There are good reasons to be cheerful about what 2021 will bring, says Ian Smith, CEO of Time Finance.

As we welcome 2021, its worth considering that, despite the unprecedented turbulence and ongoing economic uncertainty, there are clear signs of resilience and innovation.

Following many months of business predictions, projections and promises of bounce-backs around every corner, what was the reality for UK businesses?

We saw many sectors devastated by the crisis, finding themselves held back. But, anecdotally, it seemed others were finding ways to adapt, to overcome the hurdles presented during these difficult times.

To discover the reality, we decided to speak directly to those on the ground.

In a recent survey – carried out by us in November 2020 of 200 UK business owners – we were able to gauge how SMEs throughout the UK were able to navigate through the crisis brought on by Covid-19, and what their learnings were.

The findings bring a welcome degree of reassurance and hope to the industry.

We discovered that 1 in 5 businesses have innovated their offering in response to the crisis and that 45% are currently considering investments in new or improved products and/or services.

This matters not only to our industry and other businesses who can learn from this, but to the wider economy and its future. The even bigger news is that 70% of UK businesses have either remained stable or flourished in 2020. And, when asked to comment on their current outlook, the vast majority answered with a reassuring level of optimism.

What the survey found, and what our experience tells us, is that business has grown in the past few months and continues to do so.

Emerged from the pandemic with a greater focus on what is important to make the business grow.

Time Finance

Finding opportunities

Turning obstacles into opportunities has been a skill borne out of this crisis for many business owners. There has also been a great deal of strength and resilience on display, with some even able to turn the onslaught of challenges into something constructive.

Our research reflects this as the majority of businesses exhibited stability or growth during lockdown. Despite a fifth making significant cutbacks and a third temporarily ceasing trading, 1 in 5 actually innovated their offerings and 1 in 3 continued trading as normal.

Perhaps due to the unprecedented nature of what was happening, the first lockdown resulted in a halting effect for some. As a result, some businesses held back and took stock of their situation before moving forward.

By the time we were entering Lockdown 2.0, businesses weren’t prepared to delay their plans any longer and revealed that they felt more equipped to tackle the challenges in front of them. Our survey revealed that 81% felt better prepared second time around, and 1 in 3 felt that the impact would be less detrimental.

Despite a residual degree of uncertainty, business leaders report feeling hopeful and positive as they near the end of 2020.

Results reveal 45% continue to have plans to make investments in new products or services. Included in the most sought-after areas for investment were new equipment (13%), marketing (13%) and/or in operational and technological advancements (11%).

Surviving: 66% of those surveyed by Time Finance said their business would survive economic uncertainty, with only 4% believing they may not.

Investing: 61% feel now is a good time to invest, with only 15% believing the opposite. Additionally, 45% state they’re considering investments in new, improved products or services.

Borrowing: 58% of those surveyed are using existing cashflow to remain buoyant, while 39% are using BBL or CBILS. 23% are using an existing alternative finance provider or looking for one, and just 6% are receiving funding through banks.

Sentiments revealed in the survey included responses such as; “Challenging, but ready to grow” and “Cautiously optimistic.” Overall, it seems there is a clear trend of cautious optimism across the board, and always a degree of hope.

Before 2020, never had there been a more time-critical call to arms for funders, to ensure businesses received the lifelines they needed – not only for survival but for growth.

As national lockdowns were enforced, stability and security were at the forefront of every business owner’s mind. Whilst remaining open for business themselves, we worked on a case-by-case basis to issue over £30m in forbearance; ensuring businesses received the right level of support.

After riding out the initial wave, and seeing the pandemic continuing, businesses threw themselves into innovation as the need for investment and growth intensified.

In response, we designed and launched, Low Start, a new affordable payment structure across our leasing solution.

Becoming an accredited CBILS lending partner in May also greatly expanded the support we could provide, and helped many businesses to access the cash they so urgently needed.

The company has also recently rebranded from 1pm plc to Time Finance, a move that absolutely forms part of a strategic plan for us – to propel our business further forward in our marketplace and strengthen our support to UK businesses.

Time Finance reflects who we are as a business today, as well as our ambition to be the primary choice for UK businesses and their advisors looking for a trusted finance partner with a comprehensive funding solution.

Ian Smith is the chief executive of Time Finance