Updated: Apr 22
I have been writing about the waves of technological change that will engulf small and medium businesses in the UK, for some time. I didn’t anticipate that the pandemic would sweep away my careful measured timetable to writing about it.
Our national economic and political responses to the virus will have significant effects. The well-resourced, cash rich corporations and some SME’s are likely to be able to ride it out; the financiers, the most able businesses and entrepreneurs are already capitalising on the opportunities generated. These enterprises will rebound and prosper.
Despite positive words, banks, insurers and government are not overly concerned with supporting SMEs, they continue to see us as non-essential parts of the economy, a customer base with no choice but to accept what they are given. They will protect the cash they hold for better investment opportunities than saving small businesses with no political or financial leverage. In other words, business as usual; we are mostly on our own.
So, the rest of us will stumble into the light of a different climate and landscape, picking our way respectfully past competitors’ ghosts and carefully past online/tech monsters newly engorged with the flesh of smaller competitors. We survivors will try to adapt by taking to technology innovations offered by other faster enterprises, some of us becoming powerless dependents of these dangerous beasts.
There are alternatives, for example:
Working in conjunction with other businesses for innovation and resource sharing or protecting customer ‘territory’, such as cooperatives, collectives, networks of cells, mergers or joint ventures;
Obtaining investment from alternative sources of funding, such as small private investors looking for better returns, (SAAS, peer-to-peer), bringing on board experienced long-term investors with business experience;
Pivoting in terms of the type of business that they do e.g. new products and services, new customer groups.
These shifts are familiar, but they are generally hard to do for SMEs in ‘normal times’, as they often locked into existing relationships without the bandwidth to look elsewhere. If your business is not working flat-out to feed the country or support the NHS, now is the time to plan the future.
It is possible to do things differently. My Instagram feed is suddenly full of new veg box delivery schemes, including from the local grocer, the cafe, Spanish and Italian organic farming co-ops offering weekly deliveries direct to London doorsteps; while my usual supermarkets still can't offer a delivery slot for the next 2 months.
So, if you have a business that is currently struggling, what are you to do?
Take action that feels right, is the first step, even if this is to wrap everything up properly and focus on the family. Protecting yourself, your health, your mental health and that of your friends, family and team is critical to any re-start that you might want to make. As SME entrepreneurs, we are heavily dependent on our personal ‘state’ and the personal support networks around us.
Do what you really want to and make it work for you, your business and your customer community. If you choose to continue your business, in tick-over or in alternative mode, look to the future and remodel it as a responsive and flexible entity, able to deal with the new environment full of opportunities and threats that we will be faced with. Form new relationships less dependent on the corporate ‘middle-men’, the global trading platforms that compete directly with you and the fickle lenders and insurers.
Make choices determined by your own vision giving you an opportunity to break free of the endless decisions determined by others. Think and plan strategically. Whatever business looks like for you in the future, take more of the power in your business relationships for you, your business and your customers and suppliers. Be less dependent on entities that do not have your interests or those of your community at heart.
Look for an adviser with vision and experience to help deliver a new way of doing business.
Call or email me if you’d like to discuss these issues.