For UK small business owners, the dual impact of Brexit and a global pandemic resulted in a challenging 2020 and an uncertain outlook for 2021. Recent research commissioned by commercial data and analytics provider Dun & Bradstreet found that half of SMEs (51%) surveyed believe they will suffer the effects of COVID-19 more acutely in 2021.
The survey of over 750 small business in the UK found more than half (54%) of those surveyed said the impact COVID-19 has made them less confident their business will be successful, with 56% revealing that the pandemic has made it difficult for them to plan for the future. Over half (54%) of small business respondents agree the pandemic has already negatively impacted their business, backed up by analysis in Dun & Bradstreet’s COVID-19 Commerce Disruption Tracker, which shows that 97% of all UK businesses have been disrupted this year, with 98% of sales and 98% of employees impacted by the pandemic.
But COVID-19 isn’t the only challenge facing UK small businesses. Exactly half of those surveyed said they were less confident in the success of their business due to Brexit, as companies work through what the terms of a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU mean for their future operations. Respondents were also worried that Brexit would make it increasingly difficult for them to attract talent, with 51% citing this as a concern.
It is not all doom and gloom. SMEs have still managed to find new ways to improve their offering for their customers and thrive despite the challenging environment. Around half (52%) of those surveyed have started to offer online payments for the very first time, while others (50%) have pivoted to home delivery to better meet the needs of their customers in lockdown. Of the 750 respondents, 51% have identified new growth opportunities for their business and the same number have introduced new services to their customers as a result of the pandemic.
“Many small businesses are likely to be fighting for survival this year,” said Tim Vine, Head of International Finance & Risk Solutions at Dun & Bradstreet. “As repayments for COVID-related loans start to hit the cashflow of the 1.5million SMEs who took advantage of government schemes and as support schemes come to an end, it’s going to be a difficult year for small business owners.
Looking ahead at the next twelve months, UK SMEs surveyed by Dun & Bradstreet listed their key business priorities as identifying new opportunities to target new customers and markets (31%), improving the quality of data within their organisation (30%), evaluating and managing the impact of COVID-19 (29%), growing market share and increasing competitive advantage (29%) and identifying and mitigating potential business risk (28%).
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