Current challenges small businesses face in Europe



Even pre-Covid-19, setting up and running a small business wasn’t easy. Now it’s even more challenging. But while the current crisis is far from over, Europe is beginning to reopen cautiously and return to some form of normality 

However, many more challenges lie ahead in the wake of the pandemic, not least of all the prospect of a pan-European recession. Here, we take a look at the economic landscape for small businesses over the short to medium term.  



Creating a perfect storm for SMEs 


While Covid-19 is an unprecedented disaster for businesses, it’s important to highlight that economic growth in Europe was already falling before the crisis hit. We were already potentially heading for a downturn with the IMF downgrading forecasts for 2019 from 3.7% to 3.3%. External factors are all still playing their role. The trade war between the US and China was, and still is, severely affecting global growth prospects for European businesses and has created a fall in external demand for EU goods. Relations between the two superpowers are at historic low and the situation is likely to deteriorate further.  

That said, this trade war could potentially create opportunities too. The competitiveness of Chinese and US firms is suffering and EU exporters could benefit. The EU was a key player in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) strengthening trade links with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. President Trump pulled the US out of this agreement immediately upon taking office, leaving the path clear for the other remaining countries to cement the agreement now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). At least five other Asian economies (Taiwan, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines and Thailand) have expressed an interest in joining the initiative and even China is studying the possibility of membership. This could see the EU doing much more business with its APAC neighbours 



Brexit is drawing closer 


Of course, behind the scenes, Brexit is still there. The UK has already left the EU and the deadline for Brexit transition on the 1st January 2021 is creeping ever closer. On this date the rules for importing and exporting goods to the UK will change. However, as the negotiations are still ongoing, what those new rules might entail is anyone’s guess.  

This continued uncertainty continues to weigh heavily on businesses throughout Europe, and the UK. It’s hard to predict how the relationship between European businesses and their UK partners will change after January 2021. Currency volatility, as well as tariffs, will have a big impact on how much business is still done between European companies and their UK partners. A decline in Sterling, for example, will make exports to the UK more expensive for customers there and directly affect European competitiveness. 



Financing small businesses 


Interest rates are set to stay the same (or even fall further in the event of a recession) as inflation remains low. While, theoretically, this should mean lower interest payments for companies that borrow to invest in the business, many SMEs have reported difficulties in securing finance. This has been a long-running problem for small businesses in Europe with many stating that traditional banks are inflexible and bureaucratic. Given a potential recession in the aftermath of Covid-19, this is not likely to improve as banks and other lenders become more reluctant to lend.  

However, with around €65 billion in funding for small business, the European Regional Development Fund could be a big help to struggling SMEs, helping firms access finance, as well as advice and networking opportunities – all of which will be necessary in order to expand into new markets, especially overseas.  

Besides this, many companies will be looking for more help from state authorities in terms of tax breaks and other financial supports to kick-start their businesses as they emerge from lockdown. Most states are already doing something. After all, these companies represent 99% of all businesses in the EU and are hugely important in powering local economies.  



Do more with digital 


Digitisation will continue to be important in cutting costs and driving efficiencies. Just as SMEs have turned to Fintech companies, such as KoalaPaysto help them be more agile and reduce their dependency on traditional banks, technologies such as Big Data, AI and Cloud Computing applications will provide new solutions to help these companies thrive in what could be a very difficult economic environment. Those that can make the best use of new technologies and online platforms will see the benefits in terms of lower costs, increased efficiencies and improved service for their customers 

Small and medium sized businesses are vital for the European economy and play a big role in employment in their own local markets, accounting for more than two-thirds of private sector jobs. Our economy cannot survive without them. Given their importance in our communities, with state help, technological innovation and networking, despite the challenges ahead, European SMEs should continue to succeed on the global stage. 

Five ways for small business owners to increase productivity



If you own a small business, then you probably feel that there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. Prioritising tasks when it comes to cashflow, marketing, admin, tax and dealing with customers isn’t easy. Making the most of the time that is available to you, means being as productive as possible.  

Fortunately, there are ways in which you can increase productivity across every area of your operations.  



Use productivity apps 


If you don’t keep track of the various tasks and projects you’re working on, you won’t get much done. Today, there are many productivity apps designed for small businesses and entrepreneurs to help you organise your workload and your time.  

Use bespoke apps such as Evernote to create To-do lists for short, medium and long term goals. Work through them methodically, delegating where you can. Give tasks a due date and a value, in terms of how easy they will be to complete. Work on the most difficult ones early in the day. If you start your day by completing the most difficult task, then that day has already been a success. Review your To-do lists daily to keep them up-to-date, removing tasks that are no longer relevant. 



Automate your business 


The technology is now available to automate many business tasks and processes, such as payroll, invoicing, CRM and even social media. Make use of it. Research the best solutions for your venture’s needs, as well as any services that can make your job easier. The more you can automate, the less you have to do and the more time you have to focus on core business projects.  

Continually review what’s out there that can help. For instance, at KoalaPays, we’re always looking at new ways to automate tasks for our clients through our platform and add new services that make it easier for you to run your business.  

Likewise, if you find that you’re constantly sending the same emails to customers, suppliers or business partners, create templates for them. That way, they become much quicker to deal with.  



Consider outsourcing 


By using a payment solution provider such as KoalaPays, you’re already outsourcing tasks that used to be done in-house or via a bank. You can’t do everything yourself, so consider outsourcing other functions, such as marketing, payroll, or another specialised area to free up more of your time. You’ll also get the expertise you need to run these functions more efficiently. You might even save money. 

Another way to freeing up more of your time through outsourcing is to hire a virtual assistant. This can be done very inexpensively through a freelancing platform, as long as you take the time to find the right person with the best skillset for your needs.  



The Pareto Principle 


The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule states that in any project 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. You can use this rule to decide which tasks you take on, or which to prioritise. This means reviewing every project that comes your way and investing your time on those which will deliver the most results for the least effort.  

Done right, this can massively boost your productivity. For instance, is there a marketing channel that takes up a lot of your time and isn’t delivering solid returns? If so, cut it out and focus your energies on another channel that is delivering more sales for the business. 



Look after you 


The longer you work, the less productive you become. Take time out to recharge your batteries. Make sure you eat healthily, get enough sleep and exercise. That way, when you are at work you know that you’re operating at optimal effectiveness. Spend time on hobbies and with loved ones. This can give added perspective, focus and clarity to why you do what you do in the first place. 

While all of these things can help you be more productive with your time. It’s important to realise that there are certain non-essential tasks that need attention too. Spend a little time, perhaps just fifteen minutes at the end of the day, to focus on non-urgent tasks, such as looking at what your competitors are doingcarrying out market research or simply catching up on industry news. Because these tasks aren’t seen as urgent, or essential, small business owners often neglect them. But, while they may not deliver much in terms of immediate rewards, they can result in unexpected insights or opportunities that benefit the business in the long term 

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