Tuesday 16 June 2020 1:46 pm

Covid changes could electrify entrepreneurial Britain, so let’s give SMEs the support they deserve

Emma Jones is founder of small business support network Enterprise Nation

We have always been a nation of small businesses. 

The UK’s 5.9m SMEs account for 99 per cent of all our businesses. They give us jobs, they’re a familiar neighbourhood face — and in the age of coronavirus, new Barclaycard and Enterprise Nation research has found that some are not only surviving, but getting ready to come back stronger. 

Now, our small businesses need the UK’s continued support, including that of the government, in order to get through this crisis and help keep Britain stronger than ever.

The economic figures over the past week may have been bleak, but here’s the good news. While coronavirus has plunged us into uncertainty, we have reasons to feel positive. Barclaycard found that nearly all SMEs feel that the worst effects of coronavirus will dissipate within the next two years, and almost two thirds are planning to invest in their business within the next 12 months. 

In early signs that the SME economy is coming back online after lockdown, the number of Barclaycard’s SME clients trading and taking payments has jumped by 31 per cent since early April. 

Small businesses are proving to be adaptable, even in crisis. The Barclaycard SME Barometer showed nearly one in five (17 per cent) have boosted social media activity, and one in 10 (11 per cent) have increased their focus on online sales to continue reaching their audiences from afar. These changes may have been on the books for a few years down the line, but coronavirus has brought these forward out of necessity.

While coronavirus downtime isn’t ideal, nearly 20 per cent of SMEs say that one upside of this pause is that they’ve been planning more for the future. With lockdown restrictions beginning to ease, SMEs which have been flexible, forward-looking, and able  access the support they need give us hope that small businesses, too, may benefit from the “V-shaped” recovery that the Bank of England is predicting for the UK economy.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I have been elated to see that far from putting people off from starting their own business, coronavirus has galvanised them. 

Traffic to Enterprise Nation from people searching for information on “starting your own business” spiked by 67 per cent between the end of March to the end of April. With millions of people on furlough or facing unemployment, individuals are thinking about how to turn side hustles into “main hustles” or finding new gaps to fill in the market. Even as we move back towards normal, we could see a new phase of mixed employment as people begin to work for themselves.

Yes, coronavirus has brought economic devastation to us as a nation, and our small business owners are no exception. However, the pandemic has also changed behaviour and offered long-terms opportunities to small businesses — if we can provide them with the support they need now 

The UK public is stepping up to defend small and local businesses, with 32m pledging to “shop small” online during the crisis and nearly two thirds saying that they will stay loyal to the local businesses that helped them through lockdown.

I applaud the government’s furlough, cash grant and loan schemes, as well as the support from banks, which have helped so many UK small businesses weather Covid-19. And I pledge that Enterprise Nation will continue doing its utmost to provide a network, help and advice for our SMEs. 

In return, I ask that all of us — consumers, larger corporations, financial institutions, and the government — continue to work together to help SMEs thrive. 

They’re doing their best to adapt, grow and get started. As the backbone of the UK economy, we owe them our support.

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Main image credit: Getty

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