Getting small businesses ready for Brexit – whatever that might bring…

Brexit negotiations

Well, something is going to happen in March 2019. We may not be too sure yet, and it may not be anything at all. But whether we “crash” noisily out of the EU or make a genteel departure, it is going to impact small businesses. 

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, you will have heard many things about how Brexit may impact the economy. This lack of clarity means that it is hard for small businesses to put a solid plan together says Michelle Ovens.  There are no Government guidelines, no “how to” guides, so is there any point in small businesses even thinking about it?

The answer is yes, absolutely. The first thing that small businesses can do is to take a moment to assess the potential impact on their supply chain. This sounds like a mammoth task, but there are some good starting points out there. The British Chambers of Commerce has put together a Brexit Checklist, that asks useful and important questions. 

Key questions for small businesses to answer include: 

  • Do any of your customers have penalties for late delivery? 
  • Do you need to increase your inventory or buy additional storage space? 
  • If you don’t buy or sell directly to the EU but your suppliers or customers do, will they be impacted?

On the high street, these are acute issues. For instance, florists often rely on next-day flower deliveries from the Netherlands. Meanwhile, grocers depend on rapid deliveries of fruit and vegetables from Spain and France. For them, even just a few hours delay can lead to lack of or spoilt stock in warehouses or in transit.

Whether it is diversifying products or services, or financial planning, now is a good time for businesses to seek out support to try and prepare them.

The average small business operates with just 60 days working capital per year. With limited financial back up, having a good understanding of cash flow and business planning is not just important – it is everything.

Similarly, small businesses need to look at contracts with their clients. Getting expertise on this and bolstering the pipeline for new customers are key areas where small businesses need support right now. 

Getting support does not mean investing in extensive strategies or getting consultants in. But, as in any period of uncertainty, small business owners should health-check their business and there is help on hand from a the network of business schools which hold the Small Business Charter. This is awarded by small businesses to business schools for going the extra mile to support SMEs.

Programmes from Small Business Charter schools, such as the Aston Business School “Aston Programme for Small Business Growth”, provide good opportunities to supercharge growth and tackle business challenges. This is a critical time for small businesses to get just such support.

The final bit of preparation? In an era of headline grabbing hyperbole, it is vital that small businesses get all their information on Brexit impact from trustworthy sources. 

The Small Business Charter social media channels will be sharing advice, support and expert insight over the coming months to support small businesses and share expertise from business schools as more information becomes available.

Other good sources of information on Brexit are: the Federation of Small BusinessesEnterprise Nation, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Their Twitter accounts are great at answering questions, and they can provide the facts that small businesses need.

Small businesses are worried about Brexit – and rightly so. It takes courage to set up a businesses in the first place. I have no doubt that businesss owners will say” bring it on” to whatever is coming down the road. With a bit of extra support, we can ensure they continue to succeed into 2019.

Michelle Ovens MBE is the Chair of the Small Business Charter.
On Monday 5thNovember, Michelle is moderating a half-day session in London at the CABS Annual Conference – “Everything you need to know about a small Brexit”. The session, which is free for small businesses to attend, brings together a panel of experts to help small businesses understand the complexities and risks of Brexit.