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Five key trends for small business success in the year ahead

The last two years have been an exercise in uncertainty as the global pandemic has transformed how we work, interact and how we buy goods and services. Perhaps no sector has been more under pressure than small business.

In a 2021 Visa survey, more than half (54 per cent) of global small and microbusinesses (SMBs) reported that the last year has been a challenge for their business – and that they’re still recovering.

But as the pandemic wears on, trends are emerging as behaviours begin to stick. That is certainly true for consumer behaviour, and we’ve seen that small businesses that embraced digital commerce have weathered the pandemic better. It’s no longer just about pivoting and surviving – there’s a hopeful surge in entrepreneurship, with a new breed of business owner coming online as digitally-native for the first time.

As the network working for everyone, Visa has made a multi-year commitment to digitally enable 50 million small businesses worldwide. We know that with the right tools, small businesses can confidently meet new customer expectations.

So how can these companies get an edge in a year ahead? Following are five of the important trends that will have an impact on the world of small and medium sized businesses in 2022.

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Now more than ever, experience will be key

Covid-19 fundamentally changed retail – redefining the boundaries between online and in-store shopping and opening up a world of omnichannel commerce. Considering that the average UK consumer is connected to over nine devices and almost five social platforms, SMBs need to rise to the challenge of engaging customers across all platforms.

The small businesses that come out on top in 2022 will be the ones that prioritise experience. Small businesses can no longer afford to think about consumers in unique buckets: people who shop online, people who shop in-store, people who shop in an app. The truth is that customers exist across all of these channels, so businesses need to be prepared to offer a fluid, omnichannel payments experience – one that is engaging, one that is safe and one that is simple.

Sustainability and social impact aren’t just for global brands anymore

The pandemic was predicted to slow the momentum behind environmental consciousness among consumers, but the opposite is happening. Deloitte has found that one in three UK consumers plan to purchase from brands with strong sustainable (34 per cent) and ethical (30 per cent) credentials going forward.

Gen Z and millennials in particular will continue to gravitate toward artisanal goods that are ethically and sustainably sourced, as well as sustainably produced food and beverages. In many ways, small businesses are ideally suited to cater to the needs of socially conscious young consumers, particularly as the pandemic persists globally. A Shopify study found that 68 per cent of consumers in the UK believe that shopping locally is important and 51 per cent of consumers expect to shop locally more often post-pandemic than they did before. So, while being a small business can inherently help, in order to really win, small businesses should also consider their impact on society – and be sure to communicate it with customers.

Seamless payments will be central to an exceptional customer experience

Customers are increasingly paying attention to the speed, security and convenience of the payment experience in a world where transactions are shifting from cash to cards to digital devices, and customers expect every interaction with a brand to be effortless.

A recent study found that an average of 68 per cent of people abandoned an online shopping basket due to difficulties completing the purchase, with many citing a complicated or long checkout process, so they didn’t make the purchase at all or bought the item somewhere else.

Meanwhile, in stores, contactless payments are the norm in most parts of the world. During the pandemic, many British people chose to tap to pay for the first time and instantly recognised that it’s also faster, easier and more secure. In 2020, the number of contactless payments made in the UK increased by 12 per cent to 9.6bn payments, accounting for over a quarter (27 per cent) of all UK payments with recent Visa data showing that over eight in ten (82 per cent) in-person payments are now contactless. With the contactless limit being raised to £100 in October 2021 to meet this growing demand, we’re seeing contactless payments continue to thrive, thanks in many ways to the small and mid-size businesses that are quickly adopting the technology to keep up with their customers’ expectations.

Payments isn’t just about completing a sale. The checkout experience should be – and is – a reflection of your brand. It’s also the last opportunity for small business owners to make a great impression on customers as they walk out the door (or leave your site). SMBs have to make it as frictionless as possible for customers.

Small businesses will cross borders

According to The World Bank, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) represent approximately 90 per cent of businesses (rising to 99.9 per cent in the UK) and more than 50 per cent of employment worldwide. Thanks to the digital adoption of the past two years and evolving technology, small businesses have a unique opportunity to bring products and services to customers around the globe.

