Getting small businesses back on their feet: is digital the answer?

Anthony Impey

Written by Anthony Impey, CEO, Be the Business

Last week, I joined Nick Williams of Lloyds Bank Group and a group of inspirational small business leaders at the launch of the Lloyds Bank 2020 Transformation with Tech Report

At Be the Business we have always advocated for the increased use of tech by small businesses, and so we were excited to collaborate with Lloyds on this research. Our core mission is to help small businesses improve their productivity – and we know that if we are to really make progress on closing the UKs productivity gap, tech adoption at scale will have be part of the solution. 

But the findings in the Lloyds report are very surprising and bring a new urgency to our tech adoption mission. We of course knew tech was a driver of productivity and innovation, but this report shows us how vitally important tech has become for the very survival of many businesses across the country. 

  • Almost half of the UK’s microbusinesses would have ceased trading during the pandemic without a shift to digital.
  • Over 1.5million ventured online for the first time
  • 2.2million expanded their online business.
  • Almost half will continue to prioritise digital investment in the future. 

Something really important is happening. The pandemic has forced small businesses to turn to technology, and the rate and scale of adoption is staggering. We are most definitely in a unique technology moment, and we cannot afford to let it pass us by. The prize couldn’t be greater. It’s not only the tremendous potential for productivity improvement and the development of innovative new services and business models that tech adoption can bring, tech is now essential to securing the future of small businesses, their employees, and their communities. 

This leads me to two other figures from the report that are worth reflecting on:

  • Three quarters (73%) of microbusinesses feel they will require support with digitization and digital up-skilling.
  • Over 60% received no support at all with their tech adoption process

For me, this is the key take away and where we need to focus our attention. Tech adoption is not an easy process and our research tells us that many small businesses don’t feel they got it right. When I speak to leaders in small businesses about this, they tell me that they either don’t have the skills in-house to get the best from the tech, or they don’t have the time to fully implement the tech, or they were sold tech that was unsuitable The list goes on, but these examples give an indication of the types of problems that are holding back tech adoption in so many of this country’s small businesses. We need to fix this. 

Over the next six months, small businesses are going to need to go digital on a scale we never imagined possible if they are going to be able to get back on their feet.  But they are going to need our support to get it right. If we are going to harness the momentum of this technology moment, we need a national effort to support small businesses in their tech adoption journey, which will require collaboration across government, private sector, business support organisation, and regional and local government.

At Be the Business we have already begun to work with partners from the public sector, private sector and regional governments to coordinate tech adoption support for small businesses. We also have a free online resource for small businesses that are thinking about adopting a tech solution. This is a start, but much more will be needed. If you think you might be able to work with us to help small businesses on their tech adoption journey, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch. 

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