Three quick wins SMEs can make to ensure a successful 2018

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By Greg Liset, Head of Small Business, Barclaycard

The year is well and truly underway and SMEs are progressing plans for a successful 2018 and beyond. Already, they may have encountered many competing demands and concerns – for example, maintaining business growth in an uncertain economic and political environment, and making substantial up-front investments in potentially transformative new technologies.

These issues can pull decision-makers in different directions, and make it hard to judge the best way forward. Through our experience of working with SMEs, Barclaycard has identified three ‘quick wins’ that will help small businesses continue on the right lines in 2018. 

Upgrade your payment technology

Payment technology is evolving at pace. Businesses that don’t keep up with this rate of change are missing out on potential revenue. Barclaycard research highlighted that consumers walk away from £1.6bn worth of sales every year with SME retailers because they can’t pay the way they want to.

Despite this opportunity, almost half (47 per cent) of SME retailers told us they have not updated their payment strategy for more than a year, and fewer than one in five (19 per cent) had consulted a payment provider to discuss their options. Furthermore, 25 per cent admitted they don’t know how to get started, or think it would be too complicated.

The reality is, upgrading your payment technology both online and in-store so it’s faster, easier and convenient for customers to make a purchase can be a hugely beneficial ‘quick-win’ for smaller businesses. Simple changes like these can have a significant impact. 

Explore how innovative technologies could help your business grow

Aside from payment technology, other forms of innovation continue to transform industries – and the rate of change is only set to increase. This is creating new headaches for SME leaders; often they don’t have the resources or dedicated IT teams of large corporations, but must still keep up with developments in their industry and changing customer expectations.

Our research highlighted that seven in ten (71 per cent) SMEs are worried about being unable to stay up to date with technological change. The same proportion is concerned about keeping up with their competitors.

Forward-thinking small businesses will recognise, however, that technology isn’t solely a threat – it presents opportunities for growth, especially for those that can experiment and be nimble. This is an area where a little external support can make a big difference. Almost half (47 per cent) of SMEs would be keen to call on experts in emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality to see how these new concepts could improve their offering. With the help of partners, keeping up with technical innovation might not be as huge of an undertaking as it seems.

Be prepared for cyber-threats

In 2017, the discussion around cyber-security gained momentum after a number of high-profile cases such as the WannaCry ransomware attack. Many businesses found that a cyber-hack could have a crippling effect on both them and their customers.

Despite this, we found that a quarter (25 per cent) of SMEs are not worried at all about cyber-attacks. This compares to just 10 per cent of large corporations. The fact is, no business can be complacent about cyber-security. Whether it’s a quick audit of your systems or bringing expertise on board to inform your cyber-security strategy, SMEs can start 2018 on the right foot by having all the right measures in place for the worst case cyber-security scenario.

One way to do this is by considering cyber-security as early in their business development as possible to avoid any costly retrofitted solutions in the future. At the very least, small businesses should ensure they meet the minimum requirements for security as set out by the PCI Security Standards Council, an industry body which also offers resources specifically for SMEs.

Another fast and easy way to stay informed is through the Business Fraud Prevention pages on Barclays’ Digital Safety Hub, which helps businesses and consumers to fight back against fraudsters.

To take protection to the next level, small businesses should start or continue having conversations with their suppliers. Many will have experts who can provide insight into the latest threats and solutions. Added support could give SMEs greater peace of mind – and ultimately, the freedom to focus on their business.

By undertaking steps such as the above, smaller businesses can make sure they’re not viewed as the ‘weakest link’ by cyber-criminals. 

Make sure you’re ready for whatever 2018 throws at you

While priorities for this year will of course vary from business to business, in our experience of working with SMEs, most businesses would see significant benefit from ‘quick wins’ in these three key areas.

By taking action now, SMEs can ensure they are ready for whatever 2018 throws at them – and by prioritising investment in the areas that will see greatest benefit, small businesses can make their resources work as hard as possible to ensure 2018 continues to be a successful year.