The recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought seismic change across all our communities: business, local, familial and social.
Times are hard, with many unprecedented challenges to overcome, and the effect on many businesses has been brutal and swift.
But amidst all this change and economic uncertainty, it seems a common theme is emerging. Resilience and adaptability are key survival skills, and the SME community has shown themselves to be powerful and resourceful in rising to this challenge. We are adept at swift and effective decision making, we have “skin in the game” which makes our decisions personal and our determination heartfelt and passionate.
“Adapt or die” is an oft quoted phrase, and now is a time where this ability has become essential to the SME’s very existence. As Darwin is quoted to have said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
As we start to emerge from the all encompassing focus that the formulation of our disaster recovery and survival plans have required, these conversations have started to happen again.
Over the last couple of weeks, Kerry and I have had phone and online conversations with a number of small and start-up companies we have worked with in the past. We have been filled admiration and optimism in hearing how they have taken a huge hit from the COVID-19 impacts, only to rise from the ashes with new, innovative and adapted ideas, which have meant they have been able to push forward and reach out to a whole new market or sector.
How many big businesses can make such rapid and responsive change and give their all to making things succeed to ensure survival?
SMEs are taking bold, brave steps to keep going and to prosper, and in the midst of all this, almost without exception, they are also willing to lend a helping hand to the next business or start-up down the chain.
This generosity of spirit at a personal level is also a characteristic of the SME community. We employ people who have names and faces, and who’s wellbeing and financial stability matter to us in all this. So it stands to reason that we care about our fellow business owners too.
We want to see others survive and prosper, as our supply chains and alliances also have a direct and tangible impact on our own wellbeing and success. We are not alone, we do not act alone, so we must show strength, support and compassion for other businesses too.
As an SME business, we are often at the mercy of the ‘big boys’. We can get our noses pushed out of the business trough and are forced to patiently wait for the ‘scraps’… but that just makes us strive harder and be more resourceful. It is what we have to do to survive, and we are stronger and more determined as a result of the struggles we sometimes have to take on in order to be heard, and to win work.
Running a SME is not easy. It is tough. The balance of power with our paymasters is always tricky to navigate, cashflow is a frequent challenge and can often inhibit opportunities to grow bigger and stronger. But the SME community get used to this, and push on with focus and determination. We survive.
We are 'Small Giants'.
We are unencumbered by complex hierarchy and shareholder demands, so if we need to make a change in order to make something happen, and it is within our gift to make it happen swiftly, without delay - we can, and we will…and that is exactly what is happening all around us in many small businesses at the minute.
So imagine what we could do with greater opportunities and reach back commitment from the big players and clients in our industries and sectors? These key players devise ambitious social impact strategies designed to help them win and support delivery of influential big money contracts and frameworks across our regions, but it seems to be becoming increasingly apparent now, that these bold commitments are inextricably linked with opportunities to prosper for local SMEs, if they are to truly hold any long term legacy.
That is not to criticise the efforts that are currently underway to bring small business to the table, but often we find these large businesses and their clients don’t really understand how SMEs work. They are adept at supporting the individual or fledgling micro business, at a grass roots advisory level, but can overlook the potential of the more established, successful and ‘growth ready’ SME’s of five to 200 people.
Those who are waiting for the right opportunity to scale up, and who have the ability and commitment levels to make a massive, positive local impact. If real engagement and proactive steps were taken to harness local SME power, just imagine the legacy that could be left behind when these mega projects are completed – local, adaptable businesses will have plans to take their teams to the next challenge and continue to survive and grow long after big projects and framework contracts come to an end. We are invested, we have local roots and we will remain.
We believe the power of the SME ‘Small Giants’ hold the key to true economic recovery, because we embody the passion, determination and entrepreneurial spirit which will optimise new opportunities and share prosperity in our communities and regions. We will do what needs to be done and, with the chance to get a seat at the table of economic recovery, we will pay back in bucketloads - because we really, truly value and can make the most of each and every opportunity which comes our way to make a real difference, locally and in our own professional networks.
With positive and purposeful action both up and down the supply chain, we can restore optimism and momentum. As Andy Mitchell MP for Sutton Coldfield has observed; “for the supply chain to survive this cannot become an ‘I win, you lose’ situation”. And so we must therefore all share collective responsibility for restoring economic activity in whatever way we can, whether big or small.
Keeping SMEs at the forefront has other positive recovery effects. Prior to and in the midst of this lockdown, there have been many pleas to businesses to do right by the next generation – to continue the apprenticeships and training schemes which will offer brighter futures to young people.
To do this I have a plea of my own, to the big businesses and clients out there; do right by SMEs, help us to grow and prosper by engaging with us on a personal level, find out what we can do, make us a living part of your social impact plans, not just a token part with hived off small, short-term contracts to bid for, and give us opportunities to do business with you over the long term in a simple, planned, collaborative and sustainable way.
Let us make a little profit, so we have money to invest in the futures or our people and their careers. We can then in turn, share this stability and prosperity with our own business and local communities – so not just supporting the young people, but all underutilised talent, of all ages, whether school leavers, long-term unemployed, work returners, those who have been made redundant or who might be looking for a career change.
Let’s not make these opportunities and our support exclusive, let’s take it wider and with real purpose, and harness the entrepreneurial power and resilience of the SME business community to accelerate regional opportunity and prosperity as we emerge bruised but stronger from Covid-19.
Over the last few weeks, stories of responsiveness and adaptability from fellow SME business owners have filled us with pride to be part of this unique and talented community. Small business owners who have shown strength and courage in the face of adversity, withstanding huge blows to their seemingly robust and well developed business and growth strategies, which have been rendered impossible to pursue in the current lockdown. Instead of throwing in the towel and giving in to defeat, they have gone right back to the drawing board and found a way to adapt to the situation. You people are all amazing, and we need to see more of you.
So this piece is also a rally cry to my fellow SMEs; let’s start to shout a bit louder about our talents, let's be bolder. We hold the keys to building prosperity at local and regional levels, through new jobs, diversity and growth opportunities over short and the long term. We are the human faces and true investors in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. We are rooted here, our hearts are strong, and we can, and will, make things happen.