How smart partnerships are helping
by Spencer Bakewell
The country officially went into ‘lockdown’ on 23rd March which saw many businesses and sectors having to fundamentally change the nature of how they operate or ‘go into hibernation’, closing down entirely. The UK’s 5.9m SME’s have been at the forefront of managing and adapting their businesses to the new conditions. Like all businesses they have had to tackle a new set of COVID related challenges; cashflow pressures, supply chain disruption, care of duty to employees (PPE, Mental wellbeing etc) and increased employee sickness leave.
We normally specialise in creating memorable and engaging brand partnerships at Mando-Connect and in these challenging times were keen to explore the world of government and brand partnerships together, to see what support SMEs are getting.
UK businesses, including SMEs, have embraced government partnership initiatives;
- Over 80% of UK businesses have taken advantage of the job furlough scheme, 68% of businesses have deferred VAT payments and 42% are taking business rates holidays.
- Support to business through 80% government backed loans got off to a slow start with banks reluctant to approve many applications. The government is now taking on 100% of the loan risk, resulting in many businesses finally getting the capital they need to survive.
- Specific to Small Businesses the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) offers support up to £50,000. Recent data shows that 464,393 loans worth £14.18 billion have been approved under the BBLS so far, which is great news.
- Finally, an online service has been launched to enable SMEs to recover Coronavirus related statutory sick pay they have made to their employees back dated from 13th
- One small business owner is certainly relieved at the support he’s been given by the government423 to keep his business afloat.
Government support aside, here are some other ways that SMEs are adapting:
#1 – Digital Acceleration
Law firms are traditionally a paper based business, with extensive case files that are shared between employees both in the office, as well as routinely taken home. This presents a serious risk of infection and has therefore hindered firms which are still paper reliant. Rapid digitisation has allowed other law firms to adapt and work more flexibly, safely and from any location.
#2 – Diversifying to New Audience’s
SMEs who focus on a B2B wholesale service have suffered from cashflow problems due to a combination of; unpaid outstanding invoices, reduced future sales and other business overheads, all combining to put some in perilous positions. Wholesale companies, able to switch their energies to a more B2C focused model are finding a path to alleviate pressure, therefore concentrating efforts on improving their ecommerce customer experience and supply chain management.
#3 – Building Resilience by Setting and Achieving Short Term Goals
SME’s are quickly adapting and building up a resilience to the current situation. One way this is happening is through setting short term goals. “Setting short term goals which, as each one is achieved, takes a business a step closer to the other side of this crisis, is an essential strategy.” says Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers. Another form of resilience he has witnessed in his business has come through a fantastic team spirit. Charlie has provided his team with free cars allowing them to avoid travelling on public transport and free food supplied by local London businesses, as he had to close his company canteen. In turn his team doing all they can to help Pimlico Plumbers stay afloat.
#4 –Getting Support from Brand Partnerships
SMEs are thinking smart and seeking to build brand partnerships for mutual gain. The relationship that Vodafone Business has with its SME customers is a great example of a brand supporting small businesses in these challenging times.
Vodafone is an important partner of SMEs all across the UK, so they’ve seen first-hand how those customers are dealing with the crisis and are stepping in to support them. Some of the measures taken have included: extra network capacity to cope with additional demand, offering trials on cybersecurity solutions to SME’s as the dangers of cybercrime have increased during the crisis, discounts and special price plans to help SMEs weather out this period. One such example is the 6 months’ free offer on Vodafone Business Broadband, that Vodafone recently introduced. “We have taken our responsibly to keep the UK connected very seriously and feel a particular responsibility to help our SME business customers survive throughout the Coronavirus crisis.” Andrew Stevens – Head of Small Business, Vodafone UK.
What SMEs Wish They Could Do
A common worry for a lot of SMEs is with staff furloughed, they run the risk of going bankrupt before their staff are allowed to return to work. They would like the government to allow these staff to have the flexibility to work, whilst still on furlough, to help safeguard their jobs. A survey commissioned by London-based Volcano Coffee Works, found that almost three-quarters of furloughed employees feared their employer’s business would close due to Covid-19, while 59% were worried they would be made redundant even if the business survived. However, 86% of these workers said they were willing to work while furloughed to improve their chances of making it through the lockdown. This idea isn’t yet government policy but is under consideration.
And the SMEs who are able to adaptable at speed and reinvent how they operate as we shift back to normality, could be well set up to thrive.