Turn business challenges into triumphs

Can you call on your community when times are tough?

There’s no denying that small businesses have battled challenges in recent years. After the lockdown chaos of Covid, and a prolonged cost-of-living crisis, and a recession that’s now thankfully behind us.

As a business owner, feeling as though everything is working against you can be incredibly isolating. That’s why having the right support around you is crucial. So ask yourself this: would you consider yourself part of a local business community?

If your answer is ‘no’, then don’t worry. At Howden, we’re all about supporting local businesses, and so we’ve compiled some useful tips about how to create a network of productive connections. And if you’re already part of something, then hopefully this advice can help your business community grow!

What’s the impact on small businesses?

Recessions have a massive impact on small businesses. High inflation, as we’ve experienced until very recently, means higher costs and lower margins.

Combined with a decrease in demand, you could find yourself experiencing cashflow squeezes, as you balance completing projects with having to buy more materials or stock. And, during a recession, lenders can have stricter criteria or enforce higher borrowing costs.

Overall, for small business owners and entrepreneurs, it can be an extremely stressful period. Knowing who or where to turn to for support can seem difficult too; as you likely have an emotional connection to your business, and the stigma of perceived failure is strong. This can be especially true in a family business, or one that’s passed on through generations.

What opportunities are there for small businesses?

As we now emerge from a recession, consider what new opportunities lie ahead. Three successive months of growth is good news – the challenge now is to build on this momentum.

The Federation of Small Businesses found that almost half (45.7%) of small businesses expected to have higher revenues in Q2 this year. Small traders’ growth expectations have also risen, with 52.4% predicting they would expand in the next 12 months. This is the highest reading of this measure since the end of 2021.

Retail Week’s Consumer survey found that people still value face-to-face interactions when they spend their money. Just 28% said they do the majority of their shopping online.

There’s no beating the convenience of working with someone local. In fact, of those who prefer to shop with small businesses, 57% said their main reason was because they want their money to be spent within their community.

How can your business community help?

So how can you find the right support as a business owner? Having likeminded people you can go to, who understand not only what it’s like to run a business, but to be active in your locality, is key.

Community breeds collaboration and growth. So connecting with other business owners who complement your trade is mutually beneficial. The advantages of doing so can be both practical and emotional.

For example, strengthen your supply chain so that you aren’t reliant on just one provider. By connecting with multiple suppliers, you protect your business if one can’t provide your usual stock or is more expensive than usual. But it also can prevent the unnecessary stress of being left in the lurch if you can’t get the supplies you need – because you have other options.

Secondly, a robust payment and debt recovery plan will go a long way. You can’t always rely on the ‘back of a cigarette’ agreement; a proper contract will serve both you and your clients well. Having the right legal advice, for example, from a local solicitor or business advisor, could help you structure this in a way that protects both you and your clients.

Even your client base forms a part of your community. When choosing a builder, or plumber, or any other business service, people often rely on recommendations from friends and family. That’s why making a good impression, and leaving each customer pleased with your work sets you up for ongoing opportunities. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.

How to build a business community

If you’re wondering how to start, or even grow your business community, it’s not as intimidating as it may initially seem. Start simple, and look out for community noticeboards in local shops where you can advertise your business – and also find potential collaborators.

The same approach works online, so join local community groups on social media. You can build a good reputation by recommending other businesses, and stay updated about what’s affecting your local community.

The next step is to join local networking groups. These are fantastic for connecting with other entrepreneurs can help you grow. You can discover new opportunities, from partnerships to potential clients. These groups are also great places to share knowledge, experiences and resources. So if things do get tough, you know there are people in the same boat, who can empathise and offer meaningful advice.

Developing Business Community connections 

Our Howden branches are embedded into their local communities and always willing to go the extra mile in connecting with businesses in the area. As an example Chris Beane, manager of the Howden Shrewsbury branch, is running a local promotion for businesses that are ‘in the loop’ (a colloquial phrase for Shrewsbury describing the area of the town formed by the loop of the River Severn that is widely known by the local business community).

If any business that is ‘in the loop’ reviews their business insurance with Chris and his team, he’ll give them a bespoke hamper showcasing the best of what other Shrewsbury businesses have to offer. Chris has also teamed up with the local Shrewsbury BID (Business Improvement District) as part of his promotion, and for any others towns that have an active BID, they present a good opportunity for local engagement and collaboration.

Similarly a humble cup of coffee can go a long way in business, helping to forge new relationships and bring people together. For the Howden Camberley branch, a free coffee and cake offer has put the proof in the pudding!

The team has connected with The Rainbow Café, where all proceeds go towards Age Concern Surrey Heath, an award-winning local volunteering service. They arranged to offer free coffee and cake tokens to the local community, supported by Howden, and then visited independent businesses in Camberley, inviting them to the event. The turnout was so strong that the café had a record-breaking day of profits.  

Connect with your local Howden Commercial team

Ultimately, every business relies on the support of local people in order for a business community to thrive. Local traders can offer experiences beyond a remote, or online-only presence, whether that’s the ability to try before you buy, or more personal customer service, or in our own case, the face-to-face professional advice which we pride ourselves on.

Howden Insurance are shining a light on the vibrant local independent businesses that we’re lucky to have in the UK, through our community notice boards and via social media. Each week, we’re highlighting businesses, at no cost to you, aiming to boost their visibility.

Pop by your nearest Howden Commercial branch to discover your community’s local business spotlight, and find out about the opportunities on offer. Plus, our expert advisors will be able to help you find the right commercial cover for your business.

Sources: Forbes, Retail Week, FSB, BBC News

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