Boosting the productivity of small businesses in the UK

Boosting the productivity of small businesses in the UK

Posted: Tue 25th Jun 2024

Senior policy officials and small business owners gathered in London on 19 June for the Strive Learning Network event, hosted by Enterprise Nation in partnership with Mastercard as part of the Strive UK programme.

The event marked the release of Enterprise Nation's One Stop Shop report on the value of business support, and featured three panel discussions focused on the productivity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK.

Driving productivity gains: The value of small business support in the UK

Enterprise Nation Strive Mastercard One Stop Shop event
This panel was chaired by Paul Wilson, policy director at the Federation of Small Businesses, and featured insights from Chris Lane, senior policy manager at ICAEW; Anthony Impey, CEO of Be the Business; Leva Balciute, founder of 93 INC, and Natasha Jamal, vice president at Mastercard's Center for Inclusive Growth.

Anthony Impey painted a vivid picture of the relentless nature of being a small business owner, emphasising that they are often the hardest-working individuals in the economy, working long hours tirelessly. While he acknowledged that small businesses are not as productive as they could be, he attributed this not to a lack of ambition but rather to a lack of time.

Impey cited findings assessing productivity across the G7 countries, which revealed that while UK SME owners are confident about the future, this confidence is not matched by investment activity, unlike their counterparts in other nations.

Chris Lane of ICAEW highlighted the material difference that utilising accountants can make in boosting SME productivity. He emphasised the role of accountants in educating SMEs on accessing available finance and encouraged micro-businesses to take on accountants in an advisory capacity.

Lane also shed light on the gaps in efficiency, such as the 37% of businesses that have yet to link their Xero accounts to their bank accounts. Additionally, he addressed the barriers faced by SMEs, including personal guarantees hindering access to finance, late payments, and the lengthy processes involved in setting up bank accounts and obtaining VAT registration.

Ieva Balciute shared her company's transition from a digital agency to helping businesses integrate technology and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to boost productivity. She acknowledged that while AI has been used for a long time, few UK businesses have integrated AI solutions into their workforce.

Balciute stressed the importance of SMEs improving efficiency through digital solutions, as they are often resource-limited, enabling them to focus on building their businesses.

Natasha Jamal from Mastercard brought attention to the challenges faced by underserved SME owners and entrepreneurs from minority communities in accessing mainstream services. She emphasised the importance of community partnerships, trust-building, and clearly articulating the return on investment for small businesses to engage with support initiatives.

Jamal also highlighted the counterintuitive notion that offering services for free can diminish their perceived value, suggesting that entrepreneurs should have "skin in the game" to truly appreciate the value of the programmes.

The panellists addressed the knowledge required for SMEs to adopt technology and AI. Ieva Balciute emphasised that extensive knowledge is not necessary, and SME owners need to identify the problems they want to solve and learn to draft prompts effectively. Natasha Jamal cautioned against framing AI and technology as the end goal, instead positioning them as enablers to address the challenges SME owners face.

The discussion then turned to designing effective business support programmes. Natasha Jamal emphasised the importance of funders being flexible and open to change based on feedback from those delivering support programmes. Ieva Balciute stressed the importance of effective communication, as many SMEs are unaware of the available support due to inefficient dissemination.

This insightful panel discussion highlighted the multifaceted nature of driving productivity gains for SMEs in the UK.

Productivity: Navigating the entrepreneurship journey

Enterprise Nation Strive Mastercard One Stop Shop event

In a fireside discussion hosted by Emma Jones CBE, founder and CEO of Enterprise Nation, three business owners shared their insights on navigating the entrepreneurship journey and maximising productivity.

The panel featured Keisha Shah from Teddo Play, Sezen Ozay from Smelling Sage, and Rebecca Rodden from Eluroom. With their combined expertise, they delved into the challenges, strategies, and tools that can help SMEs boost their productivity.

