Adapt for change and get connected

Adapt for change and get connected

Phil Mottram, Enterprise Director of Vodafone UK, looks at the entrepreneurial boom in Leeds.

With more than 24,000 VAT registered businesses in Leeds alone plus a thriving SME community, the city and the wider Yorkshire region have become a major centre for economic growth. The area continues to foster a strong entrepreneurial culture and attract investment from large corporates.  However the region’s small business community remains at risk with just nearly half of UK businesses surviving past five years. It is of paramount importance that SMEs get the support they need to overcome any obstacles and extend their lifespan. One such obstacle is the lack of digital skills which are holding small businesses back from reaching more customers, recruiting the right talent and growing their business.

Vodafone UK has focussed on Leeds to help small businesses become ‘Ready Businesses’ - able to plan and adapt for change. In today’s fast moving market where the pace of digital disruption has left 50% of British businesses and public sector organisations fearful or worried that their organisations will not be able to keep-up, being ready for change is crucial to a business’ future success. Two factors which really stood out for us when choosing to focus on Leeds for our digital skills workshops trial and for our ongoing support of businesses in the city were the strength of the city’s business economy and our fixed and mobile network in the region.

Leeds is one of the UK’s fastest growing cities and is the largest hub for finance and business outside London. More than 26,000 VAT-registered businesses are based here and the number of mid- to large-size companies is significantly above the national average.
And, from our point of view at Vodafone, Leeds is a geography where we have great capability: we have mobile coverage across 2G, 3G and 4G as well as a fibre-in-the-ground presence.

Larger organisations can also play an important role in delivering the support and guidance that small businesses need. We’ve learned this first hand through the digital skills workshops, by speaking with SMEs at Leeds Business Week last year and ongoing community engagement.

This knowledge, in combination with the resources and scale we hold as a larger business and the tremendous value we see in providing face-to-face support, has helped shape our new, regionalised approach to supporting small business across the UK.
By becoming a part of businesses’ local communities we have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that are unique to a specific area which, in turn, helps us to have a better relationship with our business customers.

SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK economy, representing 99% of UK companies with annual turnover of £1.6 trillion according to the ONS’ latest figures. So they are vital to the growth of any region.

Leeds’ economy is forecast to grow by 25% over the next ten years with financial and business services set to generate over half that growth over that period. It’s also been named as one of the UK’s foremost centres for fast business growth, based on new data that says companies which have achieved three years of 20% growth in revenues or employees.

At Vodafone we want to help foster and sustain that growth by using our technology and expertise to ensure businesses are able to increase their competitiveness. There are some little but impactful investments in technology which can help Yorkshire’s small businesses be successful and be able to readily plan and adapt for change, sustaining growth past 2016.  

Have an online presence
Almost a quarter of SMEs in the UK do not have an online presence at all, meaning they are potentially missing out on sales opportunities and the chance to be more competitive.
The internet has created a level playing field for smaller businesses to compete with larger enterprises for instance through online searches where SMEs appear alongside their larger counterparts – providing an equal opportunity to acquire customers. The notion that you have to be fluent in code to set up a website is outdated: it’s easy to do and can cost very little.

A wide range of affordable tools and free guides can be found online and with a quick Google search, a business owner can find the piece of code needed to modify the website so as to better attract potential customers. With a majority of web traffic coming from consumers accessing the internet while on the move and via their mobile device, it’s important the business’ website content and format is optimised for tablets and smartphones, not just desktops. By doing this, a website is more user-friendly and attractive for customers viewing it. A recent study into mobile technology has shown that of those SMEs using mobile services most intensively, a quarter have seen revenues grow up to twice as fast as their peers and jobs created at up to eight times faster.

Embrace social
Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the gateway to reaching and connecting with target audiences. For instance, setting-up a pay-per-click marketing campaign on Facebook which takes less than 15  minutes and provides you helpful analytics on your target audience and how they’re engaging with your brand. Free online tools also make managing social media channels, including responding to customer enquiries, quicker and easier. Having a social presence will help to build your brand’s reputation and give you direct insights into how your customer reacts and behaves ultimately helping to drive revenue.

Learn to listen   
Social media channels are not just about pushing the company’s messages out or plugging products. The real value of these channels is the ability for businesses to listen and engage with customers’ conversations about the product or service they received and help with any enquiries. Social media is also a great tool for SMEs to increase their awareness online, potentially introducing new business opportunities. Identify your target audience and check out their social profiles to find out more about them, what their priorities are from a business point of view and how you might be able to offer support.

It is also good practice to retweet or share their posts or comment on their blog posts. In turn, they’ll start to notice you, helping to build trust and – eventually – to secure that all-important meeting or sale.

Empower collaboration
As well as improving customer service and helping to reach more customers, mobile and digital technologies enable more connected workforces. With a mobile device, secure network, messaging apps, access to information, and cloud based collaboration and project management tools, employees can work productively and together anytime, anywhere.

Software such as Asana helps colleagues to keep projects up to date in one central location, listing out latest tasks and tracking progress through updates that are visible to everyone with access. Slack, an instant messaging system, is another useful tool that helps to streamline internal communications.

The prospect of keeping-up with technology to stay competitive and meet customers’ expectations around service delivery and responsiveness can seem daunting for SMEs. Ubiquitous connectivity and digital technology tools creates huge opportunities for small businesses to increase their visibility online, reach more customers, recruit today’s tech savvy millennials and ultimately drive more business.