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Preparing for the unexpected can help SMEs prosper

Ian Rand, Chief Executive, Barclays Business Banking

By Ian Rand, Chief Executive, Barclays Business Banking

There’s no escaping that the small business environment has felt challenging so far this year.

Ian Rand, Chief Executive, Barclays Business Banking

Ian Rand, Chief Executive, Barclays Business Banking

There has been weak consumer confidence in clothing and restaurants on the high street, unfortunate SMEs have been put under pressure by Carillion’s collapse, and our own recent survey of smaller companies showed concerns about inflation – which can increase costs for a business, hitting profits.

As a banker for a million UK SMEs, I spend a lot of time talking to small business owners about their plans and how they are considering changes in their marketplace. Some firms are full of optimism while others are characterised by caution, though all successful entrepreneurs share a remarkable sense of determination.

However, one particular trait that distinguishes the firms that tend to succeed over the long term is their thinking about resilience, and what they will do if things don’t go to plan. Businesses encounter problems from time to time, and being prepared for the unexpected makes a real difference.

Yet worryingly, figures from the government suggest many small business owners often leave things late. Nearly half apply for funding within the very week that they need the cash, and many leave it to just two days before.

That is why we encourage business owners to try to think further ahead, even amid the daily pressures of running a company. We have seen this make a difference time and again, and with that in mind, here are some top tips for reinforcing a small company:

  • Cash is king – manage it carefully and have a detailed 13-week forecast updated weekly. Be in control of the financial performance and have regular management information showing how your business is performing.
  • Set a budget – do this at the start of each financial year and monitor performance against it regularly. If you start diverging from it, understand why and use any valuable insights.
  • Put data to work – digging into your data can unlock a wealth of new opportunity. Today, apps can do much of the hard work for you, and put information at your fingertips.
  • Examine changes in your marketplace – assess whether it’s just a blip or a seismic shift, and have a plan for adapting your business if needed.
  • Consider diversifying – introducing new revenue streams is a great way to weather difficult periods. Examples include newsagents signing up to parcel-receiving services, coffee shops becoming cyclist-friendly, or restaurants partnering with delivery services to increase the amount of food they sell.
  • Talk to your bank early on – you don’t need to face financial challenges alone. A good business banker will understand your industry and local market, and understand your business model. Managing a firm through choppy waters can require additional skills and experience.

In the last few weeks we’ve spoken to thousands of small businesses that worked with Carillion. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority report that they are OK for now, and we’ve been able to help several in need with new lending. Early conversations are key.

Ultimately, we exist to help businesses grow for the long term. Small business owners need a bank that will be on their side through thick and thin.

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