Viewpoint | 05 Oct 2020

Small business needs to go digital to survive and thrive

Small businesses that have adopted new digital ways of working have fared better during the coronavirus pandemic than less tech-savvy firms, Vodafone research reveals. Anne Sheehan, Business Director, Vodafone UK, reflects on the findings.

We surveyed 1,200 SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] across key European markets – UK, Germany, Spain and Italy – and found that digital enthusiasts are more likely to have found new business opportunities during the pandemic.

In fact, the most digitalised firms won new business at more than double the rate of the least digitalised.

It was fascinating to learn how businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and how governments across Europe have responded to it. And it’s clear that going digital has made many small firms more resilient.

This finding is backed up by our earlier Future Ready Report which showed that 44% of businesses expected the digital practices they’d implemented in recent months to be permanent.

So given these findings, what’s holding so many other small businesses back from embracing new digital technologies?

Well, nearly three quarters admitted that setting it all up is just too darn difficult – integrating existing tech and migrating important data to new systems, and so on.

Big businesses find this equally difficult, too, believe me!

More than half said they struggled to identify the right tech or supplier to use. And lack of training was also cited as an issue.

We know that SMEs are so important to the UK economy, employing more than half of the UK workforce and accounting for nearly half of our economic output.

So what can we do to help?

Trusted partner

At Vodafone, we helped our SME customers in a number of ways, offering six months of free broadband and six months’ free use of Office 365, for example, as well as free one-to-one guidance and support from our V-Hub agents. And we’ve now followed that up with a £125 bill credit for customers buying business broadband.

We also provide a comprehensive range of digital services to small businesses in the UK – mobile and broadband connectivity; cyber-security tools and advice; cloud-based hosting and data management, to name but a few.

And our Business Unusual podcasts, hosted by Claudia Winkleman, have proved to be a big hit with our small business community.

We also recognised that cashflow is an issue for many small businesses, particularly during this time of economic uncertainty. So for our smaller suppliers, we reduced our payment terms to 15 days during the pandemic.

As you can see, we are very well placed to help navigate SMEs through the tech maze, identifying the services and tools that are right for them, so they can become resilient and not just survive but thrive in the months and years to come.

What government should do

We are doing our bit, but we also think there’s an important role for government to play, too. Our research clearly shows that the UK government should adopt a ‘digital adoption’ policy framework for SMEs that:

• addresses the need to implement and promote high-speed connectivity;
• offers grants, vouchers or tax incentives to encourage SMEs to go digital;
• delivers additional one-stop-shop information and guidance resources, similar to our own V-Hub.

It’s shocking to think that millions of small businesses still have no online presence at all. We need to change that situation quickly if they – and our economy – are to flourish as we emerge from this pandemic.

We have an opportunity to shape the economic recovery in a way that delivers sustainable, long-lasting change with impact. Investing in small businesses, and helping them achieve their full, digital potential, will ensure a stronger, future-proofed UK.

  • Download the full report here.
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