Today is Small Business Saturday UK which, as part of a year-long campaign, highlights SMEs and encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities. It is the UK’s most successful small business campaign, which last year saw an estimated £812m spent with small businesses across the UK on Small Business Saturday.
Speaking to SME Technology Guide Michelle Ovens, director of Small Business Saturday, said, “technology is an integral part of all of our lives and this counts double for small businesses. Since the turn of the century, the business population of the UK has increased by 2.4 million (+69%) and has continued rising almost every year since.
“For small businesses who adopt and adapt to technology, it has provided routes to new markets and customers. Tech giants like Amazon and Facebook are not the enemy of small business; they provide a platform for traders to sell to a global marketplace, and a community they would otherwise not have access to.
“Social media also provides an affordable marketing tool for small businesses, who are able to promote their events in an organic way. It also helps to campaigns like Small Business Saturday reach a larger audience – encouraging more consumers to shop, eat and trade small.
“Meanwhile, in an increasingly cashless society, high street traders are finding they are able to survive and thrive with affordable contactless card readers, such as Square, which cost them far less in fees than traditional card systems.”
To find out more about how SMEs are using technology across their businesses, we spoke to business owners and technology partners from around the country for their top tips and thoughts.
Master your marketing
Caroline Nolder – B&B Doctor
“Having run a successful bed and breakfast, former guests started phoning me to ask for advice about how to start their own B&B venture. Our family lived abroad and I felt there was more for me to achieve in life, plus, I love people and projects so embarking on this journey was a no brainer. When I first open-ended my business I had a very basic site but it soon became clear that I needed to upgrade it so I turned to Wix.com, a website building platform.
“I needed to be able to communicate with my guests and provide an experience that would feel just as smooth and personalised as when they stayed at a larger hotel chain. I also wanted a website that reflected the same commitment to comfort and design as my B&B. Specifically, Ascend by Wix enables me to do things like create forms so guests can leave online testimonials, personalise emails to lists of contacts and track guests who have booked a room at Turks Hall before — without a complicated technical backend.”
Tejas Dave – founder of Avasam
“Smaller retailers with a bricks-and-mortar location can increase profits by going online. A well-designed eCommerce website, combined with selling on multiple channels such as eBay and Amazon can be easily implemented and managed with the right systems, and can even help streamline operations, maximising efficiency and minimising dead stock and waste. The optimal systems include an automated multichannel solution, and an EPOS system that connects with it.”
Sara Prior – Cloud Nine Knits
“In 2017, my husband and I each suffered the unexpected loss of a parent within a week of each other. It was a tough time dealing with grief that made us seriously reevaluate our lifestyle and re-prioritise how and where we spent our time. To try and recover, we took a break from employment and this inspired us to start businesses based on our hobbies. Since 2013, I had an obsession with giant knitting and decided to dive right into it.
“The beginning point was launching my website on Wix.com, a website building platform. Wix revolutionised the way I manage my customers and bookings. It’s all in one place, and invoices are so quick to generate and send out. I love being able to see the status of an invoice at a glance, message all participants in a workshop with one click, send social shout outs, etc. It used to be such a pain to keep track of things.”
Lucy Arnold – Lucy Locket Loves
“Lucy Locket Loves is an inclusive brand where the core product is leggings. We use social media to reach to our customers. We use a mix of ‘sneak peak’ photographs to gain interest in the products and have a separate ‘fan’ page where people are able to share their own experiences and photographs of themselves in their leggings.
“This helps to promote an awareness of the brand with ‘real people’. We have seen the company grow in the last 2 years from packing orders in my living room, to having to move warehouses twice due to the volume of expansion.”
Ennis Al-Saiegh – CEO Smarter Click
“From a marketing and customer conversion perspective, the use of technology is of paramount importance for small and large businesses alike, as the implementation of specific tech can mean the difference between a browser and a repeat buyer. Personalisation is an absolutely essential part of a customer’s journey, and studies have shown it is more likely to convert prospective customers to repeat buyers; technology can, and should, be utilised to help achieve this end.
“Whereas before personalisation in online retail relied on rule-based decision models that took time and manpower, advances in AI mean that there are tools that can learn the unique behaviour of customers and create a real-time online experience that ensures that what they are looking at is relevant to them. This technology is only going to get more sophisticated, meaning that the customer journey can become more personalised, driving more business to those that use it effectively.”
Irana Wasti – Regional President EMEA, GoDaddy.
“At GoDaddy, we are dedicated to empowering everyday entrepreneurs to realise their dreams and start a business. Nowadays, aspiring business owners have the tools available to build a website with little previous experience of web design or marketing. That’s why it’s more important than ever to have an attractive website for your customers to find you on.
