The sun was well and truly shining for our Breakfast Seminar last Thursday: “SMEs – A Look at 2018” which we held at the Etihad Stadium. Despite the reportedly hottest day of the summer so far, we had a good turnout from North West businesses to find out more about the range of potential legal issues that could harm their reputation and growth.
There were facts demonstrating the highs and lows of the region providing remarkable insight. One that stood out to me was learning Cheshire is the strongest performing region in the North West. Some 12,000 new SMEs are setting up every year. We’ve also seen the renaissance of Altrincham – reinventing itself into a buzzing social experience focused around its food and drink market, which is now drawing in new retailers. However, it is an incredibly diverse region, which benefits from being seen in its hyper-local capacity – for example, in contrast to Altrincham, Manchester experienced the highest number of retail store closures across the North West last year, with seven shutting every month.
The fact is, although the region successfully sees the birth of an incredible number of new businesses, indicating its entrepreneurial nature, many SMEs struggle to get to the next stage of growth. While a survey from eProcurement company Wax Digital found that just 2% of mid-sized UK companies were not actively looking to expand, many SMEs struggle with the new economic and legal challenges – intensified by the digital revolution, the growth in competition from emerging markets, and of course, Brexit.
Christian Spence, former manager of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s research and analytics team, and Head of Future Economies Analytics at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Future Economies University Research Centre, shared an economic overview of SMEs in the area and their potential for growth. In addition, I shared my thoughts on the Northern Powerhouse and how I believe SMEs based here can make an impression on the world stage – with the right connectivity, trade, skills and innovation. One of the key points was the importance of collaboration and bringing together strengths to maximise this opportunity.
Up for discussion was the question of how much the Northern Powerhouse has actually helped North West SMEs to thrive. Of course, the North West is not a single economy. Each region, and sectors within them, operates quite differently, but some issues remain universal – and many of these have a significant legal impact on SMEs.
Last week’s event covered a range of topics that we felt important to bring to the attention of SMEs – the potential impact that social media can have on a company’s reputation – and how to mitigate these any damaging risks. This becomes a mine-field given issues such as the right to privacy, and the blurring of boundaries between the workplace and personal life. There was a very practical focus on highlighting steps SMEs could consider to prepare for such instances as well as unexpected crises.
Issues such as forfeiture and crisis management were just a couple of additional topics that were explored. In addition, the changing nature of the high street was discussed in terms of what it means for businesses looking to sign up to a new retail or business contract, and the importance of mitigating risk to allow businesses to capitalise on the retail opportunity for entrepreneurs but equally ensure you have the flexibility to withdraw from contracts if the business doesn’t boom as you anticipate.
It’s fair to say that the speakers left everyone with lots of food for thought. For me and my team, some of the biggest topics that we were left considering were as follows:
- How many SMEs are seizing the market but failing to take it to the next level, and why?
- What’s the biggest missed opportunity for SMEs trying to upscale?
- What are the barriers holding them back?
- In which areas do SMEs look to take advice – legal, or otherwise – and which do they go it alone?
- Finally, in which areas should SMEs look to take advice to be able to better manage and grow their businesses?
Given small and medium-sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy – and nowhere more so than in the North West – it’s fair to say that the number of challenges and barriers to potential success can be significant. So if you’re one of them, look out for more insight as well as practical advice on some of the most pertinent issues specific to this sector – we’ll be highlighting these in our forthcoming series of blogs. And we’ll be sure to be back next year with another annual insight into the world of SMEs – so watch out for our forthcoming ‘save the date’.