BT study reveals hopes and fears of UK small businesses

BT has announced the findings of its study into 1,000 UK small businesses (those with fewer than 100 employees). The study paints a mixed picture of the market:

  • 57% are confident in the economic outlook for their business over the next 12 months
  • but while 30% are more confident about their businesses’ growth prospects compared with last year, almost 30% say they expect revenue and profit to decrease in the year ahead
  • 58% said they have concerns around costs and operational efficiency
  • 51% said that keeping ahead of competitors, being innovative in the market and keeping up to date with technology advances are ongoing challenges
  • 40% expect the speed and reliability of their internet connection to increase in importance this year
  • 81% do not expect to increase IT/telecoms spend in the coming 12 months – pointing to increased costs (52%), lack of internal awareness and expertise (38%) and limited time and resources (25%) as being inhibiting factors
  • 60% are likely to consider 5G for their business, although 40% said they weren’t aware of the benefits that 5G will have on their business operations
  • 30% said that acquiring the right digital skills in business and enhancing their online presence is a significant challenge in the next 12 months.

BT says that small businesses that are looking to increase technology spend in the next 12 months are most confident in the economy and are more likely to expect their business to grow compared to the average.

“There is a clear indication that SMEs that are able to harness the potential of technology feel a greater sense of business confidence. But whilst a large proportion of business operators recognise the importance of connectivity and the need to digitise, they are being held back by a lack of awareness around the benefits of this new tech, which is costing the UK an estimated £63 billion a year.” Chris Sims, Managing Director SME, BT Enterprise

Almost half of the small businesses surveyed are looking to their service providers to play a role in digital skills training. In response, BT has recently announced its Skills for Tomorrow initiative, which is designed to give 10 million people the skills they need to flourish in the digital economy. BT is collaborating with leading digital skills organisations such as Google, to collate the best courses and information, in a single easy-to-navigate place, with these free resources available to everyone.
“In this digital era, the fact is that every business, big or small, needs to think and act like a technology business to succeed. Whilst the research suggests some mixed business confidence this year, we believe the key to helping SMEs thrive is empowering them with the right digital tools to help them grow their business and better position them for the future,” commented Chris Sims.
Omnisperience believes that not only should service providers play a role in upskilling employees and consumers, they should also educate their markets about the importance of new technological initiatives in a manner that is relevant to different verticals and different types of business. It is not sufficient to simply make slick ads about visionary 5G use cases which are often irrelevant to small businesses; they must be able to explain the benefits to cash-constrained small businesses operating in different vertical markets, and show them why investing in new technology will help them sustain and grow their businesses.
Once they have done this, they then need to deliver this technology to small businesses in an easily-consumable fashion – making it simpler for such businesses to buy, use and pay for such technology, and providing the support they need.
Major B2B service providers do not have a good track record in doing this in the UK, and it remains a significant challenge for them going forward. We hope that BT’s initiatives are a positive sign of its intent with respect to better meeting the needs of the UK’s small business community, which we should point out represents the vast majority of businesses in the UK. Readers should note that according to government statistics, in 2019 99.3% of businesses in the UK employed fewer than 50 people – underlining the importance of this sector to the UK economy and the potential for B2B service providers.