Business Leader Magazine recently sat down with Darren Holdway, the regional managing partner at chartered accountants, Haines Watts, to discuss the future of business for SMEs.
Holdway has been a partner at Haines Watts since 1996 and has over 20 years experience in advising owners on all matters pertaining to their businesses. He offers advice and support to help them achieve their business goals and personal aspirations.
With a worldwide rise in political and economic uncertainty, there are many areas of business in which companies need to be prepared for.
What dangers are SMEs facing at the moment?
Business owners are facing an uncertain future. Disruption is an almost universal fear among UK SMEs. As we know, disruption can come in various forms. The most feared being government policy, such as Brexit, with nearly half naming this as a worry. Closely followed by the age old concerns around customer expectations and competition from larger businesses. Startups and new business models such as Uber and Airbnb, also pose a threat as more and more industries are being impacted by innovative newcomers.
What other issues do you think will arise over the next few years?
I think it is fair to say that in the coming years disruption challenges will gather pace and spread to more industries. Business owners will need to pay particular attention to technological disruption and the conversations surrounding augmented robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and the like. Dependencies on key members of staff and the business owners themselves will also prove to be increasingly challenging as companies struggle to recruit the highly sought after technological skills that will be needed in the years ahead.
Are SME owners prepared for the levels of disruption that you think they will face?
No at all, our findings speak for themselves. Despite the fact that 96% of SME owners expressed concerns around disruption, only one in ten say they have a plan in place to guide their business through that disruption. While it can be difficult to envision how these threats will play out, that does not mean that preparation cannot get under way. Ultimately, by committing time and thought to their own innovation and agility, business owners can ensure they are not blindsided by the disruption they are destined to face.
Has worldwide political instability and lack of clarity from the UK government had an effect?
The current political landscape has encouraged business owners to think seriously about the potential for change in their current business environment. However, I don’t believe that it is necessarily directing their attention to the right areas. For example, Brexit, like all legislation is slow moving, predictable and well communicated. Other forms of disruption aren’t so forgiving and can swoop in quickly and without warning.
Has the role of chartered accountant changed in recent years?
The role of the chartered accountant has always been as a key adviser to business owners. One that can bring a wealth of experience, wider knowledge and context to their clients. The difference now is that CAs are getting much more sophisticated about it, and are able to help shape the decision making process, assist business owners in thinking beyond their bottom line and focusing on everything from mental health through to leadership culture.
Out of the business owners you speak too, what is their biggest worry?
It’s hard to distill such a broad range into one overarching concern, at least beyond Brexit. One that I hear a lot about is dependency. Often business owners know that they control too much of the day to day happenings of their companies when they should be spending more time on long term planning, innovation or strategy, but find it difficult to hand over some of that control.
How can your role and industry help SMEs?
Every SME owner is learning and experiencing things for the first time. Even serial entrepreneurs may feel they lack experience in some areas or may face brand new challenges as time, technology and their teams change. As advisers, we see the challenges faced by a wide range of people who have come at them from all angles. We can use that experience to help clients find the right answers to the questions they have, or to see alternatives that might have been hard to imagine without a little more context.