who flourish. Small businesses showed their ability and flexibility during this period, responding to constant change. You always need to be adaptable.
A focus on sustainability has to be beneficial. Customers are starting to expect businesses to step up and make changes - and if we don’t there is a danger of being left behind and looking out of date. Or like we simply don’t care. And if we don’t care about the world our customers live in, why should they care about our brand?
As we move into Autumn 2021, it is clear from our interviews with small businesses that they are more buoyant than "mid" pandemic, but remain concerned about what may be coming up this winter. A cautious optimism is tempered by continued challenges, including staffing, supply chains, and for many simply returning to pre-pandemic income levels. There is a strong sense that digital upskilling, hard work, community and customer support and of course government intervention have got businesses through the last year and a half. However in order to recover, there is no time to relax any of these mechanisms as the difficult period is not over yet. A strong positive to come out of this period is that staff and customers feel a stronger attachment to the business, more loyalty, more affection. This has given businesses strength and something to build on over the winter.
Business sentiment is summed up well by dBx Acoustics, who say:
I have a mixture of feelings. Proud and relieved that we have made it this far, but anxious about what might be around the corner. We are seeing a lot of political and economic upheaval, shortages of labour and materials are badly affecting our key industry (construction), and it’s almost certain that taxes will rise to pay off the debts incurred by furlough etc. I’m not ready to relax just yet.
Never take customers and sales for granted, look for and consider other sales opportunities and channels.
We are looking at how to make more of eCommerce opportunities and creating products that will sell well using this way of reaching new customers. It could take us from a local to national level business.
Think six steps ahead! Leave nothing to the last minute, especially in getting supplies in.