(5) The Autumn Statement also revealed the National Living Wage will be increased from £7.20 to £7.50. How will this impact SMEs?The increase will mean businesses should start to plan ahead and look to where these costs will be absorbed in the future. The further cuts to Corporation Tax to 17 per cent by 2020 and reduction in business rates by £6.7bn over the next five years should go some way to help this, although many business owners may not feel this is sufficient respite. It may in turn increase the number of businesses taking on Apprenticeships, providing funding continues.
(6) Elsewhere, Export Finance funds will be doubled, following on from trade secretary Liam Fox calling leaders lazy. What’s your assessment of the SME appetite for global trade?It’s great to see continued government support to help businesses trade overseas with confidence. We polled over 1,300 senior business leaders around the world immediately after the EU Referendum to get their views on trading with UK businesses. Some 60 per cent said Brexit will actually improve their trade dealings with British companies, and three quarters cited the “Made in Britain” brand as an attractive premium when buying British products. This shows that there are opportunities for more UK SMEs to expand their horizons, particularly to countries such as Brazil, the US and China who were most optimistic about trading with UK entrepreneurs. We’re seeing the number of customers exporting with us increase year on year- Germany and France remain the UK’s key trading partners however we’ve seen the biggest rise in inbound payments to UK small businesses from the US, demonstrating SMEs are looking outside the EU for export growth opportunities.
(7) There’s also been a promise of a £1bn broadband investment to drive 5G and fibre networks in the Autumn Statement. How would you describe the condition of connectivity for businesses at present?It’s a crucial Autumn Statement announcement. As more and more consumers buy products and use services online, it’s vital that SMEs have the infrastructure and tools needed to keep pace in the digital world, therefore investment is pivotal. Not only to support domestic growth but to help SMEs expand overseas. Continued investment in infrastructure will help future UK startups, those who are turning ideas into success stories overnight from just a laptop in their bedroom, and it will go a long way to encourage entrepreneurs across wider and more remote regions in the UK. We are seeing more and more businesses go online to manage their finances, so we’ve installed free Wi-Fi in our branches and our Digital Eagles across the country help businesses through workshops and events to improve the digital skills they need to thrive.
(8) Christmas spending in the UK is set to hit a record £77.56bn this year. What can SMEs do to ensure shoppers are spending with them?A) Plan ahead and manage your cash flow so that you have enough finance to help you maximise sales in the short-term- for example it may be you need to order extra stock or hire additional staff. A loan, credit card or overdraft may be enough to get you through the busy period. B) Creating a digital presence such as promoting your business through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook can widen your audience instantly and is essentially your shop window to the world. C) Understanding your customer audience will help you to target repeat customers. We’ve introduced SmartBusiness- a tool that brings SME’s transaction data to life, helps you to understand who your customers are for example – gender, age and frequency of spending, and also how this compares on average to similar businesses in your region, means SMEs can have the power of a whole marketing department at their fingertips. D) Stay safe. SMEs can be vulnerable to a number of scams such as supplier fraud or online cyber threats, particularly during the festive season, so staying vigilant during a busy time is crucial. Keeping your and your customers’ data and money safe should be of upmost importance- having a security strategy, raising awareness amongst staff of the common cons used to commit cybercrime, installing software that keeps you and your customers’ details safe and keeping all software up to date is a good approach to stay protected. By Shané Schutte
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