At our latest Breakfast & Brainfood event, we were joined by BVA BDRC’s Shiona Davies and attendees from across the banking and commercial finance space to discuss how SMEs are faring financially amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Shiona took us through the most recent SME Finance Monitor, focusing on the immediate impact of COVID-19, the trading impact and, lastly, the funding impact.
The SME Finance Monitor showed that almost all of the SME owners that took part have been impacted by COVID-19 (87%), and, worryingly, half said their income was already down by 50% or more. Interestingly, it also revealed a distinct three-way split when it comes to how business owners are feeling about their business prospects today: those who are still worrying about the here and now; those now focused on doing what they can to continue operating; and those lifting their heads up and focusing on planning for the future.
Not only is this particularly interesting when we’re looking at the business landscape, but from a communications perspective too. An understanding of these feelings helps marketers connect with their audiences with sensitivity to the uncertainty and anxiety that many businesses are experiencing. We need to ensure that we are tonally relevant for each specific group and therefore consider our messaging and outreach accordingly.
Another important consideration is how we approach different types of businesses; the findings showed that outlook sentiment varies significantly by size of business and the sector in which they operate. On the whole, the smaller businesses surveyed had a less positive business outlook, compared to their larger counterparts. And while the outlook for the agricultural sector was very positive, those in construction and the hotel / leisure industry, were unsurprisingly downbeat, given the challenges they’ve faced.
These nuances must inform how we reach, connect and engage with our audiences – with sensitivity to their specific segment challenges to reassure audiences that activity is considered and, most importantly, authentic.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how businesses behave to reach their objectives. The Finance Monitor showed an increase in innovation among SMEs, perhaps in response to COVID-19, although fewer smaller ones were undertaking business planning. At the same time, future appetite for finance increased markedly in Q2 2020, which could be due to the support measures introduced by the Government. However, the number of existing users of external finance who were concerned about their ability to repay their loan doubled between Q1 and Q2, highlighting the detrimental impact the pandemic has had on SME finances.
This was an area highlighted by our attendees, who were curious about businesses’ cash flow over the next few months, whether the industry can expect to see a surge in late payments, and where SMEs are turning to for financial advice. We also know that businesses from various sectors are feeling the effects of COVID-19 differently, which led to questions around whether or not we will see the industry introducing any sector-specific solutions.
With one of the most dramatic economic downturns in history characterising today’s landscape, and a host of known unknowns still on the horizon – individuals and businesses alike are feeling disconcerted. But it’s important to remember that out of every crisis comes the opportunity to learn, and COVID-19 is no exception. For comms professionals, the global pandemic has further highlighted the need for a personalised and tailored approach to meet the needs of businesses of all shapes and sizes. It is only by communicating in this way, that we can cut through the noise and truly deliver impact.