It’s been a seesaw year to be a business owner. According to research carried out by Hitachi Capital, volatile cashflow, red tape and regulations, and an ever-shifting political landscape mean start-ups are experiencing barriers to growth and are uncertain about their future plans...
Despite the challenges business owners are facing, the study also revealed that the percentage of small businesses citing barriers to growth has fallen since October 2015, from 77 per cent to 72 per cent. What may seem like a small drop is actually indicative of something bigger: businesses are resilient and can adapt in the face of disruption.
We spoke to a few entrepreneurs about the challenges they’ve faced this year and what their biggest takeaways from 2016 have been.
Pelagonia, a food importer
Philip Evans moved to Macedonia in 2009. Having previously worked as a chef in the UK he set up Pelagonia, a food business exporting local specialities and recipes.
"As we all know too well, Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty and the pound has fallen significantly in value," he says. "We’ve had to think long and hard about what this means for us as many of customers measure sales per unit or per case and increasing the price would probably mean less product. As an alternative, we’re pursuing growing sales in markets operating in other currencies that are more stable.
"We're learning that there many uncontrollable elements in the external environment. Instead of complaining about them, we must channel our energy to find unexpected opportunities in the middle of the chaos. I always believe that the disruption shifts the landscape and creates opportunities that you never imagined."
Hassle, a cleaner-booking platform
For players in the sharing economy, political changes are making recruiting more difficult and, consequently, could have a negative impact on raising investment as overseas investors may be put off by a lack of stability.
"Brexit has been the biggest disruption for us this year, given that around 40 per cent of cleaners operating through our platform are from EU nations," says Chad West from Hassle, an app through which users can arrange house cleaning.
"Naturally, we're very keen to understand what the impacts will be on freedom of movement, and there does not seem to be a conclusive understanding of this at present. We imagine this will be established in 2017. As one of the UK's fastest growing tech start-ups, we have a huge amount of demand and can often struggle to find the supply, particular in smaller cities."
As anyone involved in the sharing economy will tell you, companies continuously have to adapt to new regulations and to compete with new entrants. But regarding what next year will mean for recruiting, Hassle, like others, will play the long game and wait to see how things pan out.
Ocushield, a tech company
A recent survey carried out by Fujitsu showed that 97 per cent of business owners said digital disruption had impacted their business and 92 per cent admitted their business would need to evolve in order to thrive. Furthermore, 44 per cent were convinced their organisation wouldn’t exist in its current form in five years’ time.
Dhruvin Patel is the creator of Ocushield, a screen protector that shields eyes from the blue light emitted by smartphones and computers. As a qualified healthcare professional and trained optometrist, Patel thought he was onto a winner, but a year after launching his product Apple released Night Shift as part of a software update.
"When news of this was coming out, I honestly thought that’s it we’re finished, especially as our product was designed for Apple devices as they didn’t have anything like this available at the time," Patel says.
Patel adds that they had to swiftly pivot their pitch to show that Ocushield still had value - primarily that it didn’t turn the screen slightly orange and reduce image and viewing quality.
"From thinking it was all going to come crashing down we’ve managed to stay more than afloat."
Target Internet, a digital marketing training company
Daniel Rowles, who runs Brighton-based Target Internet that delivers digital marketing e-learning and whose clients include Tesco, Sony and UBS, has had a similar experience with a tech giant. Google’s expansion of its free online marketing tuition has meant his company has had to rethink its strategy.
"We're always glad to take on a challenge, but competing directly with the likes of Google isn't the smartest bet," Rowles says.
"This year we opted instead to reposition ourselves, and we've enjoyed great success as a result. The change is subtle but significant. Previously we were e-learning providers; now we focus on helping organisations improve their digital capacity. This more personalised and invested approach means we're still offering something that bigger competitors hopefully can't match."