It used to be that only big businesses could scale in a way that allowed them to access customers in other countries, but payment technology can easily enable customers to pay with local payment methods and currencies – businesses just need to be savvy enough to market themselves in a way that is enticing to different “local” audiences around the world. It is also important to keep on top of commercial and regulatory barriers, so finding a partner that supports cross-border expansion is key.

Small businesses will see more benefits from AI and machine learning

Much has been made of the ways in which artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning are transforming large business processes from credit decisioning to inventory management. As software and hardware costs decrease, more solutions for small businesses that leverage AI and machine learning will become available. Why does that matter? Services powered by AI and ML can mean more efficiencies, more protections and ultimately more profit for the bottom line.

In many ways AI is already being adopted by small businesses behind the scenes. Organisations like Visa use AI and deep learning to make real-time authorisation decisions for small business transactions while financial services companies use the technology to offer customer instalment loans. Many tech companies that provide a service to SMBs are doing the same. Businesses should ensure their suppliers are investing in these important technologies and passing the benefits of their expertise on.

In a year that will be defined by new expectations and new experiences, the good news is that technology is opening new opportunities for businesses of any size to participate in the global digital economy.

Source: Small Business

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SMEs to invest £633m in growth over next 12 months

SMEs plan to spend an average of £111,175 on growth strategies, equating to a £633m total spend for all UK SME businesses, despite external factors such as supply chain issues and the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis, according to new research from Aldermore.

35% of UK SMEs are planning to invest in new equipment over the next year. Businesses are also continuing to embrace the shift to online, with 35% planning to improve their online presence and 29% investing in digital marketing.

24% of SMEs plan to diversify into new products and services, while 20% will invest in marketing and events. Meanwhile, 24% will prioritise training for staff and 15% plan to invest in recruitment.

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Aldermore said the willingness of UK SMEs to invest in their business is evident in recent lending figures. Gross lending to SMEs stood at £4.8bn in Q4 of 2021, broadly unchanged from the previous quarter and seeing a £22.6bn total for the whole of last year.

Expanding their customer base over the next 12 months is the main priority for 50% of UK SMEs. Business leaders have had to consider business expenses, driven by the impact of the cost-of-living crisis; 45% of SMEs will be focused on reducing them to lessen the impact on their bottom line.

Other priorities to drive growth include:

  • developing new products and services (26%)
  • improving existing propositions (36%)
  • investing in employee retention (25%)
  • reacting to the sustainability agenda (29%).

37% of UK SMEs plan to fund their investment with business savings. However, despite specialist products being available, many business owners are continuing to dip into their own pockets to fund their investments, with 45% funding growth using products designed for personal use such as overdrafts (11%) or personal lines of credit, such as credit cards (10%).

Tim Boag, group managing director, business finance at Aldermore, said: “It’s encouraging to see that SMEs are planning to invest significantly in their business during the next year. Despite broader economic uncertainty, the cost-of-living crisis and ongoing supply chain issues, business confidence remains high, and SMEs are continuing to look to the future: to their recovery, growth and even transformation.

“However, it’s concerning that many SMEs are relying on products not designed for business use to fund their investments. Business leaders should explore specialist funding options designed with their specific challenges in mind, such as invoice finance or asset finance.

“At Aldermore, we’re focused on supporting SMEs, using our expert knowledge and specialist finance products. We recently created a new tool: the Aldermore BusinessFundingFinder, which allows businesses to answer a few simple questions around their requirements, such as the amount of funding needed, type of lending required and based on their circumstances, it guides businesses to solutions suitable for their needs.”

Source: Best Advice

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2.1 million UK SMEs are ‘just getting into balance’

UK SMEs are ambitious for the opportunity to regain lost ground after the pandemic, but risk being held back by a myriad of rising pressures, including rising costs and cash flow challenges.
According to Bibby Financial Services’ (BFS) annual SME Confidence Tracker survey, this difficult operating environment causes friction and fragility among smaller businesses.