“Small businesses owners should also not forget the importance of having a good SEO ranking, meaning you show up exactly where your customers are looking.”
Organise your operations
Kent Vorland – Chief Executive Officer at SmartTrade App
“Payments is a pain-point for SMEs, particularly if you’re not an online retailer with a straight eCommerce integration. Not to mention, so many Sole Traders and SMEs find it odd to have to pay to get paid using the various payments methods out there. However, I can’t stress how important it is to remove friction from your customers when they are paying for their product/service. Forcing a customer to pay by cash or bank transfer will lose you business, not to mention how 1-2% for immediate settlement is a small price to pay rather than chasing an invoice for months. Not only does it take up valuable time, but if they end up never settling as they promised you’re in for a much bigger loss.
Kent explains a benefit of using tech to accept cards, “your average invoice is £1,000, with a 1.65% transaction rate, you could settle close to £61,000 immediately at the same cost as losing just that one invoice; however, you could lose more than one paying customer if you don’t accept card payments.”
Sangeetha Narasimhan – Marketing Director, SMB Online, Europe, Ingenico ePayments
“Within every business – no matter the product or service – the payments process is crucial, and this is especially true for smaller businesses. With so much competition, if customers have their payment declined or are met with a convoluted checkout that they don’t recognise, they will likely turn to the bigger brands they trust. By providing a reliable, secure checkout that customers trust and which caters to regional payments preferences, SMEs can boost conversion and encourage shoppers to return time and time again.”
Thore Vestergaard – MD of Commercial Cards, Allstar Business Solutions
“In order for small businesses to get ahead, they need to unburden themselves of the business admin and financial headaches that are associated with the day-to-day running of their operations.
“Our research has revealed that a quarter (24%) of small businesses find managing expenses and payments left them pulling their hair out, while more than a fifth (21%) say that balancing cash flow keeps them up at night.
“Harnessing the latest expense management technologies can streamline administration and provide greater control over employees’ spending to improve productivity and business output. For example, our new app-based expense capture and claim system allows employees to complete expense claims on-the-go, whilst giving the account administrator full visibility of costs.
“Through a simple change to the way technology is used to manage expenses, small businesses could see a marked difference in efficiency and productivity.”
Rob Straathof – CEO Liberis Finance
“A small business’ access to finance is critical to its ability to grow. In fact, our research found that nearly two thirds (62%) of businesses see funding as a positive force for good, something that helps them grow rather than simply stay afloat.
“While it is true that banks have tightened their lending and been slow to embrace new technologies that support small businesses, this perfect storm has encouraged the Alternative Finance community, who can be quicker and more flexible in responding to the needs of small businesses, to be more imaginative in their proposition.”
Hanno Renner – CEO of Personio
“At busy times SMEs need all hands on deck, and having the right people in the business, who are engaged and passionate about the company mission, is invaluable. But teams can spend hours, days and weeks trying to find the best talent to achieve that goal. Add to that the stress of retaining current employees through busy periods, and it’s easy to see how SMEs can find themselves struggling.
“HR automation can help
SMEs create the very best team, ready to tackle not just the Small Business
Saturday rush, but wider growth plans for the future.
“Whether businesses want faster and more efficient recruitment processes, a smoother onboarding system, or simply to free up the HR function so they can focus on things like company culture or learning & development, HR technology gives SMEs the chance to focus on their people – undoubtedly their greatest asset.”
Alina Cincan – Inbox Translation
“While the plethora of apps, software, and technological developments can be overwhelming and daunting, not taking advantage of them would be a mistake. One that I have been guilty of as well, especially when I started my business. For example, one area where using specialist software has made a huge difference to the time spent on admin is accounting.
“From using MS Word templates to generate invoices and recording all expenses and income on spreadsheets to using software that does all that (and more) in a couple of clicks – this has cut my admin time by 90%, time that I can make better use of focusing on marketing and client acquisition.”
Connect with your customers
Ian Jones – founder of Local Loyalty platform LoLo
“For some small businesses, technology can be a minefield but in order thrive rather than survive, small businesses need to get onboard and embrace technology in order to expand and grow. With social media and apps being one of primary channels for consumers to shop, small businesses need to be in that space to get noticed by potential customers, especially a younger demographic.
“With so many tools to help local businesses such as social media and influencers, there are many tech tools to help businesses that won’t cost the earth. What smaller, independent retailers need to realise is that if they continue to operate with the ‘business as usual’ mantra without adapting to their environment, there business will fall behind, especially with so new businesses cropping up at a rapid rate. Lolo is a great option for smaller, independent retailers who might not feel confident setting up their own digital channels.”
