Tech, talent and trade: What matters to private businesses

Brian Henderson
View of London at Night
The annual awards celebrate the ambition and creativity of these companies (Source: Getty)

Private businesses are a fundamental pillar of the UK economy, with some 5.5m in total in 2016 – a number that’s grown by three per cent per year on average since 2000.

The annual UK Private Business Awards on Thursday celebrate the ambition and creativity of these companies, recognising success across industry sectors and regions.

Well-known nominees include Missguided, Deliciously Ella, and Firmdale Hotels, among other fast-growing brands.

Read more: Repeal Bill gives "certainty and clarity" for businesses over Brexit

Private businesses will be fundamental to the UK’s future growth post-Brexit. How they respond to the challenges Brexit presents will be vital, not only to their own success (and that of their people), but to the country’s.

Alongside Brexit, technology will bring opportunities and challenges as it reshapes how we live and work. Many of the private businesses we’ll be celebrating have already embraced the potential that technological disruption presents, often becoming the disruptors of their own industries.

Technology is a top priority for many private businesses, and featured heavily in this year’s Award entries. For example, Tamara Littleton at The Social Element (shortlisted for Private Business Woman of the Year) created a company in response to the rapid rise of social media, providing a full range of media management services.

Social media is a 24-hour industry and companies need to build meeting this demand into their business models. Employing a network of staff across the world in different time zones is one solution, prioritising people rather than premises or location.

Private businesses operating in traditional industries are also challenging conventional business models by embracing technology.

Fashion retailers Childrensalon Ltd (shortlisted for International Business of the Year and Michele Harriman-Smith shortlisted for Private Business Woman of the Year) and In The Style Fashion Ltd (founder Adam Frisby shortlisted for Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year) are both fast growing ecommerce businesses, which no longer depend solely on the traditional high street shop, and have no limits due to location.

However, technology also presents challenges. The need to invest in cyber security from infancy is critical, and must be recognised and addressed at board level. This is especially true for companies whose operations are primarily online, as being hacked could close off all transactions and lead to reputational risks.

Finding the right skills is another priority, with tech staff in high demand. Attracting and retaining people with the right talent is crucial, especially for small companies and startups.

Brexit could perpetuate this challenge. The private businesses I’ve spoken to are most concerned about the ability to retain and recruit skilled workers after Britain leaves the EU

They’re competing with huge corporate firms to attract talent, and already need to offer competitive salaries and benefits to stay on a level playing field. If the stream of employees looking for opportunities in the UK slows down, recruiting people with the right skills could get tougher.

It is essential that private businesses engage with the government and make their voice heard, by responding to public consultations and offering feedback on white papers.

The Private Business Awards recognise the significant contribution and innovation of this important sector, but we shouldn’t just shout about this success at home. At PwC, we’re supporting the government’s GREAT campaign, with the Department of International Trade, to showcase the best of British business to the rest of the world and help more of our private businesses to find their feet overseas.

This community is one of our nation’s greatest assets, and we must do all we can to ensure these private businesses have the support to succeed, both at home and across the world.

Read more: Four in 10 businesses say Brexit transition period would benefit them

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