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‘Most turbulent time ever’ for over a third of SMEs, as experts advise British businesses to prepare for even greater change

  • 2.6 million small business owners have genuine concerns about the future, but experts predict AI advancements, hyper-connectivity and the end of late payments spell the end of routine for SMEs
  • Report indicates owners are pumping almost £12,000 of their own money into their business as one in four worry their company will fold in the next five years
  • Small business owners of the future will be more socially-conscious, rely less on email and computer screens, and fluent in hiring staff with multiple jobs

As this tumultuous year draws to a close, 2.6 million small business owners (46 percent) admit to having genuine concerns about the future – so much so that a quarter believe their company will fold in the next five years, according to new research.

Business Rewired, an in-depth report by global small business platform Xero examines SME owners’ greatest concerns for the future, up against the emerging trends they will need to prepare for. These mounting concerns include late payments (54 percent), cyber-attacks (27 percent) and tax rates (44 percent).

Other things threatening their future existence include Brexit (44 per cent), employee recruitment costs (19 percent) and maintaining or increasing levels of productivity (31 per cent). More than a third (37 per cent) say this is the most turbulent period they have ever experienced and on average they have pumped £11,846.45 of their own money into their business. Over a quarter (26 per cent) say their business is leaving them out of pocket.

The pressures of running a business in the current climate has impacted the mental health of more than a third according to the research, and small business owners work an extra nine hours a week on average in addition to their standard working hours.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, leading business futurologist Gerd Leonhard predicts a brighter picture of what the future holds for the 5.8 million SMEs across the UK.

Gerd Leonard, business futurist and contributor to the report, says: “Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300. We will see the biggest technological transformation in human history – impacting where, how and why we work.”

“Automation is reducing the need for humans to undertake routine tasks and the world of work is heading towards a dramatic reset. Everything we assume about work, jobs, training and education is being challenged by exponential scientific and technological progress. Whether you’re a small business owner, an accountant, bookkeeper or advisor, these emerging trends will affect you very soon.”

According to Gerd, over the next 20 years, AI will revolutionise routine as we know it and cut working hours by up to half; a ‘blended workforce’ will transform the number of employers workers have; and digital transactions and the death of the 30 day payment model will spell the end of late payments, as SMEs move towards a happier, healthier economy.

 Gary Turner, Xero co-founder, says “The ways small businesses work now are dramatically different from the 1980s when the first personal computers arrived. But business needs to adapt to greater changes coming their way. New technologies will hasten a far greater consciousness towards the biggest killer of small businesses. Cash flow problems will decline as instant payment technologies take root as a cultural norm. I believe what we’ll see is 30-day payment terms going the way of the fax machine.”

Emma Gannon, author, podcast host and contributor to the report, adds: “We are in a time when young people are job-hopping more than ever, and the pressure is on for companies to retain their employees. This means adapting to the changes that are here right now and coming in the next few years.”