Standing on the shoulders of giants – How our economy needs this country’s small business to thrive and why digital is the answer


Written by Paul Struthers, MD UK&I Sage

During the pandemic, I moved from Canada to the UK. What immediately impressed me was the creativity and agility of this country’s brilliant small and medium businesses (SMBs), despite the unprecedented challenges. It’s no exaggeration to say they are on the precipice of great change.

I’ve seen that the past 18 months have brought a seismic shift to digitising even the smallest of businesses; my local community has thrived thanks to its hub of micro and small businesses adapting and turning to technology. I know this is the case throughout the UK where SMBs tuned into technology to overcome difficulties and create efficiencies within the business. 76% of SMBs say they now rely on technology and in the UK, while 52% used new technology to sell more and stay connected with customers or improve how their business operates.

Why does this matter? All economic recoveries are built on the back of SMB growth and job creation. I believe technology is a huge enabler for SMBs to return to growth. Business model disruption, the rise of flexible working and changing employee demands have also made it more important than ever to help SMBs use the latest tech tools. So, tech leaders and business owners all have a role to play, more on that later.

Sage has been a major supporter of the Digital Leaders programme for several years now and proudly sits on the Board. Its mantra is focussed firmly on what I’ve just been talking about – using technology to promote economic growth, while increasing social well-being. Ultimately harnessing the power of technology to transform. It is just what this country needs right now to help inspire digital change in business to help boost our country’s GDP.

I have seen first-hand that by leveraging technology, SMBs can work more productively, serve customers better and adapt to the changing needs of accelerated market trends. Tech adoption offers a great long-term prize: a higher growth, more dynamic economy, built on tech enabled SMBs operating innovative business models.

Business owners who operate with a digital-first mindset are positioned to reap far greater benefits than simply the task in hand. The use of even basic technology is proven to make businesses more agile, resilient, and profitable, linking the wider networking effect will only seek to benefit our countries’ SMBs.

Business owners know this themselves with 80% of SMBs think digital adoption is critical for an enterprise-led recovery and job creation, but only a small proportion (33%) have the bandwidth to invest in technology across key business processes.  So how can we get more businesses investing in the technology they should?

The key here is to refocus business operations and reprioritise under a digital lens. How can digital investment, even small, benefit SMBs? Stop thinking about the processes and think about the outcomes you’ll benefit from.

When speaking to businesses, I know the things that keep them up at night are operating cashflow, employing and retaining their people, late payments, keeping compliant and more recently how to operate their business remotely. With the right digital investment, they can have access to remote payroll, real time customer data and cash forecasting, greater employee satisfaction, a reduction in late payments, and a deeper understand of your business’ performance levers.  It is the turn of a dial not the flick of a switch but starting the digital journey is one of the most powerful steps a business owner can take.

Tech companies and the government need to continue to listen to the needs of SMBs and work together to skill-up, inform and encourage investment to enhance their digital journey. All of which will enable allow them greater agility, resilience and productivity.

I truly believe we have the chance to build an economy based on digitally enabled, high-growth SMEs, who utilise the latest technology innovations to attract talent, serve customers and adopt productive business models. This is also at the heart of Digital Leaders’ vision.

Finally, the Digital Leaders 100 2021 shortlist is live and you can vote for this extraordinary list of great pioneers in our country that are grabbing the opportunity digital brings to business by the horns.

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