Small business: Big opportunity

In 2013 the UK witnessed a record number of StartUps with over half a million new ventures formed in the space of 12 months. This year the focus turns to growth.

Small businesses hold the potential for enormous impact – according to Enterprise Nation, 10% growth across all SMEs would add £21bn to the economy. But how can small business leaders find the right kind of help to set themselves up for successful growth? How can they make the most of digital technologies, enter international markets, get the strategic advice they need etc. Stepping in to this scene are leading and big companies who accept they have a role to play.

In the wake of the devastating floods that hit the UK and within hours of a request, Vodafone donated 1,000 mobile wifis to small businesses that lost broadband, delivered through Royal Mail. Regus opened its 220 centres across the UK to offer workspace to those affected, Citrix offered a free deal on its GoTo Meeting product so small businesses could stay in touch with customers and Constant Contact did the same. This was a fine example of big businesses stepping up to support small ones. They moved at speed and made a difference.

The Enterprise Nation marketplace – which has quickly become a single source for small businesses to find professional advisers – would not have been possible without the support of eight top brands: Toshiba, Regus, Sage, Simply Business, Citrix, Constant Contact, EDF Energy and Vodafone. Not only have they provided the funds required to build the marketplace, they have also brought to bear their promotion power and reach, communicating the project to over 1 million business customers. The marketplace proves the value of big business, government and entrepreneurs working together to deliver a national programme to get the right advice to small businesses at the right time.

This shows the art of what’s possible. To encourage this further, there are five areas with proven best practice that government offers as a route for big businesses to follow.

Finance is key to small businesses. Fujitsu supports its small business suppliers by providing them with access to supply chain finance, with many suppliers getting paid as quickly as 10 days after submission of their invoice. This generates goodwill and helps small businesses in Fujitsu’s supply chain manage their all-important cashflow.

Big businesses could engage with small businesses to cultivate and invest in their ideas. Insurance giant Aviva is testing this by partnering with the Fintech community to host a hackathon, with the potential for entrepreneurs to have their ideas backed by a commercial partner with deep pockets and market share.

Opening up supply chains to small companies could offer huge potential for smaller companies. Sainsbury’s and John Lewis have seen the fruits of this and new companies are launching competitions and hosting events to be pitched to by young companies with bright ideas and viable products.

If there is one asset big businesses have, it’s people – and lots of them. Big businesses should make their talent available for practical help or to act as mentors.

Training and resources are being offered by big business. Examples include ASOS opening its customer base via the ASOS marketplace and giving fashion businesses the tips and tools they need to make the most of the opportunity.

With a growing market of 4.9 million small businesses, supporting small business leads to an increase in sales and profits – business owners are more likely to buy from the brands that understand and engage with them most. The other upside is a more entrepreneurial workforce that delivers higher returns and customer service.

Despite these proven benefits, there are still too many big businesses that talk a good game but don’t do much to back it up. Bureaucracy within the organisation makes it slow to move.

We need more champions; more big businesses that see the value in engaging with small companies and turning their insights into action. It’s time for all big businesses to act – profits, shareholders, customers and employees will all benefit. And so will Britain’s small businesses.