Small business? Four ideas to help adapt for the future
Of the 500+ SMEs we surveyed, 64% are planning to invest more in their business over the next 12 months. And so is Barclaycard Business customer Upside Down House. It’s one key way to adapt and thrive. Read on for more ways, and some thoughts from Upside Down House CEO Tom Dirse.
Changes in the UK’s economic situation can present real challenges and opportunities for small businesses. Based on the conversations we’re having with our small business customers, like tourist attraction Upside Down House, we’ve put together some things to think about when it comes to looking at ways to survive and thrive now and in the future.
When the lockdown measures were announced I didn’t really believe it. I’m very worried for the business. Obviously the business can’t operate, it’s got no income.
Despite 82% of SMEs saying coronavirus has already had a negative impact on business, fewer than 1 in 5 (19%) expect it to have a significant impact in 12 months’ time, according to our Barclaycard Business SME Barometer research, in partnership with YouGov1. And in promising signs, our payments data has revealed that the number of SME clients actively taking payments has increased by 24% since early April2.
This positive outlook is something which epitomises UK small businesses, who are often referred to as the lifeblood of the UK economy. And you might be interested to know that despite a drop of 28% of your fellow small businesses expecting business growth from April to June 2020 (compared to January to March 2020), 64% are planning to invest more in their business over the next 12 months. Again, it’s this positive mentality that has the potential to drive adaptation and success.
The resilience and perseverance of small businesses sparks hope.
1. Lean on your partners, small business community and government support schemes
If you need advice or guidance, specifically if you’re struggling financially, the first step is to look online for coronavirus-related resources from your payments provider or bank. These can help you work out what your short-, medium-, and long-term options are.
Stephen Foster, owner of the Bull’s Head pub and restaurant in Leicestershire, and a Barclaycard Business customer, had to adapt quickly when the government orders came for pubs to close their doors. He quickly started helping the homeless in the afternoons and offering takeaway pub meals and food delivery services for his local community in the evenings. He leaned on us in his moment of need:
“When we needed a replacement card reader right before the Bank Holiday weekend, we were really concerned that we wouldn’t be able to take any card payments until the following week. However, Barclaycard went out of their way to help.”
We’re trying to make it easy for businesses to get information online.
According to our research, 49% of small business owners have already accessed government support schemes – this is a good place to start, as it has the potential to give you some financial breathing space to make longer-term plans.
It’s also worth searching out local business groups – the UK lockdown measures have taught us all the power of community and group-thinking. They’re usually free to join and can be a great way to share ideas, get insight into how other businesses of your size or in your sector or region of the UK are adapting, and get moral support when things are tough. Seeking out stories about fellow small businesses could be just the inspiration or access to practical steps that you need.
2. Get online if you can
Since the start of lockdown measures in the UK (23rd March, 2020), almost a third of medium-sized businesses (29%) has increased activity on social media, and a third (33%) has increased focus on online sales. These figures are not surprising – when we can’t reach customers with a physical presence, it makes sense to connect virtually, if possible.
It’s encouraging to see small and medium-sized businesses coming online again.
A Barclaycard Business customer who knows exactly how important social media can be, is social media agency BlueSocial. They are the official social media moderation agency for all the Paid mental health awareness social media campaigns for NHS Digital. Owner James Rix offers this advice for fellow small business owners:
“By understanding social media and being aware of how digital marketing has really been brought to the forefront of people’s minds during this challenging time, we’ve seen business enquiries double since lockdown.
“BlueSocial has grown by 50% during the COVID-19 period, and we’re even looking to grow the team. If you can find your niche – something that people really need right now, and actively promote it online, you could really step ahead of the competition.”
Moving your business online or finding new ways to connect with customers doesn’t need to be daunting. There are plenty of platforms that are designed specifically to help small businesses set up a website or online store quickly, easily and safely. And your payments partner can help you make a smooth transition from a physical to an online checkout, including advice on how to maximise conversion rates and protect yourself from fraud. Here’s a handy step-by-step guide to moving your business online. The right online payment gateway could help you:
- Increase conversion rates
- Protect against fraud
- Use data to improve business performance
- Welcome international customers
- And more…
- The key here is to work with your payment partners, who can help you be more flexible about switching the ways you take payments. That’s definitely online, but it’s also over the phone using ‘virtual terminals’.
3. Find opportunities in diversification
In uncertain times, the businesses that often do the best are those who look to invest, diversify and adapt marketing (and other business) strategies. Look at ways you can stay in touch with your customers, even if you’re not serving them right now – it could be a good way to make sure you’re in their minds when things start to get easier. By letting them know what you’re up to – your struggles, your ambitions, your opportunities – you’re giving your business the best chance of building a loyal network of customers for the future.
Barclaycard Business customer, Pleesecakes, is a great example of this. Owner Joe Moruzzi and his team are on social media all day every day, talking about plans, dreams, production, new products, recipe testing, and more. In spite of the current challenges, they are continuing to diversify products and channels – from their signature cheesecakes, to frozen cheesecake tubs and savoury dishes, and from their website to social channels and takeaway delivery partners.
But they’re also packing up essential supplies like flour, milk, eggs, pasta, fruit and vegetables, into Pleese Feed Me boxes for anyone who can’t get to the shops or access online delivery slots. They’re offering free delivery to NHS workers and the over-70s, too.
“We’re lucky to be in a position to be able to adapt and grow our business. But since we settled in to lockdown, it’s less about luck, and more about hard graft, clear plans, an amazing team and treating customers right. Instead of focusing on the challenges, we’re pushing ahead with all the diversification and growth plans we had, and bringing our customers on that journey.”
See what you can do with any extra time or supplies, whether that’s helping your customers, or just finding new ways to hold their attention on your brand while you work out the best way forward. These small acts could reap big rewards, long term.
4. Use any downtime to prepare for the future with new skills
Nearly 1 in 5 small businesses that we surveyed, said the coronavirus slowdown has given them the time to really think about the future. Tom Dirse, CEO of Upside Down House, is confident that they've used this time wisely to think about planned investment for the future, crowd-funding and the importance of the right marketing strategy. He believes that with the right marketing, Upside Down House can really benefit from the surge in staycations and day trips, while international travel is harder.
"I believe that this has given us the chance to get the customers that we were always trying to reach", says Tom.
With lockdown measures likely set to fluctuate over the next few months, perhaps now is good opportunity to build time into your weekly plans to think and re-think long-term goals. And to work with partners to be in a place of strength as we settle into ever-changing times.
It could also be a good time to learn new skills that could help you grow your business. From marketing and e-commerce, to fraud protection and collaboration, if you feel like you’ve got more headspace to focus on the future of your business, rather than the usual hustle and bustle of the present, set out a plan to focus on using it wisely.
1All stats referenced in this article are from the same source: Research was conducted online by YouGov on behalf of Barclaycard between 1 – 21 April 2020. YouGov polled 576 senior members of staff working in UK SMEs, weighted by region to reflect SME distribution in the UK. This data has been compared to Barometer data, run by YouGov with 562 senior members of UK SMEs between 10 – 24 January 2020.
2Proprietary data from DASA, 18.05.2020.