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Being a business owner or leader right now is a challenge. Whether you’re running a small company or a chain of stores across the country, we know how much uncertainty there is. It’s been three years of challenges with Brexit, the pandemic and now a looming recession. You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking we’re constantly lurching from one set of challenges to the next.

We know people are worrying, so we asked 250 SME owners about what they want our new Prime Minister to do to help businesses cope in the current economic climate and 92% said the government must do more to help smaller businesses during this period of uncertainty.

Currently, the five biggest issues keeping SME owners awake at night are:

  1. Rising inflation costs impacting profit margins (58%)
  2. Retaining customers and clients (46%)
  3. Winning new business (39%)
  4. Impacts of Brexit on importing and exporting (24%)
  5. Providing exceptional customer service (22%)

And these challenges aren’t exclusive to a specific industry or a region of the UK. These worries are being experienced by everyone.

What are industries most concerned about?

Two of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, healthcare and arts and culture, are the industries most concerned about the potential impact of inflation. Both sectors faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, with the entire arts and culture industry shut down for almost 18 months, while the backlog within the NHS is going to take years to clear.

 For small businesses in the manufacturing, architecture, engineering, and retail sectors, their biggest concerns are the impact of Brexit on their ability to import and export goods. With these industries also facing staffing shortages, in part down to the impacts of both Brexit and the pandemic, pressure is being ramped up by the rising cost of running a business. If many businesses are to survive beyond this winter, they require their costs to be slashed, new employees to be found and red tape to be cut.

What can the government do to help?

Ahead of Liz Truss’ announcement, 67% of leaders we spoke to were keen for the new government to see energy bills capped in order to bring down their overheads. However, in order to survive, businesses need their costs cut further.

This includes 44% who want to see the currently perpetually rising insurance premiums reduced, particularly on industry mandatory indemnity policies. Furthermore, 35% of SME owners insist corporation tax should be kept at its current 19% rather than introducing a minimum corporation tax, as suggested by the EU.

However, businesses need more than just support to help them save money. Of the SME leaders we surveyed, potential means of support include:

  • Introduction of the furlough scheme during the recession (27%)
  • Reintroduction of the Brexit Support Fund for those exporting to Europe (22%)
  • A faster rollout of the Building Digital scheme to support businesses seeking faster broadband (20%)

How investing in tech supports businesses

Business owners overwhelmingly want to upgrade their company’s technology – and this does require further investment from the government. While the Help to Grow scheme provides up to £5,000 of support for businesses looking to digitally transform, this amount isn’t enough for small businesses to move away from legacy technology and start putting in place the modern systems which will really help them grow.

Over half of the leaders we spoke to want to invest in new technology to stay ahead of their competition, but almost one in four will have to scale back plans due to rising costs. Businesses are keen to invest in:

  • Software to improve customer service (48%)
  • Cloud technology to support hybrid and remote work (38%)
  • Cyber security measures to protect against criminals (31%)
  • Initiatives to boost employee morale (29%) and support their HR teams (20%)

Cloud tech is the answer

SMEs are the backbone of our economy. We know the challenges SMEs are facing are stopping their leaders from sleeping well and dreaming big about the future.

Businesses are trying to balance reducing costs, providing the best service possible, helping staff and defending against cyber security risks. Cloud technology can turbocharge progress in all these areas.

Now the onus is on the new Prime Minister to listen to SME leaders and ease the burden on them beyond just a small fiscal contribution – allowing them to sleep well and dream big.