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Why SMEs are outsourcing more and more

Why SMEs are outsourcing more and more

By Optimum Finance CEO Richard Pepler 

Being an SME owner manager means being not just a jack, but often a master of all trades as you swap between your core business function to HR, accounting, credit control, financial planning, logistics, web design – the list could go on and on.

Richard Pepler

Richard Pepler

If not managed sensibly, this can quickly lead to business burn out. It is also important for any SME owner manager to recognise that however talented, intelligent and energetic they are, they are probably not as good at say, accounting, as a trained accountant who focuses on that specific task all day.

Large companies will have in-house staff recruited to carry out these more specialist business tasks with whole departments dedicated to finance or HR, but most SMEs do not have the capacity to pay full-time staff for such roles.

This is why it has always been necessary to use external expertise at times but it seems to be becoming more so.

As an independent lender specialising in invoice finance solutions for SMEs, we have noticed a marked rise in clients wishing to outsource all their accounts, credit control and debtor protection to us alongside their lending facility in the last 12 months.

This used to be quite rare with most companies opting to take out an invoice finance facility but keeping their credit control and accounts inhouse. We are now seeing about 85% of our clients opting for the full service.

So, why the sudden shift?

Future proofing

The UK is currently going through a period of political and economic uncertainty which shows no sign of resolution. This makes businesses nervous and thus growth more tentative. Business investment in the UK dropped throughout 2018 – the first time we have seen four consecutive falls since 2009 – and while it has picked up a bit this year, it is clear that business executives are holding off on big investment decisions until they have some clarity about the direction of the UK economy.

For SMEs which are more vulnerable to economic fluctuations than bigger businesses, this makes it vital to future proof themselves against potential bumps in the road. In essence, this means protecting their cash flow and balance book at all costs.

This is why invoice finance, by which SMEs can borrow against the value of their invoices and get paid upfront is so helpful. It also explains why we have seen such a big rise in demand for debtor protection which essentially insures an SME against clients defaulting on their outstanding debts.

However, future proofing also means controlling your outgoings carefully and the biggest outgoing in almost any business is its staff.

This is what is driving the growth of outsourcing.

Rather than commit to more employees, companies are increasingly choosing to simply draft in additional services when they need them, meaning they can keep their permanent staff team very lean.

This has multiple advantages which we will now look at:

Project-based work

There has been a general shift across many business sectors to more project-based work rather than retained contracts. Since the recession of 2008 to 2012 businesses have become savvier in their spending, refusing to tie themselves into long-term contracts needlessly. For suppliers this can be a challenge as it means their workload can fluctuate greatly month on month. When a big project lands, they need to be able to upscale and absorb the extra workload rapidly but when it ends, they do not want to be left with excess staff draining the company coffers. This is where outsourcing becomes a vital tool giving companies the agility to survive in this unpredictable environment.

Technology has driven a rapid rise in remote working as businesses are more reliant on digital communications than face-to-face interaction. This makes SME owner managers more ready and willing to outsource work as it is no longer considered a problem to have staff located outside the immediate office environment.

Employment laws

Taking on a new member of staff is a big responsibility which extends beyond simply covering their monthly paycheque. There are dozens of laws and acts dictating the rights of employees which any SME owner must consider before recruiting. These include statutory sick pay, holiday pay, National Insurance contributions, statutory workplace pension schemes, health and safety risk assessments, maternity or paternity leave, liability insurance and so on. In essence, a new staff member is a big expense, commitment and time drain.

For an SME with tight margins, it is a lot quicker and easier and far less risky to use freelance support where possible. While freelance or external providers may charge a higher hourly rate, they are only paid for the specific work they do and save businesses the many responsibilities that come with taking on in-house staff.

Easy access to greater expertise

While staff in most SMEs are used to helping out on a broad range of business tasks, whether it is sales and marketing or client handling, they are unlikely to be experts in the things which are a departure from their key role. If they have been employed as a product designer, they probably won’t be brilliant at bookkeeping. This is where outsourcing can be a sensible route as SMEs can draft in someone who is an expert in their field to do the task in hand. Our credit control team for instance can save staff many tiresome hours chasing down of clients for payment and facilitate better in-house relationships with the clients by removing that potential source of tension.

There is a dual benefit as the outsourced task will be done really well and efficiently while also enabling your staff to focus on their key roles, enhancing performance and job satisfaction.

Key services for outsourcing

For all the reasons above and more, outsourcing can be integral part of any SME business growth strategy. Technically, there is no limit to what a company could outsource but there are certain functions which lend themselves much better to this than others. Many of these are related to the more administrative and financial side of running a business such as accounting, bookkeeping, credit control and IT support.

Other tasks such as sales and client services are best done in-house by staff who have a detailed understanding of your business offering or product and its strengths.

By removing time-consuming admin, you will free up staff time to excel in their key areas of expertise, resulting in a happier, more efficient and more successful company.

