“Coronavirus has put untold pressure on small companies. We need a system that supports small businesses at every point, and enables them to face the next 12 months with confidence and strength”
SMEs are the beating heart of the UK economy. In today’s era of sustained crisis, the Small Business Leadership Programme is ensuring that they can survive and stay healthy.
More than 99 per cent of businesses in the British economy are small to medium-sized enterprises. They number 5.9 million across the UK, employing 16 million people, and are often referred to as the backbone of our economy.
As we begin to take our first breath and assess the economic damage the Coronavirus pandemic has wrought, it is essential that SMEs are placed at the forefront of plans, and that they are supported, if they are to continue to survive and thrive. It is these businesses which have been hit hardest, yet they are the ones that will help us rebuild.
Coronavirus has put untold pressure on directors and CEOs of these small companies, and we have seen the impact this has had on many of them across the country. According to a recent McKinsey online survey of UK SMEs, 80 per cent of small businesses reported their revenues were declining in June 2020. This is something that is expected to continue as uncertainty persists.
We need a system that supports small businesses at every point and enables them to face the next 12 months with confidence and strength.
How to support small businesses
It is not just cash revenue that will help businesses navigate these uncharted waters successfully. They will need support, advice and guidance to help them innovate and make the necessary transitions so they can continue to grow. By partnering with business schools, we will be able to provide the knowledge and support needed beyond cash assistance.
Over the last couple of years, the benefit of providing a government-backed programme to small business owners has been discussed with business schools, to provide support when it comes to the constant innovation and creativity required to grow and maintain a business. However, given the uncertainty and chaos in the global economic system caused by the pandemic, the need for a business school programme to support small businesses has become ever more apparent.
These discussions eventually yielded the green shoots of what would become the Small Business Leadership Programme, with the aim of the initiative to develop stronger leadership while helping businesses innovate, become more efficient and improve their resilience. Launched at the end of July, the Small Business Charter partnered with BEIS to initiate the Small Business Leadership Programme, with leading business schools across the country providing a course to owners and directors of small and medium-sized businesses.
The programme, rolled out through SBC Award-holding business schools across England, will help leaders make their businesses more resilient and productive for the long-term and will aid in businesses in future growth.
How it works
All business schools delivering the programme have been assessed by the Small Business Charter (SBC), a national accreditation awarded to business schools that excel in supporting small business, student enterprise and the local economy.
To ensure participation in the programme is feasible – after all, those taking part will also have businesses to run – it will be kept short and focused, and in light of the current situation, will be delivered online through a structured course of eight 90-minute webinars over the course of 10 weeks, which will provide the knowledge needed for businesses to tackle crisis situations. Peer group work will also be a vital part of the programme. The course will also give businesses the opportunity to strengthen their business network. Participants will develop strategic leadership skills and the confidence to make informed decisions to boost business performance, as well as studying issues such as productivity, sustainability and resilience.
The course is more than a how-to guide, and will provide partcipants with the tools to navigate the economic and commercial fallout from Covid-19. It is not just about the pandemic; it is also about the future.
The success stories
The SBLP builds on the success of the smaller-scale Leading to Grow Programme, and other programmes run by participating business schools. The Leading to Grow Programme took place at the beginning of this year and specifically focused on micro businesses (those with between one and nine employees). Some of our participating business schools also ran individual programmes based on a similar model.
For example, in Birmingham, via the support of Aston Business School, the founder of automation company Mechatronic Solutions transformed their engineering company after completing the business school’s servitisation programme. The programme enabled the company to shift its focus from just selling machines to providing automation as a service, while also honing leadership skills and bringing about a complete transformation to the business. The result was that the business has grown by approximately 400 per cent in the last five years.
Staffordshire University Business School, meanwhile, helped Potteries Print offset a dip in its traditional commercial order base, by pivoting to produce new online and offline revenue streams for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer. Among these were sneeze screens, face coverings and other Covid safety products. Potteries Print is now looking into new technology which can transpose a business logo onto a corporate gift or clothing so a mock-up can be shown prior to ordering. It is also building a new corporate merchandise e-commerce website to promote and sell these items nationwide.
These examples also highlight how businesses which are already successful and growing quickly are supported. Visit from the Stork CIC in Manchester pivoted from online parenting support to delivering essential baby-related supplies such as nappies and formula milk to parents in hardship and those who were shielding. The business grew rapidly during lockdown, with huge demand for delivery options for essential items. Manchester Metropolitan University Business School was able to assist the business in this sudden boom in growth, by providing the mentorship and support to hire new volunteers and trustees.
All of these examples show the breadth of small businesses, and the different challenges faced by each individual one. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in the SME sector, and these programmes are designed to provide the tailored business advice necessary to assist all businesses which sign up to succeed.
The Small Business Leadership Programme will provide the essential confidence and tools all businesses need now to continue to survive and thrive during this period.