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Going for Growth – What SMEs should be doing now

Going for Growth – What SMEs should be doing now 1

By Erica Wolfe-Murray 

With the world of work hesitantly emerging from behind closed doors, most SMEs are stepping out into a changed trading environment. Some have experienced booming trade over the last three months, others will have faced stark decisions about continuing their business. All will face uncertainty to a greater degree as their client base questions spend in a recessionary market. Growth in the months and next years ahead may be tough but is absolutely possible.

Here are a few pointers to start you off…

  • Ensure you maximise your COVID-19 financial support entitlement

Even if you went into lockdown with a cash cushion, taking out a CBILS or BBB Loan might make sense. For smaller companies the latter offers cheap money that can help you pivot, develop new products/services, even out bumpy cash flow. It can repay more expensive debt and loans. It provides liquidity. If you don’t think you’ll need it to call on it, put it in a separate account as rainy day money.

  • Check out whether you qualify for an HMRC R&D Tax Credit

In 2019 over 14,000 new applicants received a tax or cash credit for their R&D spend. If you’ve spent money trying to ‘resolve a scientific or technical uncertainty’ within your business, creating a new product/service or changing/modifying an existing one – whether you were successful or not – you may be able to claim. Tax credit covers qualifying staff time, overheads, materials, external support. Most SME claims were under £50k, very many under £5k and can cover the past 3 years. If you’re developing new products/services this year, apply in advance for pre-approval.

There’s lots of useful advice on Gov.org.uk – and you could get a cash credit.

  • Talk to your clients about their changing worlds

To ensure your future success, you need to harvest as much information as possible now about how clients, contacts and your networks view the next months and years. How will their businesses be adapting to market contractions and changes? This is happening on the fly, so regular conversations are vital. What do they see, what trends are they on to, how are their worlds re-focusing? All of this is critical research for you to absorb and utilize, if needs be, to re-frame your offer.

  • Scrutinise your business for under-used actual and intellectual assets

Most SMEs have reserves of under-used and hidden assets. Their knowledge base is extensive, their data has potency, their resources are often focused to their core offer overlooking value to new, emergent audiences. The adage about ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ needs to be applied now.

By really mapping your assets thoroughly, you will see what you have in your business ‘store-cupboard’ – all of which can be re-purposed inventively to develop new commercial products and services. I’ve yet to meet a business – of any size – who couldn’t adapt their assets to drive new revenue streams.

  • Up-skill your team

If you have staff on furlough, encourage them to develop those skills your business might need in the months ahead. Skill and learning development for business needs are allowed under furlough guidelines. Do you need up-dated marketing capability, better supply chain/procurement practice, leadership methodology, improved HR systems? Agree a plan with your team so everyone comes back with new knowledge to contribute to the business to aid your growth ahead.

  • Can you widen your revenue models?

An easy growth win is to review your revenue models. The ways individuals and companies buy changes continually. Just a few years ago no-one would have thought a shaving essentials subscription model would fly, but it’s a model now replicated across many regular purchase markets.

If you are stuck in a rut earning revenues in just one or two ways – can you widen this? If you’re uncertain how – just count the ways you are paying your personal and company suppliers now. From the moment you get up, check your phone, turn on the tap to fill the kettle to paying your rent, mortgage, tv content etc. You are already involved with countless revenue systems. How can you apply some of these to your business?

  • Don’t just go it alone – collaboration makes sense

Going for growth is an outwardly focused challenge. With the different opportunities and difficulties facing your business over the next months – could collaboration with new partners offer you a route to potential markets that benefit both parties?  Could it pivot your service offer in new, lucrative ways?  Talk this over with your team – who do they identify as a forward-looking organisation who offers interesting potential alignment?  Open dialogues with interesting parties now.

As companies have gone through lock-down, furlough and WFH, there has been distinct phases including shock, pragmatism, containment, management and now we are in the forward-looking opportunity assessment, re-framing and possible growth period. You need to take the lead and ensure you and your company emerge ahead by adapting and innovating to the world you step into.

About the Author
Erica Wolfe-Murray is a leading SME business expert. She is the Author of business book ‘Simple Tips Smart Ideas’ and founder of Lola Media

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 2

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   3

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 4

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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