Business

Board Report Highlights Complex Decision-Making Process Across Banking and Finance sector

Board Report Highlights Complex Decision-Making Process Across Banking and Finance sector 1

‘The State Of Decision-Making’ report from Board, reveals business decisions made in silos without modern planning tools

A third (33%) of Banking & Finance decision-makers believe decisions made in silos, despite majority (63%) of decisions being implemented worldwide

More than half (57%) of Banking & Finance decision-makers rely on spreadsheets for decision-making despite modern planning tools now available

The #1 decision-making platform, has today released ‘The State Of Decision-Making’ report focussing on how UK organisations make their important business decisions.

Based on a survey of 500 senior decision-makers, across industries including, Banking & Financial Services, Consumer Goods, Manufacturing, Pharmaceutical, Professional Services, Retail, and Transport & Logistics,  ‘The State Of Decision-Making’ report from Board shows that today’s business decision-making process is increasingly complex, with multiple departments and seniority levels all responsible for some form of decision-making, leading to a lack of cohesion between units and a waste of business resources.

The State Of Decision-Making’ research found that while a clear majority of respondents (63%) working within the banking and finance sector say the important decisions they are responsible for get implemented globally, the decision-making process itself is not joined-up across the business, with one third (33%) also saying that crucial business decisions are made in departmental silos.

The research, conducted on behalf of Board International by independent research organisation 3GEM, also asked respondents the tools they use to make decisions and, while almost every action within an organisation today will lead to the creation of new data, it seems many businesses are not using the crucial insights which data can provide to make important decisions.

More than half (55%) of respondents in the banking and finance industry said they were making business decisions based on data and insights, but ‘gut feeling’ decisions are still made by up to 44% of companies. What’s more over half (57%) of the sector’s companies still rely on spreadsheets to aid their decision-making, despite more modern and reliable tools now available.

“In today’s fast-paced, data rich and evolving business environment, making quick and effective decisions is critical to both compete and survive,” explains Gavin Fallon, Managing Director for UK, Nordics & South Africa at Board International. “Important decisions are being made at any one time across multiple business functions, but all too often, important decision-making is disconnected, modular or fragmented.”

The research also asked respondents about the challenges banking and finance decision-makers face at their organisation,  with nearly a third (29%) citing a lack of available data and insights and one quarter (25%) citing the fact there are too many people in the decision-making process as their biggest frustrations. However, industry decision-makers believe that the process can be improved with the introduction of new technology, with the majority (57%) of respondents saying this would make their decision-making better, while 41% also felt increased use of data and insights would help.

“Businesses have to plan every day for a far more uncertain future and set themselves up to prepare for change and keep changing against the backdrop of a more volatile and uncertain marketplace than ever,” continues Fallon. “A bad decision can have wide-ranging impact across the whole organisation and no business can afford to waste time and resources on bets that may or may not come off.  As the business environment increases in complexity, the ability to not just react, but predict, in real-time, becomes more important than ever.”

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Business

Reinventing Your Digital Marketing Strategy Post-Covid

Reinventing Your Digital Marketing Strategy Post-Covid 2

By Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO Mavens & Moguls

I started a global branding and marketing firm 19 years ago. Marketing is a term that means different things to different people so it helps to clarify whether you are talking about market research, PR, social media, advertising, promotions, guerrilla marketing, strategy, analytics, SEO, SEM, B2B, B2C, content, etc. There are so many tools in the marketing toolkit today but I think it is redundant to say digital marketing because truly everything has a digital element since everyone is accessing and interacting with your brand online, through their phone or via the website at some point. In the old days there was print, TV, radio, direct mail and outdoor those were your only options but today technology runs our lives so everything is digital eventually. If digital is not part of your strategy then you would not be relevant so digital marketing is marketing in 2020.

As far as digital goes I am a big fan of SEO, social media especially LinkedIn and Content Marketing. Because we are always online now 24/7 it is easy to get sucked into it but you do not have to let it run your life!  My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well.  You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths.  It does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built.  Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through.  Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first.

There have been a lot of changes in the past few months due to the virus crisis but one thing that has not changed is that smart technology still runs our lives today and it is hard to stay on top of the latest tools and platforms to take advantage of current trends so you may feel lost, confused or frustrated by all the options and noise in the market today.  There will be new tools and technologies coming for sure but here are some digital strategies to include in your plans to grow your audience:

*  Smart speakers and voice search are growing in importance so being able to optimize for voice search will be key to maximize the marketing and advertising opportunities on Siri, Alexa, Google Home, etc. I predict that the brands that perfect the “branded skill” with more customer-friendly, less invasive ads are going to win big. Are you prepared when customers ask your specific brand for help like “Alexa ask Nestle for an oatmeal cookie recipe” or “What is the best Mexican restaurant in Boston?” if not you are missing a big opportunity!

*  Live video grabs attention – live streaming is available on every major social media platform and it is only getting bigger to hook in users with short attention spans, in a mobile first world, you have less time to grab people, attention spans are shorter than ever so video will be used even more, show don’t tell for maximum impact, rich content drives engagement.

