The research*, conducted amongst small business support network Enterprise Nation’s members, found 69 per cent of small firms were planning to introduce more digital services such as contactless payment devices, e-commerce and selling their products via digital marketplaces.
When asked how open they were to broadening their business offering to avoid disruption to trade, 81 per cent said they were already working on it. Another 68% of small firms said they planned to increase business knowledge and skills.
The most popular skill to improve was sales and marketing with 58 per cent saying this was something they felt they needed help with.
In the East of England, 72 per cent said they planned to diversify following the pandemic.
Emma Jones, founder Enterprise Nation, said: “Companies have demonstrated that they can act fast and change their operations in response to external conditions. What is clear is that we’re seeing a decade’s worth of change happening almost overnight, with clearly more to come.
“Entrepreneurs are taking swift action to futureproof their business, not just from unpredictable lockdowns but for the longer term. Many will need support to do so. The message is that there is support out there, much of it free such as the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme we’re running and the Government-backed Recovery Advice for Business initiative that sees small firms access up to an hour of free one-to-one advice a month from a trusted adviser.
“Rather than looking to government for support, we are now focused on keeping the economy as open as possible by coordinating support that can be delivered by the private sector, including the major digital platforms that small businesses rapidly need to master in order to keep trading into Christmas and beyond.”
Taking advice to expand skills and continue to learn is a trend Enterprise Nation has seen increasing.
Since the first lockdown, the firm has been running two free initiatives to support SMEs. The first is the Amazon Small Business Accelerator, a free e-learning programme created by 30 business experts in and delivered in 218 bite-size videos.
The programme aims to support 200,000 businesses over the coming months, with regular sector-specific boot camps.
The other is the Recovery Advice for Business scheme which sees small firms get one-to-one advice from an adviser that has offered an hour a month to support small firms affected by the pandemic.
Romford wallpaper firm Brennan and Birch was created by school friends Lisa Brennan and Majida Burch. The pair have continually looked for new opportunities and ways to learn new skills during their two decades in business. Their latest activity was taking part in a boot camp for homewares companies through the free Amazon Small Business Accelerator.
After a week of training, Brennan & Burch will soon be selling products on Amazon’s online store as well as via their website.
Majida said: “There were great tips on making our website design more concise and a checklist to look at specific areas, which we have downloaded for review.
“Cash is king and cash flow is a challenge for most micro enterprises like us. We have always been self-funded, which means our business growth has been slower and more organic than some of our contemporaries.
“As our business grows, we have made changes such as being a limited company, being VAT registered, finding a good accountant, making sure all returns are filed on time with HMRC and Companies House, taking out trade specific insurances etc.
“There are only two of us and therefore we have to be extremely careful how we spend our time. Burnout is a real danger, particularly for female entrepreneurs like us who are balancing work life with bringing up both our families. I’m lucky enough that my kids are becoming older and more independent, but Lisa still has little ones. We can’t work all hours any more or travel overseas for weeks at a drop of a hat for trade shows.
“What we can do is work smarter not harder.”
The business partners outlined some and there are a number of time-saving software solutions that we love:
Capsule CRM (https://capsulecrm.com/invite/?friend=dXMxIzM1MDg2OA ) (link is a referral link from Brennan & Burch)
Ninety EOS: (https://www.ninety.io/
They have also clued up on the digital world by taking advice from Norfolk-based Kathy Ennis, founder of Little Piggy and Brentwood-based Emma Goode, founder of social media firms 24 Fingers. Both are advisers on the Enterprise Nation platform and Emma runs an Enterprise Nation Local Leaders group in Essex. Kathy is also a Facebook She Means Business trainer.
Majida said: “A lot of our work is business to business so we network like our life depends on it. We prefer to network locally where possible. Taking digital advice has also been key to being adaptable and pivot to more online sales over lockdown.”
*The research polled 315 small business members and was carried out in August/September.