Post-pandemic confidence is a call to action for SMEs

Post-pandemic confidence is a call to action for SMEs

UK business confidence continues to increase following the removal of lockdown restrictions, according to new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Other key economic indicators such as consumer confidence, manufacturing output and employment levels also show broadly encouraging trends.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly upbeat, with 54% matching or exceeding their pre-pandemic turnover and over 90% having a positive outlook.

SMEs form the vast bulk (99.9%) of the UK business community, accounting for over 60% of employment and around half of total turnover in the UK private sector.

Although the government is committed to increasing public sector market share for SMEs to one third by 2022 – and despite an encouraging direction of travel – small businesses benefitted from less than 27% of public spend in 2019/20.

Through the looking glass

The unprecedented commercial challenge of lockdown has left few businesses unscathed, with 80% of SMEs suffering revenue loss as a direct result of the restrictions.

Many smaller operators remain concerned over low levels and continuity of government support, not least those most reliant on the UK government’s furlough scheme.

With the initiative due to cease at the end of September, one fifth of the UK’s businesses are planning or considering redundancies.

Furthermore, positive UK-wide statistics belie regional disparities, with SMEs in Scotland and northern England less chipper about their prospects than their southern peers.

And is this only a lull in the pandemic? The risk of variants sparking a surge in infections later this year raises the spectre of yet more damaging limitations on economic activity.

Nevertheless, the market outlook for most businesses is far more promising, meaning that strategists can – and must – move forward with renewed vigour and ambition.

But with dystopia now a daily reality, businesses must be more prepared to roll with unexpected punches and hit back hard at hostile market forces.

It’s no use going back to yesterday

Every firm must be more alert to how quickly the commercial calculus can change and more willing to evolve in response.

Motivational platitudes about personal and professional growth are many, but actually upping our individual or corporate games is succinctly summed up by “no pain, no gain”.

Regularly reappraising our identity, purpose and trajectory – and acknowledging our failings – is a stark process, but a rewarding one: venturing out of comfort zones is a test not only of confidence, but of competence and resilience.

The struggle to improve and excel is the essence of commerce as well as life, but, all too often, previously innovative businesses lose their commercial mojo and sink into a quagmire of entitlement and malaise: intellectual atrophy and creative inertia are common byproducts of prolonged commercial success and harbingers of terminal decline.

If you find yourself flogging the same old tropes and lazily imitating – if not flagrantly plagiarising – your competitors, your business is in danger of dying a slow death punctuated by focus-grouped follies, futile vanity projects and copy/pasted content.

Competitors must be constantly observed, analysed and outmanoeuvred, but if your strategy revolves around the utterances of your enemies, you are ignoring a core tenet of competitive commerce: differentiation.

The uninformed must improve their deficit, or die

There is no greater act of confidence than being unashamedly different: a culture of conformity – so prevalent in many corporate mindsets – is at odds with the creative processes that serve to create wealth.

Standing out from the crowd is pivotal in public sector tendering, as standardised bid documents and rigid evaluation metrics serve to blunt even the sharpest marketing message and dull superficial differences between bidders.

Competitive costing and capability are sometimes little more than prerequisites rather than key battlegrounds: suppliers who offer original and future-proofed solutions can edge ahead when competing for the most coveted contracts.

Award criteria in tendering competitions has become more nuanced in recent years, with social value – and, increasingly, carbon reduction – now central to any serious bid.

Value and innovation are – or, at least, should be – central metrics in government purchasing: bidders who know the price of everything and the value of nothing can often be left floundering as faster, leaner and smarter rivals run rings around them.

Recent research, however, has found that most SMEs in the tech sector are frustrated by the gap between government rhetoric and buyer behaviour, believing that purchasers are not sufficiently cognisant of the benefits of working with young, left-field innovators.

Continuing to rely on sprawling and struggling suppliers to provide crucial public services is reprehensibly reckless given the tragic track record of bloated and woefully mismanaged contractors such as Carillion. 

It is high time for cesspits of bullying, greed and inadequacy to be booted off public sector order books in favour of wealth creators with character, integrity and originality.

The Tenderhood’s mission is to redress the balance and place ability – not avarice – at the heart of public procurement.

They’re tired of “small” businesses being edged out by nihilistic profiteers who see innovation as anathema and decency as a disease: confident entrepreneurs with some semblance of professionalism and civic consciousness will always tower over the seedy charlatans who populate the higher echelons of faceless and failing pyramid schemes.

It’s time to face our struggles with renewed confidence and forcefully fight for our corner.

John Cutt Reporter for The TenderHood

John Cutt is a storyteller and researcher with extensive commercial experience in public sector tendering and procurement.

His services include creative and technical copywriting, SEO, social media management and brand consultancy.

Disclaimer: all views expressed are the authors opinion unless expressly stated as factual

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