Small firms seize digital lifeline to get back to business

In the battle to stay competitive, one of the key muscles that small firms have been able to flex is flexibility, and research has found that UK small businesses are moving more of their services online for survival as the sector looks to take its first steps towards recovery.

A study by Small Business Britain and BT Skills For Tomorrow polled more than 1,000 firms in Small Business Britain’s UK community and found that many across the sector are actively embracing digital tools to power recovery.

The agility and entrepreneurialism displayed by small businesses across the country has received widespread praise as the sector reacts to the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19. The research revealed that small firms are increasingly prioritising digital skills and tools, with more than one-third now seeing this as a key focus.

According to the study, over half of small businesses (57%) now expect their profits to fall by half, but the research also indicates growing optimism, with 34% of small businesses now feeling confident. In response, one-third (39%) of them have drastically cut operational costs, with the need for physical offices and other traditional ways of working now increasingly being rethought.

Two-fifths (42%) of small businesses have moved online because of the pandemic and more than one-third (37%) are planning for less face-to-face contact in the future. Also, 39% now view digital skills and tools as a key focus area.

Over a quarter (28%) of small firms have responded quickly to run their businesses remotely with videoconferencing and 43% now operate from home. Encouragingly, one-third (38%) see the changes they have made to their business practices as positive. Looking to the future, almost a quarter (24%) expect working from home to continue.

In terms of their fundamental structure and ability to trade, emergency government help, such as the popular “bounce back” loans, have offered a financial lifeline, with 28% of the small firms polled by Small Business Britain now accessing this support.

Chris Sims, managing director of commercial and marketing at BT, said there has been an increasing shift towards businesses moving online, and small businesses should be proud of the way they have embraced this. “It’s impressive to see that almost half of small firms feel the changes they have introduced during this pandemic have been positive,” he said.

“The right online presence could make a huge difference to a small business, such as helping them to reach a global audience or a new customer base. It’s important that we continue to support small businesses to develop and enhance their digital skills, so they are in the best position for recovery.”

Michelle Ovens, founder of Small Business Britain, added: “The mass digital pivot that we are seeing across the UK’s small business community has been so uplifting to see. It’s wonderful that many small firms have used this crisis to power a digital revolution in their businesses.

“There has always been a huge opportunity for small businesses to make more of their digital potential. As we see many businesses looking proactively to the future and building back-to-business plans that put digital at their heart, this will be critical to recovery across the UK.”