Times aren’t easy right now, and businesses all over the world will be facing an uncertain year ahead in 2023. But while small businesses will feel the effects of energy costs and inflation more than most, there’s plenty their supporting partners can do to not only help them survive, but thrive.
We know that tech will be key in giving small businesses the ability to navigate the challenges ahead, but the mere existence of digital tools isn’t the only answer. First, small business owners need help identifying what tech to search for, what it can do for them, and who to trust to supply it.
Here are three things to focus on next year to better support your small business customers.
Build bridges across the education gap
Whatever the year and whatever the business trends, one thing remains the same for dealing with small businesses: the companies looking to support them need to start with listening to what their customer base really needs.
But that doesn’t always mean software or tools. It also means understanding the support they need to make the most out of those tools, and when it comes to tech the answer is often education.
Earlier this year we surveyed 529 UK micro businesses about the role tech plays in their business currently, and the results gave us a clear picture of the barriers that keep small business owners back from embracing new tech. Although cost and time demands were large concerns, the biggest single obstacle was not having the knowledge or training to make use of the tech that’s out there.
To justify using new tech, a small business owner needs to know what value they’re going to get out of it, and that starts with knowing how to use it. That’s true in any year, but especially when the cost of bills and essential supplies is rising. Digital education creates reassurance, and the companies that provide it alongside tech will be the ones that small business owners trust the most to support them.
Look outwards and collaborate
The idea behind open ecosystems is opening up access between applications and using APIs to integrate different systems together. It’s about prioritising collaboration over competition, and it’s something that’s already happening in the finance industry where, empowered by open finance, more and more fintech companies are able to offer consumers greater, more seamless access to banking services.
In the everyday course of running their operation, small business owners can use upwards of a dozen different applications. Although each of those apps might boast a brilliant, slick customer experience, the journey that links those apps together is rarely frictionless.
That just means there’s a huge opportunity for the vendors behind those applications to collaborate further. If you’re used to being protective of your platform, giving other suppliers access to it might not come naturally. But an open ecosystem allows all of us to work together to make things smoother for small business customers, keeping their needs at the heart of things.
Let your purpose guide the way
In the last few years, climate and social issues have become a key focus for companies around the world, but especially for small businesses.
Often small businesses are founded with a strong sense of purpose to begin with and with only one or a handful of people involved it’s easier to make the causes they believe in a central pillar of how they work. To get an idea of just how much this can play a part, see our interviews with small business owners, Mohamed and Loren.
As more business owners focus on being ethical and eco-conscious, it’s likely they’ll start looking to only work with partners and suppliers who share those values. Even if the services they’re after are essential, how those services are delivered is just as important as what they’re getting. But if that’s the case, those small business owners will also have a lot of loyalty to give to suppliers who align ethically with them.
To connect with small business owners through the values they hold, you have to start by looking deep into your own business. What’s the reason your company exists, the purpose behind what you’re selling? How are you talking about that and presenting yourself? Think about how you can showcase those commitments – your potential customers want to see the ways you give back to your local business community.
This is about more than just marketing. People are passionate enough about ethical and environmental issues today that they can see if brand values are just smoke and mirrors. But if you’re mindful about your purpose and understand how to make a positive impact through your work, then your small business customers will see you as far more than a catalogue of prices and products.