Whenever I meet business customers across the country, I’m always impressed anew by their entrepreneurial flair. The creativity and energy people bring to launching and growing their enterprises never fails to astonish me.
These qualities have certainly been tested in the UK in recent months. The Brexit conversation has been long and in large part unedifying. The only certainty at present is further uncertainty, but entrepreneurs can nevertheless approach 2019 with confidence.
Brexit: clearer skies?
Until recently, many smaller businesses had understandably adopted a wait-and-see course amid so much uncertainty. Often, caution meant holding back on investment in favour of building a cash cushion.
But our most recent research reveals that small businesses are now more likely to be planning actively for Brexit, an approach previously confined mostly to larger firms. This is reassuring; it means many small business owners enter the new year on a strong footing.
At HSBC UK, we have been striving to maintain that edge on our clients’ behalf. We’ve been supporting individual customers to work through the implications of Brexit on their costs and margins, and on their relationships with buyers and suppliers. For the wider business community, we’ve offered practical updates on the Brexit journey at critical points.
It was gratifying to learn, in the same research, that most of our business customers are now confident that HSBC UK can help to steer them through the effects of Brexit. There are still hurdles to come, but no matter what the ultimate outcome, I give my reassurance that we’ll respond with the support and flexibility that businesses need.
Skills and finance
Brexit haziness is far from the only challenge, of course. The pressure most commonly mentioned to me by business owners today is recruitment. Employers in several sectors remain concerned about their ability to hire people with the right skill sets and the right attitudes.
At HSBC UK, we strive to help SMEs resolve their skills gaps by connecting them with colleges and universities. And we continue to support apprenticeships – in our own business, as well as in our clients’ operations.
The other common stumbling-block is lack of funding, whether that’s for acquiring new equipment or office space, or just to take that next big market leap.
Again, we aim to help, not least through our £12bn SME fund – expanded this year, after last year’s fund was fully taken up. Customers tell us the fund’s existence has given them confidence to revive their ambitions, in the knowledge that backing is available.
For many, those ambitions include overseas expansion. According to HSBC’s latest Navigator report, three-quarters of UK businesses share our positive outlook about overseas trade – which is why £1bn of the SME fund is ring-fenced for that purpose.
As a bank with an expert presence in all the key markets – including Europe, the US and the fast-growth Asian economies – we’re perfectly positioned to help small firms establish themselves as overseas suppliers.
The UK’s entrepreneurs have an insatiable appetite to try new things. Technology has reduced the barriers to market entry. Even if Brexit uncertainty has meant putting some of those ambitions in storage, now is the time to break out of hibernation.
Backing your ambitions
As the new year dawns, I know SME owners will revive their taste for innovation; testing new ideas, planning for different scenarios and challenging their own business models.
My key message would be that you don’t need to do it alone. Running a business can be isolating. SME owners don’t and can’t have the benefit of a breadth of business relationships, offering a panorama of common patterns, predicaments and solutions.
At HSBC UK, we have that insight and experience, and we’ll share it to help you succeed.
I wish you and your business a happy and prosperous 2019 and beyond.
UK entrepreneurs have an insatiable appetite to try new things. So, even if Brexit uncertainty has meant putting ambitions in storage, now is the time to break out of hibernation.