Technology has revolutionised the way we live, and small firms may have to adapt their business model to remain relevant.
During the past two decades, the way in which we live and work has been transformed.
Email, text messages and instant messaging have revolutionised communication, with social media a common tool. Technology has advanced dramatically, with high-speed broadband, mobile devices and wireless connectivity making it possible for people to work from anywhere – reducing the need for expensive offices or long commutes.
The way we live as consumers has also been profoundly impacted. The growth of smartphones and mobile commerce means more than one pound in five spent by UK consumers is done so over the internet, with much of this conducted through smartphones. Unsurprisingly, the high street is struggling to keep up, held back by expensive rents and a business rates system that has yet to fully adapt to the changing landscape.
Small firms have had to adapt their offering and ways of working to move with the times. Having an effective website that can be accessed on a smartphone as well as a PC is now vital for most businesses, while social media offers opportunities in marketing and customer service.
Technology has helped to level the playing field; it’s often easier for small firms to compete online than in a physical environment, and many online-only businesses have sprung up on the back of changing trends. From an employee perspective, small firms are now able to offer greater flexibility around working hours and locations, which has helped many compete for talented staff.
This has also created challenges in terms of keeping up with digital skills. According to FSB’s research, more than a quarter (26 per cent) of business owners in England lack confidence in their basic digital skills, and more than a fifth (22 per cent) believe a lack of basic digital skills among staff is holding them back from increasing their digital presence.
During the summer, FSB ran a series of workshops with Facebook, designed to equip members with the skills they need to use Facebook and Instagram. In all, there were 17 Boost Your Business with FSB and Facebook events across the UK, attended by more than 1,200 people from the small business sector and culminating in a final flagship event held at Facebook’s HQ in London in mid-July.
Our greater reliance on digital technologies also means small businesses could be exposed to cyber-attacks. Research by FSB suggests 20 per cent of small firms have been victims of cyber-crime during the past two years, with the annual cost of such attacks to the small business community estimated to be £4.5 billion.
“More small firms are waking up to the threat of cybercrime,” says Martin McTague, FSB Policy & Advocacy Chairman. “But too many small businesses still lack access to the resources and budgets needed to contain it.”
FSB is calling for greater action from a range of organisations, including the Government in its policing response; banks by building resilience into banking and payment systems; and software providers by providing automatic patching and updates as the default option for all products. It also offers its members cyber protection.