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The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in support and awareness of small businesses in the UK, according to new research.

A study conducted by Small Business Britain and BT Skills For Tomorrow found that 64% of small business owners have experienced a rise in support in some way, shape or form.

The survey of 1,000 small businesses across the UK found that, despite tough challenges, the crisis of the past few months has highlighted and reinforced the sector’s key role at the heart of communities.

The speed and entrepreneurialism with which many small businesses have responded to the crisis has received widespread recognition, with 45% developing new products and services, such as takeaway and delivery services, virtual consultations and click and collect.

Many of the changes instigated by small businesses have involved digital transformation, with 51% pivoting to online to engage with customers more. Forty-five per cent have moved to selling online more often and 25% reported an increase in the use of contactless payments. It has all led to 46% saying they expect to increase their use of digital services in the future.

Over half (55%) said the changes they were forced to make by the pandemic are positive for the business, and 19% said they actually expect to see revenues increase as a result.

Many small businesses are still feeling very uncertain about the future, however. A significant proportion (70%) admitted they expect to have to return to stricter lockdown rules at some point before the end of 2020. While this would represent another major challenge for businesses, a third feel far more prepared for such an eventuality.

Over a third (41%) expect revenues to fall by 50% or more, and 53% still lack confidence over their business’ future. However, this does represent a 10% decline compared with a similar survey conducted in May.

Michelle Ovens MBE, founder of Small Business Britain, said: “Small businesses across the UK have played a very special and important role throughout this crisis, supporting communities. The fact that over two thirds are feeling increasing recognition and affection from the public is testament to this.

“However, our data also shows the major uncertainty still out there, so this sector still massively needs our support. While so many small businesses have taken the opportunity to strengthen their digital skills and transform, it’s really important that we continue to help more firms to build the agility and resilience they need for the future.”

Pete Oliver, managing director of SME for BT’s Enterprise unit, said: “With almost three quarters of small businesses expecting another lockdown, and with more than half of all businesses not feeling confident about their future, it’s clear that small businesses need continued support.

At BT we’re stepping up by using our technology, expertise and scale to help small businesses boost their connectivity, cashflow and confidence through a new support scheme. From free digital skills support and mentoring, to tech start-up bursaries and up to £2,500 of funding towards high-speed connections – we have something to offer for all small businesses.”

Small Business Britain is continuing its free ‘Back to Business’ programme, which will include a summer-long programme of workshops, advice and support to help small businesses recover and move forwards.

BT is supporting through its Small Business Support Scheme, offering a range of services to 5.8 million small businesses.

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