PROSPER MAGAZINE: ISSUE 01 | BREXIT
THE KEY CHALLENGES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
GET YOUR BUSINESS READY AND PREPARE FOR THE CHALLENGES THAT MAY LIE AHEAD...
Uncertainty and instability are often severe challenges, but they can also become sources of opportunity, and for the UK’s SME’s who stay nimble, decisive and focused on what they can control and influence, the chance to thrive in a post-Brexit climate is there for the taking.
But beyond the B-word, what are the main things that business leaders should be focusing their attention on in the coming months?
UNLOCK & INVEST IN EXISTING TALENT
If the talent exodus from the UK post-Brexit bears out it is paramount that SME’s invest in their workforce now to cement the skills needed to propel their business forward.
Experts agree this is time for recruitment action rather than caution, urging businesses to identify any gaps in their current and future workforce and to seize the opportunity to consolidate their talent in-house.
The suggested approach is twofold: boost retention with internal promotions, further training and employee benefits that are on a par with larger organisations, while protecting employees who may have concerns about visas and citizenship so they can continue to live and work in the UK legally.
Whether Brexit results in a talent exodus or not, ensuring that your team is fighting fit is rarely a bad idea.
STRENGTHEN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
For businesses that rely on EU imports, some tweaks to the supply chain ecosystem will be sensible to minimise delays associated with trading tariffs likely to be enforced by Brexit.
A key weapon in the armoury could be greater clarity about where products may be at any time. Investing in the requisite software capable of providing clear delivery costs at the point of checkout will save SME’s a lot of hassle.
Business is resilient, but investment decisions can and often will be paused or postponed until the likely outcome can be fully assessed. Businesses are making preparations, while some have considered stockpiling goods as they look to shield themselves through a potentially turbulent period ahead. Businesses are generally reactive as opposed to proactive at the moment.
FIND A BANK THAT ‘GETS YOU’
A supportive banking partner will be the Holy Grail for SME’s that need to keep investing for growth regardless of doom and gloom in wider markets.
Tightening the purse strings may be the default approach in uncertain times, but setting aside capital to invest in people, products and plans will be a key part of many businesses’ strategy to stay competitive, demanding a focus on medium-term growth and securing finding lines.
While access to finance can be tricky territory for smaller businesses that may be ineligible for mainstream lending products or disillusioned by red tape, businesses are reporting fewer concerns about getting extra cash than in the past.
BE BOLD WITH BRANDING
As a growing number of businesses exploit the weakness in the pound and turn their attention to new markets, now is not the time to forget the kind of marketing that in the past cemented relationships with European suppliers and customers.
Too many people are using Brexit as an excuse to become less daring, particularly when it comes to marketing.
Rather than being conservative with marketing spend, maintaining momentum and forging ahead should be on everyone’s minds, with personal branding at the core. People have always bought from people but never in the way they do now. Pushing someone to the front of your business to be seen as the expert in your field will put you ahead of the competition.
While the ad platforms of tech titans can be prohibitive to the small player on a tight budget, finding authentic bloggers with influential voices who are a good fit with the brand can be a more cost-effective way of competing with the big brands. Whatever approach businesses do take, ensuring that their voice is heard among the noise of Brexit should help keep them front of mind for potential customers, whatever way the political and economic situation develops.
Productivity remains a core challenge for many UK SME’s. It’s easy to think of this issue as a solely macro-economic concern, normally the reserve of economists or policymakers in government, but the productivity challenge could really begin to hit home at a business owner level over the next few years, particularly in certain industries, as we are finally starting to see signs of rising real wages.
After the financial crisis in 2008, the UK’s flexible labour markets meant that unemployment didn’t spike upwards for long, but there was downward pressure on wages and for many businesses that meant they could defer investment in processes, technology and equipment, which would have made them more efficient, and instead chose to paper over the cracks by hiring additional staff.
Fixing those cracks now will require investment in both time and money. Management techniques and restructures may be needed to get more from the staff that businesses already have on the books, while ailing technology will need to be replaced to ensure that those operating it are not held back compared to better-equipped competitors.