As the economy moves forward, and Government programmes such as the furlough scheme come to an end, it’s time for businesses to add resilience to their operations, argues Janine Smith, director of GC Business Growth Hub.
The last 18 months have been an incredibly difficult time for business, eased in someway by the availability of Government programmes such as the furlough scheme. But as these are now wound up, businesses need to let go of what has become a much-needed financial crutch.
For many companies, long-term plans have been ditched, understandably replaced by a short- approach, the sole aim to keep the business ticking over month-by-month. But now may be the time to take a step back and look at the bigger, longer-term picture.
Take advantage of new opportunities
Despite the dual pressures of both Brexit and the pandemic, there are still plenty of business opportunities out there.
Brexit, for instance, has brought changes to procurement rules, and the Government is now looking to offer more contracts for tenders below £120k to SMEs, which for smaller businesses could prove a lucrative new source of income.
Of course, a lot of SMEs will have never tendered for public sector contracts before, but the Hub has in-house experts who can help demystify the process. We also run regular tendering workshops that cover how to find these opportunities and how to put a bid together.
There are green opportunities too, as the UK pushes towards Net Zero. In Greater Manchester alone, a charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is something that needs addressing now and is already proving lucrative to many regional businesses. Equally pressing is the work that is needed to retrofit homes and make our buildings more energy efficient, which will again present many openings for local companies.
Discovering new opportunities, including those around Net Zero, will also be high on the agenda at PROGRESS21, one of Greater Manchester’s first large scale in-person business events in over 18 months, which takes place at Manchester Central at the end of September. This is a must attend event for any entrepreneur, business owner or c-suite executive to network, hear new opportunities and start planning for the future.
Is working from home stifling innovation?
It’s been well-documented in recent weeks that innovation can stagnate following a pandemic, and it can take two to three years after a pandemic ends for the shock to be felt along the ideas’ pipeline. Businesses need to do all they can to reduce the negative effects of this hiatus.
One of the biggest headaches businesses are going to face over the next 12 months is migrating people back to office life. Following the switch to home working, employers are now faced with a huge number of staff who simply don’t want to go back into an office environment. Alongside health worries, many believe they are far more productive from home, while others have rearranged their domestic life by, for instance, cancelling childcare.
But the issue for companies is that face-to-face interaction is when ideas take shape and creative sparks fly.
Creativity in the workplace isn’t just about having creative people, it’s also about group thinking. Bouncing ideas off people, chatting over a coffee, even a few snatched words walking to the tram can all sow the seeds of a potential new idea. Something which, despite the best will in the world, is more challenging on a video call.
There are several ways we can help. Our wellbeing specialists can work with businesses to look at how they can bring people back together effectively, and help them feel safe in their environment
It is also something that will be discussed at a number of sessions at PROGRESS21, including Leading and Managing an Agile Workforce, and Workforce Health and Wellbeing. These are areas we have also covered in a previous blog, which looked at the skills, training and support that a workforce needs in order to return to pre-pandemic growth.
Kickstarting the recovery
We are also looking to encourage more synergies between companies. This is especially true of diverse businesses, such as those run by black, female and disabled entrepreneurs which, research shows, have fared far worse than other companies during the pandemic. An important part of this will be looking at opportunities to bring businesses together into peer networks, where they can work more collectively, supporting each other and boosting innovation.
We are also looking at offering support to particular sectors such as care, leisure, hospitality and tourism, that have suffered most over the last 18 months and are now struggling to fill vacancies. These sectors have changed and so have the skills needs, and employers need to be aware of this.
Apprenticeships can be a great way of easing this situation but the time needs to be right to introduce them. What businesses are telling us is there’s the need for an interim position, and the opportunity to focus on taking someone on with a focus on softer skills, such as customer service, first.
The Kickstart programme could be the answer. It gives companies the opportunity to work with someone before they commit to an apprentice and pays the wages for six months, giving the employer the option to move them into an apprenticeship at the end of the period. We have several kick starters working at the Growth Company at the moment, and they have proved a huge success.
At the end of August, it emerged that the UK economy had grown by 4.8% in the second quarter of 2021. It’s still below pre-pandemic levels, but an undeniable shift in the right direction and a sign that businesses can once again take a longer-term view and start to plan for the future.
If you are based in Greater Manchester and want to learn more about the post-pandemic funding landscape, new investment trends and financial tools available to future-proof your business book your free ticket to PROGRESS21 Business.
PROGRESS 21 Business is one the first face-to-face business event in Manchester for over 18 months and takes place at Manchester Central on 23 September. Register here.