If the business landscape this century was defined by the financial crash in its first decade and by Brexit in the second, just three months into the 20s we might well be living through the defining moment of the century.
COVID-19 is not only an incredible global health challenge, but an overwhelming economic one. Plummeting markets are one thing – they will hopefully recover in the months to come once the outbreak peaks – but without the right aid from government, larger enterprises, philanthropists and business organisations, small businesses will face a far more challenging recovery.
New figures released by Small Business Britain this week found that small businesses almost universally expect a significant decrease in their revenues due to the coronavirus – and more than nine out in 10, do not have insurance in place to protect against losses.
In an online survey of more than 1,000 businesses, almost three-quarters said they expect their revenues to reduce by more than 50% as a result of COVID-19 disruption. A further one in five expect a reduction of more than 20%.
The concerning figures come in the wake of the Government’s latest social distancing advice around the coronavirus, encouraging the public to avoid non-essential contact.
The fears small businesses have are many, but most notably, 88% are concerned about their cashflow. While the Chancellor’s financial aid measures will go some way to alleviating this concern in the short-term, loans are not a long-term solution for companies already struggling, who will be saddled with debt.
Grants provide greater assistance, but there is far more needed than even these financial measures to ensure small businesses survive – business resilience is required too. More than half of small businesses are also concerned about a decreased demand for their products and services. What small businesses need most is ongoing business support in areas such as financial planning, resilience, marketing, strategic planning and digital skills.
One of the most important things any small business can do right now is to ensure they have the adequate skills to move aspects of their operations online; this may well be the key to preventing job losses and ensuring customers remain engaged with their products and services over the coming months.
In these concerning and uncertain times, we need to look for opportunities where they exist. For small businesses, this is an opportunity to upskill in a way that will help them to survive the crisis and thrive afterwards. But as it stands, just over one in four small businesses are moving their operations online and only 17% have sought advice on how to overcome these challenges.
Small business owners are so busy running their businesses on the ground from day to day, they tend to have little time to focus on acquiring new skills. In a period of crisis, learning digital skills may appear to be something that should be bottom of the priority list amidst an uncertain financial future. But the long-term challenge will be to send a message to customers and communities who may rely on their small businesses that says they are still open for business. For many, this can only happen if they have moved their operations online.
Upskilling does not need to be a 24/7 challenge. There are experts and advisers giving up their time to train other small business owners in the skills they need in a format that is accessible and not overly-time consuming.
Small Business Britain for example, has teamed up with BT Business and small businesses with expertise in particular areas such as digital marketing and branding, to run online ‘Skills For Tomorrow’ masterclasses. Small Business Saturday UK is also providing live daily workshops on social media with advice from small businesses.
These are exactly the type of initiatives we need to see right now: a collaboration between big business, small business and business advisers.
Now is the time to step up. Government are making commitments on the financial side, but they also need to be guiding small businesses to experts who can help, and collaborating with partners to provide a support network. Loans are simply not enough for small businesses worried about becoming saddled with debt – they need to gain business resilience.
Helping small businesses learn this is a job for everyone; from Government, to large businesses, to small business champions like Small Business Britain. It is the responsibility of everyone who has the resources and expertise to help, to step up and do so.