SMALL BUSINESS MATTERS
This week sees the return of the monthly small business column from the regional chair of FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) Northern Ireland, Brendan Kearney
Brendan has been self-employed for the last 44 years mainly across the catering industry. For the past seven years he has led a private medical insurance brokerage and currently employs 14 people. Brendan has been involved with the FSB over the last 20 plus years at various levels between branch, policy and regional levels within the organisation
Cautious but ‘can-do’ restart for small business
If we take a step back to look at what has happened to family, community and economic life as we know it since late March, we can only describe it as incredible, extraordinary, almost farfetched and for some, very sadly, life changing. We are so used to being adaptable and organic in the small business world – but we have never been quite as challenged as we have been over the past few months of 2020.
From my own perspective, I have witnessed the near decimation of a hospitality business; a tale so familiar across all parts of these islands. We, like others in our sector, had to find inventive ways of trying to keep going, trying to serve our loyal customers and trying to keep contributing to the local economy. Like most of you will attest to, it has been far from easy. Another of my own businesses that relies on face-to-face and very personal interactions again has been tested with a new climate of mainly screen-to-screen or phone-to-phone interactions. For someone who relies heavily on that front-facing, relationship focused way of operating it has been the strangest of times.
The FSB team have been to the fore in dealing with the fallout of the impact of Covid-19 on our members and the small business sector as a whole. Our local team have handled a torrent of queries, questions and calls of support from our members, it has been hectic and unrelenting at points – but this is what we were made for; this is what FSB and what membership of FSB stands for. We are the voice of small business and so through this crisis we had to be the point were our members could come to for advice, information, signposting, support and often just an empathetic ear. The Government interventions have no doubt been a saving grace for many whether it be the ‘’furlough’ scheme or the small business support grants, but these too have not been without their issues in eligibility and distribution and so FSB continues to call for some form of support for those small businesses and self-employed people who have fallen through every gap in the assistance to date.
As the changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme now come into effect and employers being asked to contribute more, there is a real danger that we will see a tide of redundancies and reduced contracts. We must try to limit that tide and the economic damage that will cause by trying to ensure as many businesses as possible continue to trade safely and contribute to the recovery of the economy. This calls for a real sense of ‘collective responsibility’ from business owner to staff to customers to public health officials and those in positions of authority who are guiding on health and safety matters. There is no room for ambiguity – businesses should be able to operate only if they can do so safely and anyone visiting a business must comply with the measures that business has put in place.
With the excitement of a number of sectors reopening in the past week or two, it is now crucial that we avoid another lockdown situation – something that many cities in the USA and across in England have already had to face. Our small businesses are resilient, they have demonstrated great innovation and adaptability over the last 100+ days but we cannot become complacent – there is no vaccine available yet and a spike in transmissions is something that we need to avoid from a public health and economic perspective.
We have begun to eye-roll the overused phrases of the moment like “new normal” and “new way of working” but that is where we are and the mindset we need to adopt if we are to survive and thrive. The pressures, anxieties and issues small businesses faced pre-Covid have not disappeared and those that will survive and thrive will use their Covid recovery phase to make long term improvements to their business and take a holistic approach to trouble-shooting and making strategic plans. Our new normal for FSB means that all of our events and member interactions are now virtual and we developed a number of local and national webinars and online events to give our members access to relevant information, upskilling and learning opportunities or just good old-fashioned networking (albeit virtually). Our plans for our FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards in April and our FSB Business Pavilion at the Balmoral Show in May have had to take a back seat but we will be all the more appreciative of physical meetings and events once it is safe for all parties involved to begin to meet once more.
We wish all of our local businesses the very best over the Summer season, we encourage communities to support their local businesses and continue to adhere to the guidance they have put in place in their premises. Our website www.fsb.org.uk has a special Covid Hub with relevant resources and information available for all small businesses and of course our members have full access to the legal hub and 24/7 employment & legal helpline for guidance and advice.
I am delighted that our “Small Business Matters” feature is off the ground once more and would be more than happy to consider platform topics specifically local government and grassroots issues, such as planning, connectivity, business advice and late payments if you want to suggest them by emailing [email protected] or contacting your local Development Manager [email protected].
What is an SME? SME stands for Small Medium Enterprise and in simple terms refers to any business with 0-249 employees – so this incudes sole-traders. There are approximately 118,000 SMEs in NI
What is FSB? FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) is the largest business support organisation in the UK with approximately 6,000 members in NI and 150,000 UK-wide. Established over 40 years ago to help its members succeed in business, FSB is a non-profit making and non-party political organisation that’s led by its members, for its members. FSB campaigns on issues impacting SMEs, lobbying local and central government on those issues and additionally offers a range of business services and benefits. www.fsb.org.uk
SME fact: There are more people employed in small business in NI that the public sector and large businesses combined
Date for diary: 16th July – free virtual networking event “Top ten tips for Lead Generation” https://www.fsb.org.uk/event-calendar/ni-virtual-networking.html