Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, talks to What Franchise about the current business environment and what the future holds
The COVID-19 crisis has consumed the nation since the outbreak of the virus earlier this year. How have UK small businesses fared during this time?
To say it’s been a challenge would be an understatement. I can’t think of a single business that has not been affected in some way.
Now we are getting back to trading, we’re going to begin to get a clearer view of the real impact of the pandemic. But there have been some really upbeat stories and many businesses have upped their game, changed their model and will probably never be the same again - in a good way.
The uptake in digital skills and tools is something we’ve been gently trying to support businesses through for many years. It’s taken a pandemic to demonstrate exactly how important digital tools can be and for many the uptake will lead to efficiencies and longer-term gains such as productivity.
How would you rate the government’s response and its support for small businesses during the crisis?
This has been a new experience for us all - including the government.
At Enterprise Nation, we’ve spent a lot of time helping small firms to decipher the changing advice and guidelines and we’ve all got used to quickly adapting as new science or regulations are introduced.
Helping people to navigate furloughs, grants and the support on offer for the self-employed has been a full-time job. We’re working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a new initiative called Recovery Advice for Business, which has seen thousands of advisers offer an hour a month of free one-to-one support to small businesses. It’s easy to access and will be available until the new year.
What more can be done to help small businesses struggling to survive?
To coin a phrase, we’ve all got to get on with it now. The government does not have endless coffers and to a certain extent we’re all nervous about the consequences of overburdening the taxpayer.
What we need to maintain is a healthy respect for small firms and the work that they do. Seeing the government demonstrate that it understands as well as supports the hard work entrepreneurs play in our communities is vital.
How has enterprise nation helped its members who were in need of expert advice and support?
We’ve been regularly publishing and analysing updated regulations and materials as they have come out.
We’ve held daily Lunch & Learn events on a range of topics, from diversifying to how to introduce ecommerce and deliver inspiration. We’ve also developed a detailed ecommerce offering in conjunction with Amazon called the Amazon Small Business Accelerator. It’s free to use and full of practical tips, from finance to building a website.
How significantly has the business landscape changed because of COVID-19?
Only time will tell. Come back and ask me in two years’ time.
It’s going to be tough for some and we must all do what we can to support small firms, whether it’s Eat Out to Help Out, buying local or taking a staycation. We’ve all got to do our bit.
One thing we’re all now crystal clear on is the health of the hospitality sector is intrinsic to our economy. Going out for dinner cannot be seen as just propping up your local eatery, it’s supporting our local economic ecosystem.
Are there any lessons business can learn as a result of the crisis?
We’ve all learned something, even if it feels like we’re getting back to normal.
The most obvious trend is that businesses now understand they must be ready with digital tools to be able to continue to reach their customers safely.
The other thing we will see more of is people starting a business as a side hustle in order to have something more to fall back on. With the jobs market looking uncertain, having a money making enterprise that’s flexible will be the new normal.
What advice would you give someone considering starting their own business?
Do it. There are many examples of businesses started during a recession that have become strong and successful because they learned important lessons, like bootstrapping and growing organically at an early stage.
They learned to hustle, beg and borrow. These are important skills for self starters in this environment.
What are the key ingredients for success as a small business owner?
Resilience - don’t take it personally and learn to embrace the knocks. Energy - bouncing back and working hard is vital. Confidence - if you’re confident, you’re 99 per cent there.
Why do you think a growing number of women are starting their own businesses and do you have any words of encouragement for women considering becoming their own boss?
Women have been running their own businesses for decades. You’ve only got to look at Dame Stephanie Shirley, who set up a female-only tech firm in the 1960s, making many of them millionaires as a result.
Women are brilliant at starting up. They also value and understand the importance of a work-life balance. For many women, I’d say take a step back and consider how you can grow and build on all that hard work. Don’t be afraid to take advice and bring on board finance.
Predictions are always difficult to make, but what are the prospects for UK small businesses in the next 12 months?
Good. Small firms are busy adapting. There will be some winners and losers, but those that have continued to access support and adapt will be the winners.
Get to know Emma Jones
Which one business person do you admire most and why?
There isn’t just one. I admire every person who steps out to start and grow their own business. That’s a lot of people.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That growing a strong and sustainable business takes time.
Greatest sacrifice you’ve made to get where you are?
I don’t see it as making a sacrifice. It’s more following your vision and putting in the commitment that this involves. For me, that’s been quite a bit of commitment, which has not left space for much else, but I don’t see it as a sacrifice. Others might.
It will be when we have a perfectly functioning business support marketplace. We’re not quite there yet.
What advice would you give a younger you? You can’t build it all on your own.