Our recent survey about challenges and issues faced by small businesses received a fantastic response and we are still poring through the data. A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to respond!
Your opinions as members of the small business community are very important to us. Your feedback helps us develop a deeper understanding of your business challenges and aspirations. In turn, this helps us to identify new services we can develop to address your needs.
We hope, through this work, to deliver some real benefit to the small business community. Our purpose, after all, is to work with you, the small business owner, to help you grow your business and fulfil your potential.
Here’s a flavour of some of the main themes.
The first part of the survey invited respondents to rate their effectiveness across eight business disciplines, identify areas of potential improvement and suggest ways in which we, as accountants, might help make a difference. (The disciplines mirror those in our “Guide to Growth for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs”). More than one in five felt that the People aspect of their business required improvement. A similar number indicated that the Marketing and Finance elements of the business required improvement.
By contrast, less than 10% of respondents felt their Leadership or Strategic capabilities required improvement. The response on the Strategy point, in particular, surprised us; in our experience, comparatively few small businesses seem to have a cohesive strategic planning process or formal, up to date business plan. This could suggest we need to work harder to help small business owners understand the value and benefits of robust strategic planning.
Suggestions as to how to improve small business’s capabilities were slightly thin on the ground. We’re not sure whether this was due to some reluctance (understandably) to be entirely candid (even though the fact the survey was secure and anonymised); or whether it was down to a lack of ideas as to how to improve, which would be rather more worrying. There was a small number of well considered suggestions which we will take forward, including in the spheres of business planning; social media; business process improvement; and skills development.
The second part of the survey focused on skills development. We invited respondents to indicate their level of interest in improving their skills (and those of their staff) across a range of disciplines. Well over half expressed a desire to improve their ability to interpret financial information. Clearly there is an opportunity for us to play to our strengths here!
Intriguingly, about half of respondents were keen to receive help with their Leadership and Strategy capabilities, despite the fact that only ten percent of them were dissatisfied with their existing business arrangements in these crucial areas! Maybe this shows that the way in which a question is framed can significantly influence the response?
In terms of respondents’ preferred format for skills development work, there was a clear preference, overall, for group sessions rather than one to one. We feel it makes sense to explore this further, and perhaps start to provide opportunities for business owners to network and learn from each other, too. There is no formal business networking scene locally at the moment; is there an appetite for this?
In the final part of the survey we took the opportunity to gauge levels of awareness about some of our existing services. The point of this was to see how well respondents knew and understood that we help small businesses in a variety of ways, beyond the traditional field of compliance activity (accounts, tax returns etc).
The response confirmed some of what we have been seeing anecdotally; there is still quite a low level of awareness of our IT, Business Planning, Cloud Accounting, and Management Reporting/ KPI services. By contrast, almost all respondents knew that we provide Tax Planning services.
Clearly we, and probably the accounting profession as a whole, must work harder to change the perception of what accountants can offer. Our purpose at Scholes CA is to help small businesses grow and succeed; preparing accounts and tax returns is something we do, but it’s not why we are here. There is a much, much wider range of services we can provide to help small businesses prosper; and thanks to your feedback, we are now in a better position to develop new services which will help you do exactly that.