There are no easy solutions here, and I know from speaking to business owners on the ground that they are under a lot of stress. In times like these small businesses need support more than ever.
Rather than doom and gloom, they need hope and confidence. While there is no ignoring the major challenges out there, I think we need to focus on practical support and ideas, as well as greater recognition of the massive opportunity bubbling away amongst our small business eco-system.
Ultimately our economy is a small business economy. Small businesses make up 99 per cent of UK business and are at the heart of our country’s recovery, not to mention our communities. If small businesses succeed, then we all do. But for too long, through a pandemic and now into this new turmoil, they have been struggling. These businesses need a major boost. We need to find ways to come together to offer greater support and encouragement to help entrepreneurs keep going and achieve their potential amid mounting economic challenges.
The very smallest businesses – sole traders and micro businesses, which total around 5.3 million – have particularly ripe potential that could be unlocked for Great Britain, but which is rarely given enough focus.
Skills needs to be a key part of this focus. Entrepreneurs start businesses because they have great ideas, instincts and understanding in specialist areas, but they rarely have all the skills needed to scale from the outset.
The Government-backed ‘Help to Grow’ programmes seek to address this, by offering business owners excellent insight, mentoring, tools, and training to develop their understanding and supercharge their growth.
As many firms as possible need to be accessing Help to Grow. Indeed, to explore ways of expanding the numbers of businesses taking part, we’re piloting a new online-only version of the Help to Grow Management programme with Oxford Brookes Business School, funded by Lloyds Bank Academy.
But there also needs to be similar support designed for the tiniest of businesses which are not always eligible for, nor suited to, broader programmes. These businesses – being at an earlier phase of the entrepreneurial journey – require different skills and tools, compared to larger businesses which have got to the point of taking on staff or outsourcing, or can finance more sophisticated technology.
Sole traders also often struggle to take time out of running their businesses, due to limited time and resources. They need support that is flexible, free, and focused on the real, everyday challenges they face to grow.
For our part, Small Business Britain has launched the new ‘Small and Mighty Enterprise Programme’ – a free, six-week, fully online course offering expert guidance, peer to peer support and mentoring. It is intended to fit around existing work commitments and offer inclusive and flexible learning for microbusinesses.
Entrepreneurs will receive weekly expert teaching on topics from business strategy and marketing to finance and resilience, along with two hours of mentoring.
Each business on the programme will also have access to a supportive network of small businesses to share questions, challenges, and solutions, and receive guidance to create an action plan to support their next year of opportunity.
And because entrepreneurs need a boost more than ever, we will be celebrating those businesses graduating from the programme with an event to mark the achievements of the businesses and the goals of the programme.
We need more ideas and solutions like this. We need the private and public sector to come together to drive economic recovery from the grass roots of business up, by focusing on how to nurture skills and confidence and inspire growth.
In tough times like these this is undoubtedly harder to do, but it is more important than ever now.