As Covid-19 swept across the UK and the world in the past year, many companies fell into freefall as they struggled to cope with the sudden shock of lost business. As a result, a fifth of the UK’s SMEs were estimated to have shut down – that’s about a million – despite the rescue package rolled out by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
But entrepreneurs should take heart – often opportunities arise when you least expect them.
In the past some of the world’s biggest brands have started during a crisis. Indeed, a crisis or recession can actually be the catalyst that that creates opportunities for canny entrepreneurs who have an eye on innovation. Bill Gates started Microsoft in 1975 at the worst possible time for the United States, for example. The future tech giant began trading at the height of the stagflation crisis that rocked the economy in the mid-1970s. This was against the backdrop of the catastrophic military defeat in the Vietnam War – and President Nixon’s impeachment as a result of the Watergate scandal.
Further back in 1952, at the height of the Korean War and America’s worst recession since 1929, two brothers in Louisiana came up with the idea of fast, affordable food for people who were struggling to make ends meet. They called their new franchise business Burger King.
As the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the UK in the past year, many business people have eyed potential opportunities despite the crisis. Smaller businesses have often filled the gaps where larger companies have failed (local food deliveries is one example where restaurants and supermarkets were unable to meet the catering demands of home workers).
Cyber security – an ideal start up
Cyber security firms have taken advantage of the huge increase in home workers during lockdown. In the UK, cybersecurity has now become the fastest growing start-up sector as a result of the pandemic, according to data provider VacancySoft. During 2020, start-up funding for cyber security firms in the UK increased by 940% from the beginning of lockdown, with £496 million raised in the first half of 2020, compared to £521 million for the entire 2019. The report predicts business spending on cybersecurity will double to £136 billion this year.
Video conferencing technology
Back to technology and no prizes for guessing which company has become a leader for the new trend of home workers. Again, Microsoft and its Teams video conferencing tool saw usage grow to 44 million daily users during the early months of the pandemic, up 70% on previous months. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella claimed Teams usage had shot up to more than 75 million daily active users a few months later. Meanwhile, newcomer Zoom noted 300 million meeting participants in April alone.
Such technology was hugely beneficial for smaller companies connecting with colleagues, building a new kind of business development and even running virtual events with hundreds and even thousands of participants.
Along with cyber security and technology firms, possibly the biggest winners during the pandemic have been online retailers. Along with the usual suspects such as Amazon and e-Bay, a huge number of smaller e-commerce businesses, supported by a proliferation of digital influencer marketing firms, have cashed in on their ability to supply customers information, content and trusted products and services in the face of dwindling brick and mortar competition. This has been aided by the global lockdown that has shifted consumer behaviour from high streets, malls and retail parks to online platforms offering anything from business advice to DIY products.
Social media marketing influencers
Indeed, as so many SMEs have changed their online services and products to cater for the home market, social media marketing influencers – from big agencies to one-man-bands – have followed in the slipstream to create content that has helped drive audiences to SME pages as well as running campaigns for brands, big and small and even generating revenue from their own content, via programmatic advertising.
This year almost every social media platform has recorded a growth in usage, according to click.co.uk.
- Facebook, including Instagram, recorded an average 23% more time by user.
- Twitter, recorded a 45% increase in their curated events page and a 30% increase in Direct Message usage.
- LinkedIn recorded 55% more conversational activity between existing connections in recent weeks.
- TikTok recorded global downloads 16-22 were up by 12% from the previous week.
Moreover, it’s no coincidence that large firms such as Tiktok and Shopify are joining together in partnerships as they eye emerging opportunities now available in the digital and social media space – and this again increases the opportunities for entrepreneurs to use their platforms for selling products and services. Check out drop shipping, for example, which is a particular speciality of Shopify.
For SMEs looking for opportunities during the post lockdown era – and no one knows how long this state will continue – exploiting uncertainty, staying agile and understanding the changing moods of customers is key to success.
Businesses need to be nimble and agile so they can pivot to the next big opportunity at any moment. All organisations will have to function this way if they’re going to be successful in the coming months and years.
Ideas to takeaway
- Be flexible, agile and respond quickly to customer needs. If you don’t do this, your competition will.
- Move quickly and efficiently. Don’t go for perfection when speed is more important.
- Keep a track of data – any data you can capture. This will help you remain relevant for your customers.
- Don’t let these uncertain times stop you taking firm decisions for the benefit of your customers. Connect with them. Use the technology to build engagement and trust. If your customers are using social media, then you need to use it too. This will push up engagement and even more trust and that will create more opportunities as we go through the post lockdown period and into a more stable future. Your customers are looking for ways to be social, to connect with others and even to be distracted from everything that’s going on. Use that to your advantage.
- Necessity drives innovation and the pandemic has caused problems that people need solutions for. These are often very specific set of problems that SMEs are able to address. Makes sure you are addressing them and not leaving it up to your competition.