Think positive - there are opportunities ahead
Looking back on 2012 and to the year ahead, Business Think’s Elliot Forte says that SMEs will need to continue to be flexible, but for those that have ridden out recession so far, there are reasons to be optimistic.
So that was 2012, the first year for a generation that small businesses had to fend for themselves, as access to Government-funded help was abruptly and hastily halted with the closure of the Business Links and slashing cuts to the budgets of councils. Not everyone cared, not everyone noticed.
As entrepreneurs ourselves, we at Business Think would love to be able to look back and say what a fantastic year 2012 was for small business. We would like to be able to ignore the milestone of an unprecedented triple dip recession, to be able to celebrate that the times of austerity are over, that politicians now speak in a single voice and have small business interests at heart, at all times. But that would be just another sound bite to deflect attention away from the true challenges faced by small business last year, and the same issues we will face in the next.
While it pains me to say it, the Government was proved right on one prediction. Its Darwinian economic policy did create a population of hungry and capable small businesses. Of course, they are less keen to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that there has been collateral damage, with numerous small business failures and personal lives negatively affected. That happened by design, not by accident. Was their policy ethically questionable and/or economically viable? The answer depends on where your heart lies.
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At Business Think, we are always crystal clear on our position, which comes from working personally with 3,000 small businesses and seeing in colour the impact on their families.
Looking forward to a new year, it is not a time for business as usual. In 2013, as small businesses, we need to be even more ambitious, innovative and flexible to create opportunities. Over the past 12 months, small businesses have faced higher taxes, contracting UK markets and a stubborn lack of consumer confidence. But I don't recall seeing any small businesses willingly throw in the towel and talk down the country. Rather, these entrepreneurs just got on with the task at hand, accepting that now, more than ever before, they would have to be the ones to make it happen, as no one else would.
That is why we at Business Think, while retaining our gritty realism on the economic situation, remain extremely positive about the year ahead for small business.
The Solutions for Business Government support initiatives are now fully operational and have overcome their early teething issues. Growth Accelerator coaching is an excellent opportunity for any ambitious small business. Financial support is available for manufacturers. The help is out there, if you seek it out.
But that's not why 2013 is going to be a great year for small businesses. 2012 has proven that help is important, but it counts for nothing without enterprise. Small business entrepreneurs today have proven they can ride the worst recession in living memory (thrice!). We know what it takes to compete.
In 2013 there will be less competition. It's a Darwinian fact (what a miserable chap).
The opportunities will be many.
Elliot Forte and Jonathan Sharp are founding directors of Business Think, a consultancy supporting SME owners across the Westcountry. They would like to thank everyone who read the Western Morning News column in 2012. Business Think will continue to champion small business through their newly launched YouTube Business Think channel. For more details call: 01598 710678 or visit www.businessthink.co.uk.