Examining the views of 500 UK SME owners and decision-makers, it finds that 82% of SMEs now feel confident about their prospects this year, an increase of six percentage points over 2021, and over the last six months has 56% of companies reported an increase in sales.

But the report warns that although SMEs have duly earned their resilient reputation, this optimism is set against the backdrop of continued uncertainty. Research shows that profitability is on a knife-edge, with four out of ten now describing themselves as ‘just about going into balance’, equivalent to 2.1 million SMEs and only half describing themselves as profitable.

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Derek Ryan, CEO of Bibby Financial Services in the UK, said: “UK companies are facing a heady cocktail of problems that threaten to impact growth forecasts for 2022 and beyond, including rising inflation, skills shortages and a cost-of-living crisis that not seen on such a scale in the 21st century.Although our report highlights a stoic resilience among the UK SME community, many are still struggling to keep their heads above water and work on a daily basis instead of looking ahead to growth. “

The report highlights key concerns for SMEs, with companies ranking inflation, conflicts in Europe and supply chain disruptions as key concerns in addition to the persistent challenges posed by COVID-19.

Concerns vary from industry to industry, where SMEs in the manufacturing sector are most concerned about inflation, the rising cost of raw materials – such as steel – and staffing costs. The construction and wholesale sector SMEs are mostly preoccupied with conflicts in Europe. While the biggest concerns for carriers include cash flow, Brexit and staff shortages, as well as the shortage of truck drivers and the impact of bureaucracy on cross-border trade.

Overall, more than a quarter of companies highlighted cash flow as a concern. Nearly one in five said they need cash flow support more now than before the pandemic, and 9% said they do not even have the cash flow they need to operate on a daily basis.

When the cash flow is so crucial to the company’s survival, late or failed payments can be fatal to this new strain of ‘Just About Breaking Evens’. More than a quarter (28%) – equivalent to 1.5 million companies – say they have suffered bad debts in the previous 12 months, with amounts being written off due to customers’ non-payment or long-term default. This is significantly higher than in 2021, where 20% reported bad debt, and the report finds that SMEs have written off an average of £ 10,329 in the last year alone.

Ryan continued: “SMEs faced the pandemic with courage and now they must continue to adapt and change in order to carefully deal with the rising costs of doing business. It is clear that cash flow challenges and payment problems continue to plague companies, and it is now more important than ever that they have access to working capital to support day-to-day operations and to repay debts raised at the height of the pandemic. But they can not succeed alone; the private and public sectors, and we urge policy makers to look closely at broader tax cuts and energy subsidies to help SMEs and to ensure that they continue to play a key role in the UK’s economic recovery. “

Source: News Dubai

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Pandemic recovery lifting SMEs’ confidence – survey

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly optimistic as economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to a study by premium finance firm Premium Credit.

The study found that 37% of SMEs expect their revenues to increase over the next 12 months, with 15% predicting increases of 10% or more. Twenty-six percent expect revenues to fall over the next 12 months, while 18% expect them to stay the same. Twenty-one percent said they do not know what will happen over the next 12 months.

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The general recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was cited as the main driver for revenue growth by 58% of firms expecting growth, while 35% said it will be driven by launching new products and 34% by entering new markets.

Among firms that predicted falling revenues, 33% said they are still suffering from the impact of the pandemic, while 32% said they have lost clients, some of which have gone out of business.

Premium Credit’s Insurance Index, which monitors insurance buying and how it is financed, found that SMEs’ savings are being depleted. Twenty-seven percent of firms said their savings fell in the past 12 months, while 20% reported increased savings. For this year, around 5% had no savings, compared to 7% last year.

“Rising confidence among SMEs is good news, but companies clearly still face a lot of challenges in the year ahead and many have depleted their savings as they start to invest,” said Owen Thomas, chief sales officer of Premium Credit. “Premium finance is a very cost-effective way for businesses to buy insurance, and better manage their finances and cash flow by spreading payments. Our research shows nearly six out of 10 SMEs use some form of credit to ensure they can still afford business-critical insurance.”

By Gabriel Olano

Source: Insurance Business UK