Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her commitment to the UK’s 5.4 million small businesses at a round table event earlier this month, saying they ‘underpin the strength of our economy’. She has pledged to enable small businesses to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a UK positioned on the periphery of the European Union. “Now more than ever, UK economic growth rests on the future success of our smaller businesses,” said the FSB’s Mike Cherry, following the talks.
A healthy environment for small business growth would entail renewed trade negotiations to maintain cross-border commerce; favourable tax breaks and credits; easier access to affordable financing; a reduction in ‘red tape’; and a place at the table for small businesses thanks to Margot James, minister for small business, industry and enterprise. All of these would generate an encouraging, stimulating and entrepreneurial environment for small businesses to thrive and innovate.
In the meantime, until we know for certain what measures will be rolled out, as a small business it’s a good time to turn your attention inwards. You can work to create cut-through and impact to create a strategic advantage. And you can deliver a memorable, meaningful customer experience. You can do this by making your business the best it can be, harnessing physical and digital technologies, boosting productivity and planning for growth. Driven by conversations with our clients, here are five suggestions to help you do just that:
- Make your technology work harder: 77% of smartphone users download an app then after three days, never use it again. It’s the same with our desktops: few of us use all the functionality of our desktop tools. A quick visit to websites such as lifehack.org reveals quick ways to get the most from Microsoft Excel or Word. Likewise, you can health check your desktop online quickly and easily: check the manufacturer’s website to find out how to do to this. You could also consider a quick audit of software licences: you might be holding onto licences for people who’ve left the business, or perhaps your team doesn’t find them fit for purpose.
- Let your staff work the way they want to: Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) means that employees choose their own tools, on their own devices. This can empower and motive people: 74% of IT leaders believe BYOD can help employees be more productive. It gives your staff flexibility, generates trust and means that the people selecting the tools are the ones using them. It also helps drive mobility, as staff can work anywhere. Setting up your staff for mobile working can save money on estate overheads and opens up your organisation to a talent pool unrestricted by geography. It’s also been proven to boost productivity, according to a study by a Stanford University professor who found employees working from home made 13.5% more calls per week than office-based colleagues.
- Find out what you’re entitled to: You may find you’re entitled to rates, relief or financial help that you’d never considered: business rates relief, or being able to claim back maternity pay you have given employees. You might be entitled to access a business mentor to guide and advise you; or you might receive tax relief from staff benefits such as health insurance. To find out what you might be missing out on, the FSB is a good place to start for advice, resources and access to online documents, or try the gov.uk website.
- Invest in technology and people: 64% of small and medium enterprises plan to invest in technology or equipment this year. If you’re looking to improve outcomes and efficiencies, investing in technology is a good bet. Look at specific business functions to identify gaps – a shipping and mailing audit, for example, can identify areas where new technologies and solutions can drive operational efficiency and enhance the customer experience.
Small businesses are investing in automation, from marketing to postal management, to remove laborious manual processes and speed up productivity. Integrating these technologies so they work together, rather than in silos, boosts efficiency even further: physical equipment can connect to digital platforms, for greater control, improved collaboration, improved accuracy and access to deeper analytics.
The other area of investment key to your business performance is, of course, people. A Bibby Financial Services study found 56% of small businesses plan to invest in training staff. Educating your team, and bringing your employees on your journey with you is crucial to your organisation’s successful performance, driving retention and motivation and ensuring your staff feel valued for their input. And valued staff deliver a great customer experience.
- Encourage innovation: Innovation is about finding different ways of doing things. It may be about investing in innovative technologies, but it is also a case of tapping into the wide pool of talent you have in your organisation to find out how they would do things differently and improve the customer experience – listening to the people that keep your operation running at ground-level. Fostering an environment that encourages innovation can be as straightforward as making sure channels are in place for people to share, and listen to, ideas. Recognising and rewarding these ideas is another way to value and motivate employees. And the better staff are treated by employers, the more ideas they have, according to research from academics in Australia.
As a small business owner, your contribution to the UK is more valued and valuable than ever, as a life beyond the European Union becomes a reality and a new government starts to build an environment in which small businesses can flourish. Turning your attention inwards and structuring your organisation to boost productivity and drive operational excellence will help you forge ahead of the competition and drive performance.
By Ryan Higginson, vice president, global inside sales at Pitney Bowes