*  Interactive marketing makes it stickier — brands will drive engagement even more with polls, surveys, quizzes, contests, interactive videos, etc. to grab audience attention even quicker

*  AI-powered chatbots cut costs and convert visitors into leads by encouraging themed content to answer FAQs with voice search-friendly semantic keyword phrases, is your content strategy ready?

*  More confidence in trusted content, friends and influencers than advertising – the world has been moving this way for years with people seeking their friends’ and influencers’ opinions and advice online on what to buy, where to go, and what to do more than a paid ad or fancily packaged content. Customers are savvy today they are happy to buy what they want and need but they do not like to be sold things. Curated content and ideas from a trusted source beat paid content every time. Partnering and building relationships with the right influencers with content that is co-created helps brands scale and grow faster and amplify and boost their message.

* Authentic relationships beat marketing automation — technology runs our lives more than ever but it is relationships that drive business and commerce so people will find more ways to connect in-person to build trust and strengthen connections. Make sure you offer several ways to talk with them and get to know them. Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer, transactions are driven by relationships. Use automation where you can but do not ignore the power of the personal touch.

*  Big data is getting bigger but customer conversations are key to best insights for content. Talking directly to your customers to get first-hand in real-time their experience and knowledge will be a priority and competitive advantage to get the messages right.

*  Content will match the buyer’s journey and understanding that journey will inform how to attract, engage and convert customers and which keywords and topics are used.

*  Influencers will continue to rise in prominence so partnering and building relationships with the right influencers with content that is co-created helps brands scale and grow faster and amplify and boost their message.

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Business

Banking beyond the office

Banking beyond the office 3

By Tim Hood is the Associate Vice President for Hyland in EMEA.

 

Following months of unprecedented challenges, the global financial community is beginning to get a sense of COVID’s long-term legacy. And while the current situation still has some way to run, the prospect of a rapid bounce back to the old normality looks doubtful.

Over the last six months, a wholesale review and reinvention of a raft of working practices has taken place.

Fortunately, the financial sector was able to adapt relatively quickly to this altered reality because compared to some, it was well down the path to digital transformation.

And as the work-around solutions using technology that was never intended or designed for remote working have been refined or replaced, many firms are finding that these new ways of working are actually working well.

That’s evidenced by the fact that ‘return to office’ dates keep rolling back, with a number of institutions not expecting staff to return to the office until the beginning of 2021, at the earliest.

However, the social distancing measures that remain in place will undoubtedly continue to have a major impact on the traditional office space. With almost half of British workers now working from home according to the Office for National Statistics, how many will want to return to the office, having been free of their daily commute for the last six months? In a recent survey by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), one-third said they wanted to continue working from home.

And as homeworking protocols become ever more embedded, that could see many functions where remote oversight is possible, never return permanently or totally to a central office.

So, with homeworking seemingly here to stay, for a large number of organisations the new norm is likely to be a blend of remote and office-based working.

In uncertain times, one of the most critical business skills is the ability to adapt. Just because we have always done things that way is no longer a valid line of thinking. So, when it comes to matters like remote working, it’s time for a more flexible mindset.

Some banking leaders are beginning to acknowledge the changing reality. Barclays CEO Jes Staley said that corporate offices “may be a thing of the past.” JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are also proving to be trend-setters in the reassessing the future shape of offices and flexible working.

Of course, effective remote working depends on people having access to accurate, up-to-date information.

That may require reprioritising investment to ensure more appropriate technology solutions are in place. Believe me when I say that accelerating digital transformation is no mere nicety, but a prerequisite for corporate survival over the coming months and years.

Tim Hood

Tim Hood

Of course, every organisation is different and will have to review its existing systems and procedures before implementing any major technological changes. But I would say that there are several core components required to help ensure future resilience.

As a minimum, there should be the establishment of a content services hub to centralise document storage and workflows in a single location, with a user interface that’s consistent – whether you are logging on from your dining table at home or at your office desk.

This will remove potential information silos where data gets stuck, and also prevent the creation of multiple document versions that inevitably follows.

Next, look to introduce intelligent automation where you can, to accelerate improvements in document storage and workflows.

Then, look at shutting down any redundant or unnecessary systems and applications. This is an opportunity to streamline operations by ensuring business-critical information, which may be spread over several dozen apps in some corporate organisations, is uniformly updated and easily accessible. When staff have to search for important documents across multiple locations, they end up frustrated and prone to making mistakes that result in delays and poor customer service.

Though the immediate response to COVID-19 may have had a short-term adverse effect on many in the financial sector, longer-term it can be the catalyst that enables the creation of a truly digital workplace that seamlessly melds together a flexible, distributed workforce with a much streamlined corporate space.

Achieving that will require organisations to carefully chose the correct technology solutions. If they can do that, then our brave new world may not be so scary after all. 

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