As we enter the next milestone in the lockdown roadmap, small businesses are looking forward to getting back to normal but there’s also some apprehension.
Mixed fortunes for business during pandemic lockdown
From May 17 2021, the government eased lockdown rules allowing the opening up of indoor hospitality (e.g. restaurants, pubs, bars etc) and leisure & entertainment (e.g. museums, cinemas and sports stadiums). The restrictions around people meeting up and staying away overnight have also been relaxed.
The picture for small businesses is a mixed one out there:
- Many high street chains have closed – a combination of tighter consumer purse strings and a lack of an attractive online offer has seen the collapse of established names e.g. Debenhams
- Increased Work-From-Home has left many city centres like ghost towns – small businesses servicing workers saw the sudden lack of employees buying sandwiches, having businesses lunches and general retail therapy during lunch hour or to-and-from work.
While some brick and mortar retailers and services struggled, there were many positives out there too for business:
- Local town and village centres have thrived – workers stuck working from home and no longer travelling into city centres have drawn on local independents and hitherto neglected corner shops.
- An economic ‘summer bounce’ is predicted – reports suggest that consumer confidence is rising as more vaccinations are rolled out and forecasts suggest the UK economy is set for a strong comeback,
- New businesses catering for the lockdown era have thrived e.g. setting up online businesses (take-away food, personal training) from home, combining business sense and digital skills.
Success story: Bike sales have increased by 63% during lockdown, according to a UK cycle association, while sales of electric bikes are up 170% according to one sports retailer.
Though the lifting of the restrictions is welcome, we know that many are wary. Government support and rent holidays can’t last for forever, employees will need to be paid and any consumer buying honeymoon may be short-lived.
How can small businesses stay afloat?
Staying afloat throughout the pandemic has meant new approaches for many small businesses. SMEs vary hugely of course, from hairdressers, to accountants to private tutors. One size certainly does not fit all. While many firms have been able to work remotely, others needed staff in the workplace to survive. Nevertheless, many firms were able to turn to digital solutions to maximise the flexibility of their business.
From new online platforms for customers, to managing remote or WFH workers to using social media for marketing, information technology and communications has been a lifeline for many businesses. Not only that, some have even exceeded their profit expectations:
Success story: an upmarket ready meals brand topped annual sales of £80million during the pandemic by making them available via online supermarket deliveries. The closure of restaurants and working-from-home saw customers looking for high quality dining at home.
Some experts believe that a mixture of ‘bricks and clicks’ is likely to be a successful future model rather than a solely online offer. Firms that can offer both digital and physical experiences will be blurring the boundaries and covering more bases however the pandemic restrictions pan out. Improving their ICT can also give small business owners confidence that their business will be better prepared to handle a crisis like COVID-19 if it occurred in the future.
> Some 48% of people asked said they were keen to return to stores to do their shopping compared with 34% who would continue to do most of their shopping online according to research conducted by Ipsos MORI this month.
> Nearly three-quarters of Brits (74%) want a hybrid approach to post-pandemic working life, expecting both in-person and virtual components, according to a new study.
Are SMEs making the best use of tech opportunities?
As we enter the next phase of opening-up it makes sense for firms to pay attention to their ICT.
- Is your tech working in the best way possible for you? For example, cloud computing provides great flexibility when your working location keeps changing – it helps keep you and your staff working and allows remote access to your company’s files and data.
- Are your business transactions and processes streamlined for the best commercial efficiency? Integration of your business software has lots of benefits – increased security, efficiency and productivity.
- Is your IT secure and safe from cybercrime? Cybercrime continues to target businesses even during the pandemic. The UK’s cybersecurity agency has taken down more scams in the last year than in the previous three years combined – 43 fake NHS Covid-19 apps hosted outside of official app stores were also pulled.
- Do your staff need IT support? Whether working from home, back in the workplace or a hybrid combination, IT and technology is likely to be important to running your business. Yet few SMEs in particular can afford a dedicated IT department to troubleshoot problems and ensure the best working ICT set up. This lack of IT support can result in wasted staff time, reduced profitability and inefficiency.
With an IT services support provider such as 360ict, you can tailor your own package to design the support you need. From emergency support, to core ICT managed services, to practical assistance for printer maintenance or office relocation, external IT support brins expertise, protection and peace of mind.