Article By Ant Parsons, OxLEP Business
Start-ups and small to medium sized organisations are fundamental to the business landscape, in fact, recent figures from FSB show that SMEs accounted for 99.9% of the total business population, three-fifths of employment and around half of the turnover in the UK private sector in 2022. So, supporting their growth is key to building a healthy economy, providing employment opportunities and driving growth.
Oxfordshire is home to around 679,000 people, over 43,000 registered companies, at least 40,000 self-employed people and has one of the strongest economies in the UK. In fact, PwC’s 2021 Good Growth for Cities report ranked Oxford as the top city in the UK for growth. This is not surprising when we look at the close partnerships between local authorities, business leaders, government and universities across the county, a network which is key to this flourishing environment.
So, what are some of the things you can do as an SME or new enterprise to take your business to the next level and ensure you make the most of growing local economies?
Networking is a key element of ensuring the continued growth of local SMEs and supporting their productivity. Effective business networking can help businesses to generate new sales opportunities, increase their brand awareness, identify trends and learn about changing industry standards.
A crucial part of networking is to engage with opportunities within the business community at large through events, peer networks and courses. There are opportunities for all industries and stages of business, across the UK, so it is important to explore what’s available locally to support the success of your enterprise.
OxLEP Business arrange networking events, such as the newly-introduced ‘OxBOoSt Network’, drop-ins around the county, start-up clubs and peer network groups focused on key topics, including diversity in business. Similarly, our Women in Business gatherings, provide the opportunity for female entrepreneurs and professionals to build trusted relationships with like-minded women.
Get Your Books in Order
Another element many businesses, particularly those starting out, find challenging is establishing a detailed and appropriate operational, financial and strategic plan that will help them grow. It takes a combination of creativity, commitment, cooperation and dedication to put a thorough and realistic plan in place. The most common reason for small businesses to fail is lack of capital or funding. In fact, research by Fundsquire, a global start-up funding network, details that as many of 20% of small businesses fail in their first year and around 60% fail within the first three. Having a plan in place to manage your finances, ensuring pipeline of work and business with actionable steps to prioritise these are essential for any SMEs success.
At OxLEP Business, we understand the importance of a comprehensive business plan, hence, why we offer one-to-one tailorable support and provide unique business start-up and scale-up strategies within our bespoke Business Support Tool. Taking only seven minutes to complete it helps organisations by providing a free, bespoke, action plan signposting businesses to the appropriate support, training and grants available to help them flourish.
Consider Your Operations, Processes, and Use of Technology
Laying out operating models, allocating resources, investing in the appropriate mix of staff and investing in the right functional capabilities and technologies are all pivotal components of any business growth plan. This plan must also be adaptable to market or socio-economic changes in order to place oneself ahead of competitors and keep up to date with customer expectations.
The ever-changing nature of technology provides SMEs with the opportunity for cost-saving and profit-making initiatives when utilised in the right manner. The pandemic has exponentially increased SMEs investment in digital solutions and rethinking home and flexible-working policies to enhance staff well-being and improve efficiency.
For businesses navigating the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, Brexit and the lingering effects of the pandemic, sound financial and operational planning and management is important. Figuring out and having a plan in place for how to navigate crisis and remain resilient through hardship will support your next steps as a business and ensure longer term growth.
Through our work, we engaged with over 2,500 businesses in Oxfordshire during 2021/22, supporting their growth through a range of services, including tailored financial plans, crisis recovery grants, resilience training and workshops for SMEs and micro-businesses to help foster and promote growth in the contemporary business environment.
OxLEP host ongoing networking opportunities, events, workshops and webinars, for every stage of setting up, running and growing your business. These are free to attend and give invaluable insights from industry experts and opportunities to collaborate and learn from likeminded businesses on their own journeys of success and growth.