By Anne Kiem, Executive Director, Small Business Charter and Chief Executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools
How comfortable are you with embracing new technology? Are you aware of digital trends within your sector? Do you know tech could drive your business growth, but don’t know where to start?
These are big questions for small firms and the answers are becoming increasingly important.
The importance of business adoption of key technologies and management practices to the UK economy has long been gaining traction. Improving the digital capability of SMEs is said to have the potential to raise UK productivity by around £18.8 billion.
This is easier said than done. Despite the incredible resilience and growth that small firms have demonstrated over the last decade, many are still struggling to adopt digital. One in four microbusinesses still use no technology at all.
The FSB’s own research shows that the UK has a major digital skills deficit, with over half of the small business workforce lacking basic knowledge in 2017. This is underlined by the fact that up until recently almost two million UK small businesses didn’t have a website, potentially costing the sector over £343bn each year.
The pace of technological change means that the small firms which embrace innovation today will be tomorrow’s success stories. While digital undoubtedly brings much disruption, it also represents an exciting business opportunity that is ripe for the taking.
There are many understandable reasons why small businesses are not currently seizing this across the board – from concerns around time, cost and security, to barriers like lack of confidence and feeling that cutting-edge technology is overwhelming or inaccessible.
While you could be forgiven for thinking the technological revolution is all about robots and AI and light years away from making a difference for smaller firms, there are actually many technologies that can really drive growth right now.
For example, CRM, cloud-based computing, accountancy software, e-commerce and computer aided design are among the top technologies proven to increase productivity for microbusinesses. These tools are much easier and cheaper to adopt than people often think.
While small businesses definitely need to make technological adoption a priority as we head into the next decade, it is also important that the UK does all it can to enable them to make the leap and offer support implementing it.
This needs to start with access to management and tech training at a local level, which will also help to supercharge regional economic growth in the process.
The Small Business Charter (SBC) is focused on doing just this. We have recently launched the new Leading to Grow programme, which helps small businesses develop management capabilities to exploit the growth potential of digital technologies. This has been funded by the Government and is being offered in partnership with 15 business schools across England, at no cost to business.
We are aiming this support squarely at helping microbusiness owners to grow, innovate and improve productivity through digital and other new technologies. These businesses, which employ 0-9 people, account for 5.6m of UK businesses (96% of the small business sector) and are particularly well-placed to scale. Employing over 9 million people they contribute £900bn to the economy.
We know that each business will have a unique path to growth. Digital strategy won’t be the same for every business, but it is safe to say that technology will be able to help all businesses in some way.
This is why mindset is so important. We start with assessing individual business goals, because by focusing on where each business wants to go in the future, we are better placed to determine how digital can help bring these ambitions to life.
To find a business school in your area offering the SBC’s free Leading to Grow programme and boost your digital skills, visit https://smallbusinesscharter.org/leading-to-grow-programme/.