Posted: Tue 2nd Jan 2024
Over the past few years, small businesses have weathered economic, political, and meteorological storms but I'm hopeful 2024 will see the sector thrive.
It's off to a strong start with a record-breaking 800,000+ people having registered a new company in 2023, showing the UK has become a hotbed for enterprise.
As well as a pipeline of new firms, 2024 will see a General Election when parties will vie for the SME vote (which is significant) and make promises that will hopefully see even better trading conditions and incentives.
Here are some areas of opportunity to look out for in the year:
SME procurement: Central government continues to work towards its target of spending £1 in every £3 with small firms, either directly or via tier one suppliers. In Autumn 2024 The Procurement Act comes into effect with a key objective to see more contracts go to SMEs. Follow Crown Representative Martin Traynor OBE for updates and Enterprise Nation will be hosting events across 2024 to connect small businesses with buyers.
International trade: Without doubt, small businesses have put EU trade on hold but we expect exports to turbo-charge this year as founders follow free trade agreements and leverage powerful platforms (Amazon, Etsy, Faire, Depop, Alibaba, Shopline etc) to reach customers across the globe.
Unleashing 50+ talent: There is a wealth of talent sitting unrealised that the Department for Work and Pensions has placed as a priority in the form of attracting back thousands of people who are 50+ and left the workforce during lockdown. We would like to see work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, deliver on a vision set out in December 2022 to connect 50+ experienced hires with small businesses as mentors. At Enterprise Nation we are working on a way to connect small business owners with all forms of talent, so hiring and managing a team becomes easier and faster.
Apprenticeship Levy: Large companies continue to be vocal on how they want more flexibility to 'pass' their Levy to SMEs, whether that be the amount of Levy that can be shared, or purposes for which it can be used. I expect we will see progress on this during 2024 that will benefit small firms.
AI: No 2024 list would be complete without reference to AI and our focus is what it means for small business in terms of potential for improved productivity. This is what we'll be covering at an AI for small business event on 28 February.
Tax: The chancellor has named the date of 6 March for the Spring Budget. Even before we hit 1 January 2024, there was copious talk of tax cuts. This may extend to Corporation Tax and maybe this year we will see a review of the VAT threshold.
High Streets: The potential for many thousands of online sellers to play a role in bringing life to high streets through experiential retail and pop-ups has yet to be realised. The High Street Taskforce has come to the end of its five-year tenure and may be re-procured by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, which would offer opportunity for new ideas and small business involvement in High Street projects and plans.
Enterprise in education: In every survey we undertake, young people tell us they want to start a business at some point in their career. The next generation has entrepreneurial intent but do they learn the skills they need at school? This is a great opportunity for The Careers & Enterprise Company which has established strong relations with schools and enterprise advisers.
Business support: This may be the final point but is the thread that runs through all; the need for small businesses to easily access the right support, at the right time. There is discussion to be had in 2024 on future funding for support provision as Shared Prosperity Funding ends in March 2025 with currently no replacement provision.
At Enterprise Nation we believe this offers a unique moment to look at a new model; one that sees a partnership of public and private sector funding and, dare I suggest it, small businesses (from a certain size and point of trading) contributing to the cost too. With access to Open Finance data on small business performance, support funds can be better targeted and spent on the right interventions, so smaller amounts of funding can go further in terms of impact.
For the past 20+ years, I've started each year afresh feeling there is a mountain of work to be done to support an ever-growing base of small business owners as they operate in ever-changing environments.
This year is no different. May it be a big and bright one for small business.
Get advice on starting and growing your small business from over 100 expert speakers at the StartUp Show in London on Saturday 27 January. Book your ticket here.