Date: 11/06/2020
Author: BT
Company: BT Group

Small businesses across the North West of England are moving more of their services online for survival as the sector looks to take its first steps towards recovery, according to new research from Small Business Britain and BT Skills For Tomorrow.

The research – which polled over 1,000 firms in Small Business Britain’s UK community - found many across the sector are actively embracing digital tools to power recovery. Out of small businesses surveyed across the North West:

• Almost half (45 per cent) have moved online due to the pandemic
• Over a third (44 per cent) are planning for less face to face contact in the future
• Over a third (37 per cent) now view digital skills and tools as a key focus area

The agility and entrepreneurialism displayed by small businesses across the country has received widespread praise, as the sector reacts to an unprecedented crisis. While over half of the North West’s small businesses (58 per cent) now expect their profits to reduce by half, the research also indicates growing optimism, with 42 per cent now feeling confident.

In response, a third (33 per cent) of the region’s small businesses have drastically cut operational costs, with the need for physical offices and other traditional ways of working now increasingly being re-thought.

Almost a third (30 per cent) of the North West’s small firms have responded quickly to run their businesses remotely with video conferencing. Encouragingly, over one third (34 per cent) see the changes they have made to their business practices as positive.

Emergency Government help, such as the popular ‘Bounce Back’ loans, have also offered a financial lifeline, with over a quarter (28 per cent) of the small firms polled by Small Business Britain now accessing this support.

Looking to the future, well over a third (44 per cent) are planning for less face to face contact and almost a quarter (23 per cent) expect working from home to continue.

The research also reveals that small firms are increasingly prioritising digital skills and tools, with over a third (37 per cent) now seeing this as a key focus.

Sarah Walker, BT Enterprise unit director for the North of England, said: “It’s impressive to see that over a third of small firms in the North West feel the changes they have introduced during this pandemic have been positive. We’re seeing an increasing shift towards businesses moving online, and small businesses should be proud of the way they have embraced this.

The right online presence could make a huge difference to a small business, such as helping them to reach a global audience or a new customer base. It’s important that we continue to support small businesses to develop and enhance their digital skills so they are in the best position for recovery. Our free Skills for Tomorrow programme offers advice on subjects such as visibility online, remote working tools, staying connected with customers and innovation principles to navigate through a crisis.”

Michelle Ovens MBE, Founder of Small Business Britain said:

“The mass digital pivot that we are seeing across the North West’s small business community has been uplifting to see. It’s wonderful that many small firms have used this crisis to power a digital revolution in their businesses! There has always been a huge opportunity for small businesses to make more of their digital potential. As we see many businesses looking proactively to the future and building back to business plans that put digital at the heart, this will be critical to recovery across the UK.”

Small Business Britain is now launching its ‘Back to Business’ programme, which will include a summer-long programme of workshops, advice and support to help small businesses recover and move forwards. This follows ‘The Big Support’ campaign that it has been running throughout the crisis to amplify the help available to small businesses and open up the conversation around the mental health challenges many are facing.

BT is supporting the programme by offering a series of free digital skills webinars specifically designed for small businesses, to help them make the most of technology and navigate through these challenging times. The webinars offer advice on subjects such as visibility online, remote working tools, staying connected with customers and innovation principles to navigate through a crisis.