Adrian Overall – CEO of CloudStratex
“The UK’s most successful SMEs are adopting technology for a myriad of reasons, whether that be to support flexible working or improving their market understanding or proposition. Additionally, our increasingly competitive business environment means that SMEs are constantly striving to differentiate themselves. Technology is a key enabler for that and can offer a significant step change in terms of leverage, productivity and flexibility. Harnessing technologies made accessible by the cloud will enable savvy SMEs to stay one step ahead of their rivals.
“For example, cloud-based applications can help inform your decision making regarding where, and how to engage customers, as well as which services to offer them. That being said we must remember that many SMEs succeed because of hard work, perseverance and indomitable spirit. We are a long way from technology being able to deliver that.”
Liam Patton – director of digital marketing agency Mayfly
“Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity for businesses to use social media to connect with new customers. Platforms like Facebook are full of community groups for specific towns and villages, and many of these are followed by local people who are passionate about their area. By simply posting within these groups, small businesses can appeal to people keen to support local traders.
“Businesses can combine this with low-budget advertising campaigns. Facebook is now using multiple text optimisation, meaning it tests different combinations in adverts such as headlines and images. This makes ads more effective in reaching and engaging users. To capitalise on this, businesses need to make the content and messages of their ads relevant. They can do this by simply searching within the groups to see what matters to people – it’s a great, and no-cost, means of research. It can inspire very targeted promotions.”
Capsule – CEO Duncan Stockdill
“For small businesses, understanding the nuances of customers is a key point of differentiation from the big players. By making customers feel special, they can harness loyal and profitable relationships. As a business grows this can become difficult to manage at scale without technology support.
“Such solutions can be affordable and simple to use – highly effective in delivering quick yet sustainable results and insightful reports.
“Relationships are the cornerstone to sales. Every time you interact with a customer, you learn more and strengthen that relationship, resulting in increased sales and loyalty. And future communications can be optimised to give a competitive edge.
“A customer relationship management (CRM) platform allows businesses to understand their customers and create personalised experiences. It delivers bespoke and timely comms in an era when personalisation is king – and pivotal to ensuring you have a happy customer. And a happy customer is a returning customer.”
Invest in big ideas
Colin O’Flaherty – General Manager, Global Commercial Services UK, American Express
“Our annual survey of the UK’s SMEs reveals just how important technology is to unlocking growth and opportunity – in fact, 65 percent of SMEs responded that digital technology will create new business opportunities for them. The research further suggests that the UK’s SMEs have ambitious plans to implement cutting edge technologies like robotics and machine learning in the coming years, while focusing on workforce productivity tools and faster communications systems in the shorter term.
“But, while SME businesses are clearly ambitious in their plans for using tech to get ahead, only 46 percent rate themselves as effective at applying the latest technology.
“To ensure tech success, it’s vital that SMEs clearly identify their business objectives and use these as a checklist when assessing technology solutions. Similarly, it’s important that they plan carefully and consider whether a bigger investment upfront could save costs repairing or upgrading the tech further down the line.
By taking a thoughtful approach to new technology in the new year, SMEs can ensure business success – both on- and off-line.”
Ian Gosling – CEO and co-founder of AUTTO
“Small Business Saturday is a fantastic opportunity for small businesses to attract new customers and showcase their wares to a new and wider audience – generating new customers and (hopefully) increased orders.
“While the boost to businesses from Small Business Saturday is to be welcomed, it does have the side effect of putting systems under strain. Technology can help here, with tools, like automation, helping companies automate routine processes, rather than necessarily having to increase headcount. If such tools haven’t been implemented yet, it should certainly be considered a priority for 2020 – providing businesses with a competitive edge in an ever challenging market.”
Nick Hedderman – Director, Modern Workplace Business Group, Microsoft UK
“As the backbone of the UK economy, it’s essential that small and medium sized businesses take advantage of new tools and technologies to boost productivity, drive open collaboration and attract top talent. As Microsoft’s study Driving Growth in Small Businesses reveals, gone are the days when only larger companies have access to collaborative technologies, so it’s now up to small business leaders to ensure they’re making a march on rivals and capitalising on the power of technology.
“While progress is being made towards embracing new ways of working, there’s certainly room for improvement. Indeed, our research finds that only 19% of SMB employees currently use collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams, in the workplace and nearly a quarter have never received training on new technologies. To remain competitive in the future of work, It will be crucial for small businesses to remain agile and address these obstacles to thrive tomorrow.”