By Mark Robinson, Market Business Developer at Canon
Small businesses are often referred to as the backbone of the British economy. Micro businesses consist of between one and five employees and range from self-employed tradespeople to outsourced accounting units and business consultants. According to the House of Commons’ December 2015 business briefing, 95% of all UK private enterprises are micro enterprises and represent innovation, job creation and support to local communities across the country.
To celebrate this micro-economy, the second #MicroBizMattersDay will take place on the 8th of January. Helping micro enterprises survive and thrive, this day is fast becoming a key date in the calendar of small enterprises (and the bigger businesses supporting the initiative). With this in mind, I wanted to share a few thoughts on customers, cash flow and confidence – the themes of this year’s #MicroBizMattersDay - looking specifically at how Britain’s smallest businesses can utilise technology to achieve business productivity and growth.
Whether you’re selling to consumers or businesses, there is a good chance that your audience and prospects are networking, researching and buying online. More than ever, social media will be having an impact whether as the purchase tool itself or as a bulk of the research, conversation and recommendation stage of the buyer’s journey. This seemingly disjointed world of platforms and interactions can make effective customer communication and best-practice customer experience a challenge.
Talking to customers about the things they’re interested in and, in a way that’s engaging, means communicating on the right platforms at the right time. Of course, the way that you communicate with your audience will vary depending on the platform you’re using. But what’s almost more important is to ensure that the content is personalised and engaging. Businesses know who their customers are, often they know their basic information, online preferences and physical location, all of which can be powerful tools when it comes to delivering bespoke, relevant content that genuinely increases customer engagement and joins together conversations both on and offline. Building personalisation into the core of a business’s operations can be challenging, but is represents one of the biggest opportunities for those small businesses willing to employ the technology capable of unifying and intelligently interpreting this information.
The UK in particular has been growing steadily since the recession, and after the period of spending reluctance which followed, businesses have started to invest in growth once more. Today, a variety of economic indicators show that confidence is high and investment intentions are positive.
The situation represents a big opportunity for small businesses to grow, by selling into these pockets of prosperity and developing sales channels that reflect increased demand.
However, new research from Canon indicates that smaller businesses often feel restricted in their attempts to grow, citing challenges around the identification of new business prospects, customer retention and the excessive amount of time taken up with admin. Luckily, there is a myriad of technology solutions available to help deal with internal hurdles such as compliance, paperwork and IT management. With the correct support, advice and technology in place, I strongly believe that SMEs and SoHos can overcome major administrative challenges.
The saying “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity” still holds true. While large inflows of revenue from sales of products and services will never be a bad thing, the most important factor for a business is managing cash flow. Working with suppliers and customers who pay on time is important to ensuring a healthy, accurate cash flow forecast. However, the reality for businesses of varying sizes is that achieving correct payment is a lot harder than it sounds.
The European Payment Report 2015 highlights the extent of the issue. Every year, European businesses are forced to pay 289 billion Euros, 3.1 per cent of total revenues, in unpaid invoices. For micro businesses in particular, this can be disastrous.
Automating the purchase to pay (P2P) process can be a cost and resource-effective solution to this problem. Without the need to manually request, purchase, receive, pay for and account for goods and services eradicates the administrative burden and provides business owners with a clear understanding of when and how much money is coming in, what is going out and how much is left for investments. Automation technology can provide businesses with the appropriate tools to manage their cash flow internally – a great step in making late payments a thing of extreme circumstance, and not a regular habit.
For more information on #MicroBizMattersDay visit http://microbizmattersday.rocks/ and remember to follow @CanonBusinessUK on Twitter for small business news, information, tips and advice.