New research from Santander UK reveals that a quarter (25%) of SMEs in the Midlands plan to make their Covid-19 adaptations a permanent feature post-pandemic as over half (51%) found they not only survived, but actually grew their customer base during Covid-19.
The study – which polled 2,050 senior leaders in UK SMEs – suggests that the pandemic has driven long-term change to the way businesses operate.
Over half (53%) of SMEs in the Midlands adapted and changed the way they do business as a result of Covid-19 and half (50%) now plan to completely rethink their long-term business strategy moving forward.
Introducing alternative operating hours was the most widely implemented operational change, with almost one in five (18%) business owners in the Midlands taking this step. Changing delivery methods(12%) and moving their business online (14%) were also methods used to ensure business continuity during Covid-19. But over a third (38%) of SMEs said they would not be ready to face any other challenges or future crises until they had dealt with Covid-19, with less than one in five expecting their business to operate a pre-Covid-19 levels again by the end of 2020.
Santander’s study showed that businesses in the Midlands were quick to respond to the pandemic, with over four in five (81%) of those who adapted bringing in their changes before the end of March 20203. Looking ahead, of the SMEs who rethought their long-term business strategy due to Covid-19, a quarter (26%) plan to have their staff working more remotely in future while 29% say their business will be more online. More drastically, more than one in five (22%) say they will look to re-purpose their business completely – higher than any other region in the UK.
The efforts of SMEs have been well received by the public, as a separate Santander study of over 2,000 UK consumers found that 60% want local SMEs to keep the changes they made once the pandemic is over. In a boost for local businesses, over three quarters (77%) of consumers feel that the pandemic has shown them that Britain would be worse off without SME businesses.
Despite the innovations of SMEs helping them to survive the pandemic so far, over half of SME leaders in the Midlands (55%) have reported a decline in their profits and revenues, which suggests that despite attracting new customers, consumers have been spending less with them.
Santander found that a third (32%) of SME leaders in the Midlands feel anxious about the future of their business. A particular worry among almost a fifth (18%) of SMEs in the Midlands is the level of investment in marketing needed to restore customer spending to pre-Covid-19 levels.
The findings come as Santander launches a new business support programme, ‘Survive and Revive’ designed to help businesses transition successfully out of the lockdown and ensure they have the capabilities and tools to prosper in a post-pandemic environment.
Susan Davies, head of business banking, Santander UK, said: “SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy, and now more than ever, are proving to be invaluable to the local communities in which they serve. With many adapting, almost overnight to survive, we are proud to have helped them on their journey through the provision of more than £3 billion in Bounce Back Loans. Now with the launch of our new business support programme, we hope to continue to help small businesses as we emerge from lockdown and look to the future.”