These, are unusual times in British politics. Details of the UK’s exit from the European Union shift almost daily and the eventual outcome remains hazy. But what does this mean for small businesses across the country?
A recent survey carried out for SAP Concur by Vanson Bourne painted a picture of business attitudes in the current political climate. Despite the negative outlook and turbulent politics, the results reveal that in the face of this uncertainty, UK businesses are determined to grow – three in four respondents told us they were very or extremely optimistic that their business would expand in the next two years.
This echoes recent findings from the Bank of England which found that four in five British companies feel as prepared for a disorderly Brexit as they can be. These figures also show that companies have been stepping up planning as we move closer to the Brexit deadline – in January only half of companies surveyed said they were ready.
The fact UK decision makers are positive about their growth prospects is a welcome bellwether of economic optimism (the same Bank of England reported the economy was fairing much better than expected). Rather than fearing the unknown, organisations are up for the challenge that Brexit will bring with it. As such, practical planning and strategies are being mapped out in hundreds of thousands of boardrooms from Gillingham to Glasgow as businesses think outside the box and carefully consider what they spend and invest in.
As companies plan for the future, technology is increasingly being placed at the centre of their growth strategies. Over half of respondents we spoke to said they had plans to invest in their IT infrastructure. After all business owners are increasingly more tech-savvy and grasp the flexibility and fluidity that new types of technology provide as they go in search of growth ambitions in ever-changing market conditions.
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Technology will also have an increasingly central role as the wider business ecosystem becomes more digitally-centric. HMRC, for instance, has a huge push on its Making Tax Digital (MTD) scheme which requires VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold to use software to submit their tax returns from 1 April 2019. It’s just one example of an area of the finance function that needs specific tax investment.
Within the finance functions of organisations, there is a growing appetite for technology investment. This is driven by an increasing realisation that the finance department now plays an innovative role that can equip the rest of the business with the data and insights they need to make informed decisions that enable growth and protect bottom lines.
One instance of this is smart new solutions speeding up traditionally cumbersome and time-consuming tasks such as processing employee expense reports and supplier invoices. Such processes, especially when done manually through spreadsheets for example, can sap up many hours of employee productivity which are much better spent on income earning activities.
Hampered by cost
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However, despite a willingness to adopt intelligent tech within their finance teams, some smaller businesses are being priced out of using really smart solutions. There have been for instance some grumblings around the cost of the software required to become MTD compliant according to the Federation for Small Businesses, which puts the average MTD software cost at £564.
Given how important technology is to the growth of modern SMEs and in turn how vital these smaller companies are to the British economy it very important that there are affordable solutions in place, backed up by government support.
As such, it was good to see Phillip Hammond lay out his vision for ‘a digital economy that works for everyone’ in his Spring Statement earlier this month which re-confirmed the importance of new technology to the small business landscape. However, the government must go further and implement new initiatives that ‘walk-the-talk’ so to speak.
I for one would like to see more subsidies in place that can help smaller British businesses to adopt new technologies that allow them to prosper. After all, having a vibrant SME community not only drives innovation but pumps billions of pounds into the economy. There’s a reason why such organisations are continuously referred to as the backbone of the British economy.
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2019 is going to be a year where the ability to quickly change course is key to survival. With the right processes, transparency and tech in place, UK firms can give themselves the best chance of adapting to changing market conditions and realising those growth ambitions – because if they do, the boost to society and the wider economy will benefit the entire nation.
Our research findings reveal that UK business are desperate to grow. They want to hire more people and they want to expand into more territories regardless of what kind of Brexit is around the corner. As such, it’s vitally important that they have the ability to put affordable technology at the heart of their everyday operations – so they can focus on what they do best – sell products and services.