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How can SMEs prepare for lockdown easing?

business-articlesHow can SMEs prepare for lockdown easing?
As lockdown restrictions (hopefully) come to an end in the coming months, many SMEs are already preparing for business after lockdown. But entering a world that has changed vastly since the beginning of the pandemic, how do you go back to business as usual, when as usual doesn’t exist anymore?
 
With a phased reopening of the UK’s economy starting, the way we work and operate has changed completely. So how can SMEs prepare for lockdown restrictions easing in a way that benefits employees and businesses alike?
 

Supply chain issues

Brexit and coronavirus together have caused a wide array of issues, from increased shipping costs, to delays in products even entering the UK from the EU or vice-versa. SMEs need to prepare for the problems that arise during this time.
 
It appears that a significant problem many businesses are having adapting in the post-Brexit environment involve completing the right paperwork. This is shown by up to 20% of movements being rejected per day due to stricter border control following the end of the Brexit transition period.
 
The main way for businesses to limit these problems is to plan, and plan again. Having set protocols for your business can help to limit any mistakes when sending products to the EU, or having supplies delivered into the UK.
 
By creating guidance for your business and learning about the rule changes since the transitionary period has come to an end, you will be able to save your business time, money, and a lot of hassle as restrictions ease and you become busier.
 
More information to support your business and control supply chain issues can be found at: https://readyforbrexit.co.uk/
 
On top of Brexit and coronavirus, businesses are facing delayed manufacturing times due to demand, the blockage in the Suez Canal, and increased shipping costs due to a lack of containers and storage space.
 
With these potential delays, you’ll need to be prepared to adapt. Managing customer expectations well in advance on lead times and cost, and managing suppliers by monitoring scheduling, quality, and delivery to catch issues before they arise are as important as ever.
 

Supporting staff

As businesses begin to work towards reopening, a return to the workplace can be daunting for employers and employees alike and many businesses should be cautious and mindful when preparing for that return.
 
Where once eight-hour workdays, five days a week from the office was the norm, the new normal includes reduced hours, workloads, and staff numbers. With 41% of SME’s saying that they will keep flexible working as an option to employees once the lockdown has ended, working to support staff not only involves being flexible but also looking out for both the physical and mental health of your employees.
 
Switching to a phased reopening or discussing with the prospect of working 50/50 in the office and at home may make employees more optimistic and feel cared about as we make the move into uncharted territory.
 
With so much disruption from the pandemic and people’s expectations around work, listening to your employees’ needs is the first step in supporting staff.
 

End of furlough

With Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently announcing an extension of the furlough scheme until September of 2021 (meaning the scheme will have been running for almost a year and a half), many employers must start to think about their own roadmap out of using the scheme.
 
Since August of 2020, many employers have already begun covering National Insurance and pension contributions, whether they have been trading or not.
 
Although furlough will continue until September, from July onwards the Government’s contribution to that will gradually reduce, with employers asked to contribute more.
 
With these growing costs, SMEs need to be forecasting and assessing whether they’ll be generating enough revenue to accommodate these changes and start making decisions about whether to bring employees back part-time or ease back into work before costs increase further.
 

Marketing spend

62% of SMEs have indicated that they will be increasing (or have already increased) their marketing spend as we navigate out of national lockdown measures.
 
In addition, as consumers have turned increasingly digital over the course of the pandemic, businesses have had to adjust accordingly, with online marketing becoming a key part in attracting new and keeping existing customers.
 
For many SMEs it seems that budgeting for a larger marketing presence is the way forward to help support your business. Ecommerce is here to stay despite the reopening of retail shops expected in the coming months as consumers’ habits likely become permanent.
 
That said, research does suggest that SMEs expect a significant growth opportunity will be increased footfall in 2021 as physical premises reopen.
 

What have we learnt?

Throughout the numerous lockdowns and restrictions, SMEs have learnt that first and foremost they can survive a global pandemic, and the phrase ‘expect the unexpected’ really rings true.
 
Whilst many SMEs have transformed their business model to suit a world online and found support through the UK Government’s schemes, going forward adaptability remains key.
 
It’s important to remember that pandemic-induced trade problems are temporary, and the challenge moving forward is to create the demand for products and attract new customers, as well as new markets.
 
Although easier said than done, the resilience of SMEs to broach new working environments makes that challenge possible.
 
The Barclaycard Payments SME Barometer published in late February indicated that business sentiment is looking more positive and 70% are optimistic about what’s ahead, suggesting that SMEs are ready for the next stage of the pandemic no matter what it brings.
 
There will remain a cautious approach to operating a business in the coming months and even years ahead but finding new ways to work and moving to a new ‘digital’ normal has allowed many SMEs to thrive and not just survive.
 
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