How digital skills can help small businesses thrive beyond the pandemic

I spoke recently at Elite Business Live about our ongoing Skills for Tomorrow programme at BT, and how we're delivering on our ambition to equip one million small business owners and their employees with digital skills by 2025.

How digital skills can help small businesses thrive beyond the pandemic

How digital skills can help small businesses thrive beyond the pandemic 

I spoke recently at Elite Business Live about our ongoing Skills for Tomorrow programme at BT, and how we’re delivering on our ambition to equip one million small business owners and their employees with digital skills by 2025. We’re doing this by launching new learning content on crucial topics, such as how to spot and prevent cyber-attacks and using social media tools to boost sales. In the last year alone, we’ve delivered almost 200 free learning webinars for small businesses, with 95 per cent of those who have engaged with some aspect of our programme saying they intend to change the way they operate their business as a result. We’re even helping to address mental health issues amongst small firms which are struggling with the impact of the pandemic, through the launch of an online wellbeing toolkit and webinar series. Our BT Skills for Tomorrow programme also offers support for your home life, with activities and games to help children learn new digital skills or simply to improve your own computer skills. There is a wealth of advice on offer online for free, it is definitely worth checking out. 

Why digital skills? 

At the start of the pandemic, we worked with Small Business Britain to understand the key concerns of small businesses and how BT might be able to help. The results of this research last year told us that connectivity and helping small firms acquire new digital skills was even more important. By July 2020 more than half of small firms (51 per cent) had adapted to the covid-19 crisis by moving their business online ‘ from small, local high street brands launching ecommerce websites for the first time, to restaurant owners organising virtual supper clubs and takeaways. What’s clear is that businesses can get better prepared for growth post the pandemic by learning new digital skills, with 34 per cent wanting more support in this area. 

How mentoring can help

As part of BT’s Skills for Tomorrow programme, we have also announced the launch of BT’s new mentoring scheme to support small businesses during the pandemic, in partnership with Digital Boost, a free non-profit platform which unites digital experts with leaders of small businesses. As part of the programme BT has pledged to deliver free one-to-one coaching sessions to at least 1,000 small businesses. BT has enlisted the expertise of its colleagues across the business ‘ including senior executives – to upskill small businesses on a range of topics, including Cyber Security, Marketing, Social Media, Strategy, and more. Digital Boost connect individuals from small businesses with relevant BT experts via its free online platform, where small businesses are able to register their interest in booking a free virtual mentoring session. 

I have joined the scheme myself and recently mentored an Indian takeaway business in Birmingham looking for support around how to improve their online marketing and website. It was such a positive experience and I firmly believe that mentoring often proves to be invaluable for both the mentor and the mentee. Small business owners are so often short on time and resource; they are often focused on testing out their own ideas whilst running a business, with little opportunity to spend time on strategic thinking. Having a sounding board in a business mentor is a great way to work through some of these ideas, whilst also upskilling on key areas such as digital skills. 

Looking ahead 

Equipping small firms with new digital skills forms a key aspect of BT’s Small Business Support Scheme which launched last Summer. This is a broad package of measures to help small businesses thrive during and beyond the pandemic, by boosting their connectivity, cashflow and confidence, which many small businesses say they lack.

We’re continuing to listen carefully to the needs of small businesses to tailor the support on offer from BT. For example, we’re set to launch new digital marketing tools for small businesses over the coming months, to help SMEs better promote themselves online and reach more customers. With an increasing number of small firms wanting more support around marketing and sales, BT’s expertise in using targeted digital advertising – alongside our digital skills and mentoring programmes – can play an important part in helping the sector to rebound post the pandemic.

Our recent ‘Future is Now’ report found that, perhaps understandably, smaller companies feel less able to keep on top of new technology trends, with just 28 per cent of them regularly evaluating new technologies, compared with 39 per cent of larger organisations. It is clear the potential is there for small firms to reap the many benefits of digital technologies ‘ but only if they’re given the support, knowledge and confidence to invest by improving digital skills. This level of support will be critical over the coming months as the UK’s small business community looks to bounce back stronger as restrictions gradually begin to lift across the country.

BT’s upcoming Skills for Tomorrow webinars for small businesses include:

Access a wealth of free support via BT’s Skills for Tomorrow programme here: 

To find out more about our Small Business Support Scheme, please visit

Pete Oliver
Pete Oliver

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