The pandemic has dramatically accelerated the rate of digital adoption amongst the UK’s small business community. What needs to happen now is the signposting of relevant and targeted support to help firms leverage their investment in technology.
As recently as 2019, there was an astonishing disparity in digital appetite amongst companies across the UK. According to Statistica 83.4 per cent of businesses with ten or more employees had websites. That sounds significant until you realise that 96 per cent of the UK’s business community have 0-9 employees.
The reality was that probably around 50 per cent of firms were not using technology or reaping the benefits it brings.
Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of new business registrations at Companies House – 772,002, a 13 per cent increase on 2019.
While it’s part of a trend we’ve been observing since the last recession, the fact is that entrepreneurs see opportunity in despair; and often their finest moments emerge when things are getting uncomfortable.
It makes delivering the skills and training they need to prosper and find resilience more urgent – and more worthwhile – than ever.
Enterprise Nation has long been calling for more investment in digital support and training for business and we welcome the government’s recent announcement of the launch of Help to Grow Digital; a programme offering businesses with 5+ employees a voucher to spend on software . This is well conceived as we observe that often, once entrepreneurs start to invest in digital tools, they increase productivity through things like accounting software, time management tools and social media adoption.
One of the profound learnings of the pandemic is that firms that had already invested in digital technology were the most resilient.
It allowed them to work remotely for example, which meant they could adapt, or pivot more successfully to ride the storm.
The pandemic was a tale of accelerated trends. Technology was on the rise, while high streets struggled.
The first glimpse of our ravaged high streets when restrictions were lifted brought into sharp focus the accelerated shift in retail trends. Many blamed technology, but in fact it could well play an important role in building the solution.
As large firms retreat from the high street, small businesses are preparing to return and will help shape their future.
Online-only brands are developing a new hybrid approach to retail. They need exposure to everything that the high street does well; physical experience, discovery and one-on-one contact – but instead of cash sales, they are driving sales to their website.
The retail brands of the future may sell on their own website, on a global platform like Amazon, via independent stockists and potentially digital pop-ups on the high street. Again, harnessing technology.
We ran a campaign called Hello World in May which saw 33 brands take as little as a day at a time in our pop-up shop in Oxford Street.
Pop-up shops like the one we worked with run by digital retail pioneers Sook have taken the inherent complications and cost from the smallest firms wishing to explore physical retail using technology.
Technology can have impacts worth celebrating – even in areas where we expect it not to. Now we’ve made the investment, we should learn the lessons and grow.
Emma Jones, CBE, is founder and CEO of small business network and business support provider Enterprise Nation.