One of the primary obstacles to productivity, as Keisha Shah pointed out, is the limited time available in a day, especially for entrepreneurs juggling family responsibilities. She emphasised the importance of being ruthless with time management and ensuring that every task contributes to the growth of the business. As she stated, "You can't manage your time, but you can manage your priorities".

Rebecca Rodden stressed the significance of mindset when it comes to productivity. She encouraged entrepreneurs to focus on tasks they are capable of handling and to seek support for those they are not equipped to tackle effectively. "The mindset is key in terms of not being afraid to ask for help," she said.

The panellists shared their favourite productivity tools and techniques:

  • Keisha Shah discussed the Eisenhower Matrix, which categorises tasks based on urgency and importance, helping to structure the day manageably and avoid overwhelming to-do lists.

  • Sezen Ozay said she utilises Google and Canva for various tasks and design work.

  • Rebecca Rodden relies on Xero and Canva but emphasised that tools are only as effective as the users' knowledge of how to utilise them properly.

On support programmes for SMEs, the panellists discussed the need for increased visibility and incentives.

Keisha Shah suggested incentivising support activities, such as offering vouchers to businesses that export to a new country within a certain timeframe. This approach would encourage businesses to take action while providing free support.

Rebecca Rodden emphasised the importance of visibility, ensuring that small businesses are aware of the available support and the actions they need to take to access it.

On advice for new entrepreneurs when asked for their top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs, the panellists emphasised the value of building a community and networking.

Sezen Ozay encouraged entrepreneurs to "network and socialise" as a means of building a community, suggesting that internet platforms cannot be solely relied upon to make strong business connections.

The consensus among the panellists was clear: connecting with others and fostering a supportive community is crucial for entrepreneurial success.

How digital tools can boost small business productivity

Enterprise Nation Strive Mastercard One Stop Shop event

Small businesses face many challenges when it comes to managing day-to-day operations and finding time for growth. Samina Hussein-Letch from Square and Ben Porteous from Vodafone shared insights on how their companies are helping entrepreneurs overcome these obstacles through innovative digital solutions. This session was chaired by Karen Licurse from Digital Boost.

Samina discussed Square's evolution from payment processing hardware to a full-service platform. The company's goal is to consolidate tasks for time-strapped owners. Square combines vendors into a single dashboard to streamline procurement and finances.

One way Square uses technology to simplify operations is through an AI-powered photo app. This tool allows businesses to easily take professional product shots for online listings - addressing a common barrier to e-commerce expansion.

Square also offers flexible lending options. By analysing payment history data, they may automatically offer loans with repayments deducted as a percentage of daily card sales, providing accessible capital.

Ben focused on how Vodafone partners with enterprises to deliver reliable networks as the foundation for digital tools. He highlighted the importance of infrastructure for enabling future technologies.

Vodafone has implemented Internet of Things solutions to address specific industry challenges. Sensors on cows alert farmers during calving to improve animal welfare. Wheelchair trackers locate equipment faster in hospitals through Bluetooth beacons.

Ben urged planning for infrastructure transitions like the 2027 switch-off of old telephone networks. Proper future-proofing ensures businesses can leverage evolving technologies to the fullest.

Both Samina and Ben stressed the value of seeking expertise. Square and Vodafone aim to simplify accessing support through their services and industry partnerships.

Samina advised curating a varied network for holistic advice. Ben suggested looking abroad as well as locally for assistance. They want to collaborate to make support navigation easier for all entrepreneurs.

Through connectivity, software and community empowerment, Square and Vodafone are helping small businesses overcome obstacles and unlock new opportunities for productivity and growth. Reliable digital foundations and accessible support systems are key to success.

Enterprise Nation Strive Mastercard One Stop Shop event

Enterprise Nation's One Stop Shop report demonstrates how delivering easy-to-use digital tools, business skills training and access to mentoring, all in one place can cause a significant positive shift in the confidence and skills of the UK's start-up and micro business ecosystem over 12 months, unlocking their economic potential while levelling the playing field for minority groups.

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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