The big small business digital pivot

There are few mercies about the Coronavirus crisis, but at least this pandemic happened deep into our digital years – with online-retail, videoconferencing and super-fast broadband all accessible.

The big small business digital pivot

There are few mercies about the Coronavirus crisis, but at least this pandemic happened deep into our digital years – with online-retail, videoconferencing and super-fast broadband all accessible. This saving grace could not be welcomed more by small businesses.

The great small business digital pivot that we have seen across the UK in recent weeks has been uplifting to behold. New research that Small Business Britain conducted together with BT shows that a third (36 per cent) of the UK’s small businesses have moved their businesses online, while almost two fifths (19 per cent) have switched to a new delivery model, such as home delivery.

These businesses have come out in force for their communities, whether it be delivering much needed food to families, or raising spirits with letterbox gifts, online Zumba classes or even children’s entertainment.

Survivor instinct

This does not take away from the fact that small businesses are facing an incredibly tough situation – over half (56 per cent) now expect profits to halve. However, we are also witnessing an inspiring fight-back, as they adapt and show just how resilient and entrepreneurial, they can be.

This agility and survivor instinct, coupled with the UK Chancellor’s newly announced micro loan
lifeline, could be what gets a lot of small businesses through.

Where firms have taken a step back, looked at their customer’s needs, or their own skills that can be repurposed, and adapted them for a newly mostly-digital customer base, there have been some encouraging signs of success.

Our research found that there are even 28% of businesses that now feel somewhat, or very, confident – low compared to a pre-COVID world, but a great step forward compared to where we were just a few weeks ago where the world, for small businesses at least, appeared to be ending.

Digital legacy

Social distancing, home-working and e-commerce are set to become big trends. Despite the fact that digital infrastructure had long been established, one of covid-19’s legacies will be ushering in its widespread adoption.

This is a mixed blessing for small businesses. Before this crisis hit there was a huge digital opportunity that many were not seizing. Despite the power of online to reach customers and improve productivity at low cost, the Small
found that 47% of small businesses don’t have sufficient digital skills. Microbusinesses, in particular find this a challenge, which is why Small Business Charter and BEIS launched the Leading to Grow programme last year to help this group  embrace new technologies.

The crisis has reinforced just how vital digital skills are to small business survival, and it turns out, for their customers’ survival too. We are all online consumers now – from the generation of grandparents learning to ‘zoom’ their families or book online food deliveries, to the captive market of internet shoppers, browsing for everything from plants, to gifts, to loungewear. Indeed, over a quarter (27 per cent) of the small businesses we surveyed have secured new customers during the crisis.

Innovation really can come from the darkest places. Where businesses have perhaps been forced into trying new things, there are early signs this is starting to pay off. Sometimes they have even found that their new business model works well, giving them more options for when the lockdown ends. 

Dial-up support

In this extra-digitised world it is vital that no business is left behind. Small businesses that are struggling to operate in this new normal must urgently get help to build their skills and capability.

Thankfully, there is an abundance of support out there. This comes not just from the Government, but businesses and organisations across the UK; from BT ‘Skills
for Tomorrow
’ programme, which provides free digital skills training to millions of people across the country, to support from businesses schools, particularly those awarded with the Small Business Charter. Small Business Saturday UK is also providing live daily workshops on social media with advice from small businesses, while Enterprise Nation offers a host of business learning and coaching tools. 

The challenge is making sure small businesses are aware of where to turn, which is why we started ‘The Big support’ campaign, to amplify the help available.

at the end of the tunnel

While there is clearly a marathon ahead, and the outlook remains very worrying, we are starting to see a slight calming down of panic and confidence picking up very slowly.

Support is going to be what gets small businesses through – to help them survive this crisis and thrive again in the future. This future will be uncertain, destined probably to look very different to the one we are used to. But there is no doubt about the fact that it will be increasingly digital and that small businesses will have a vital role to play.

Michelle Ovens
Michelle Ovens

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