By Mark Robinson, Market Business Developer, Canon
The European economy looks to have made a steady start to 2015, and for many small businesses, 2015 should be a year of opportunity. Various economic indicators suggest conditions are improving and optimistic predictions present opportunities for small business owners to push their firms forwards. However, recent research from Canon into the mood of SMBs and SoHos across Europe indicates that there are several key challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve success.
The European Union predicts growth of 1.1 per cent across the Eurozone throughout 2015. The figure is nothing startling and has actually been revised downwards from earlier estimates of 1.7 per cent.
But these statistics still represent a significant reversal from the cross-continent downturn of the late noughties. For any sign of growth to be apparent, organisations will have to take advantage of the upturn – and SMBs recognise there are new opportunities for business development.
Facing up to external economic considerations
Research firm ICM recently polled more than 1,200 small business owners across Europe on behalf of Canon. The research suggests that many SMBs already have development-focused aspirations. Respondents mention terms such as “business growth”, “improved customer service” and “future expansion”.
While economic conditions remain challenging, many small businesses appreciate the next 12 months should be a time to focus on operational improvements and business innovations. However, there is a big difference between aspirations and achievements – which will be core to the challenge faced by many SMBs.
The research suggests SMBs and SoHos often feel restricted in their attempts to grow, with some strong regional variations. German owners tend to take the most positive outlook, while British owners have mixed feelings about business development, despite brighter national prospects.
French business owners feel driven, notwithstanding tough economic conditions. Likewise in Spain, SMB and SoHo owners are focused on growth but feely hugely challenged by the economy. 33 per cent of business owners in the UK – and as much as 75 per cent of Spanish small businesses – state the wider economic situation in their country is the key external challenge their business faces on a day to day basis.
The research also highlights the underlying impact of economic conditions on small businesses; exposing their fragility to drastic fluctuations. While some countries are seeing signs of recovery across multiple sectors, others are struggling to return to pre-recession confidence levels.
Issues are not confined to national borders, either. Almost a third (30 per cent) of respondents cite the economic or political situation in their countries as another issue, while 27 per cent refer to a lack of finance or credit.
Dealing with internal business issues
For many small business owners, external considerations will represent a frustrating bind – it is simply not possible to control wider issues of economic confidence and political governance. But while national and cross-national issues are outside an SMB or SoHo owners’ grasp, some key issues lie much closer to home and are within a business proprietor’s influence.
Businesses that are keen to take advantage of any signs of an economic recovery must be able to move quickly. Rather than being restricted by the way the business operates, SMB and SoHo owners must have the flexibility to go out and communicate with clients in order to discover their new demands.
As many as 45 per cent of European small firms recognise that identifying new business prospects and customer retention are key challenges. Unfortunately, not every small business owner is able to focus on addressing client concerns; more than a quarter (28 per cent) of SMB and SoHo owners would like to spend more time on customer service issues.
Flexibility is a key component for small businesses looking to capitalise on the economic upturn. The challenge however, is reprioritising daily tasks and the time required to meet new customer demands. While some will take advantage of new economic opportunities, other firms will struggle due to an inability to focus on the key areas of customer service and business development. Every second counts – and for small businesses, cutting administration is a key way to free up valuable time and resources.
Taking advantage of new opportunities
More than a quarter (28 per cent) of SMB owners believe they spend too much time on paperwork. By actively leveraging new printing, scanning and information management technologies, small businesses can reduce the time they spend filing, and increase the time they spend cultivating client relationships and developing their business.
Multi-function devices are just one of the many tools available for SMB owners to scan documents and digitise their operations. Then, through a connection to the cloud, they can process documents on the move from a variety of mobile devices – freeing up more time for owners to focus on what’s important to their business.
The good news is that some small business owners are already realising how advances in print and scanning technology can have a positive impact.
Just over a quarter (26 per cent) of SMB owners suggest a desire for business growth and innovation is a key factor in their decision to purchase or repurchase print hardware, such as scanners and multi-function printers. In the UK specifically 28 per cent of businesses believe that having a good document management system is essential to reduce the burden associated with administration.
The battle to return to growth quickly means small business owners must dedicate more time to customer demands. And by overcoming the burden associated with administration, small businesses will feel more confident dedicating time to service, innovation and growth.
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