Small Business Agony Aunt: Your pressing questions answered

Here, some key small business questions are put to Grant Thornton’s Business Growth Advisers.

In this piece, we ask one of Grant Thornton’s Business Growth Advisers your most pressing small business questions. Grant Thornton offers a number of growth services which provide small businesses the opportunity to connect with experienced business people, to support them in achieving rapid and sustainable growth.

Our first column features answers from Ian McKinnon. Ian is an adviser as part of the Growth 365 service and previously held a number of executive positions in a 30-year career. This includes being CEO of Swallowfield, an FMCG supplier to global brands, and as COO of Getronics an ICT services company.

I run a small drinks company and am increasingly exporting to the EU. I’m concerned about the impact Brexit will have on my business, particularly when it comes to exporting in the future? What should I be doing now? Dan R, London

Brexit is one of the key issues for almost all of the small businesses that I talk to in my role as a Growth Adviser with Grant Thornton and the current uncertainty is undoubtedly making it more difficult for small businesses to plan ahead. Having run a FMCG company myself, I know the importance of seamless customs arrangements, especially when factoring in products with a limited shelf-life.

While many of the businesses I speak to are concerned about future tariffs, a more pressing step to be taking right now is a detailed analysis of your current customs arrangements. This will help you identify what areas of potential risk may emerge in a post-Brexit world and begin to plan for any additional customs checks which may be introduced once our future relationship with the EU becomes clear.

Now that the government has confirmed that it will be requesting a transition period once the two-year (post Article 50) deadline expires, you should also be starting to consider diversifying your sales base to markets outside of the EU. There is no harm in beginning to hold conversations with contacts in places such as Australia, New Zealand and Asia. There is huge potential for growth in these markets and laying the groundwork for an export relationship now means that you will have a thriving export market, despite the difficulties potentially caused by Brexit.

How do I start to take advantage of the burgeoning automation revolution? I am worried about being left behind. Ed C, Hampshire

As you rightly say, the rise of automation and robotics is set to revolutionise the way that we work. While it may seem that taking advantage of the efficiencies delivered by automation is the preserve of larger companies, there are increasing opportunities for small businesses to benefit.

Not all robotics need to be bespoke and there are an increasing number of ‘off-the-shelf’ models which it is worth speaking with suppliers about now. With robots becoming far more intelligent and nimbler than even five years ago, the opportunities are there for even the smallest manufacturer to benefit. I would also recommend entering into conversations with universities and academics about the best ways to deploy automation in your workplace.

Of course, entering into the world of automation inevitably raises questions for existing staff around job security. However, it is always best to approach such conversations in an open and honest manner. Ultimately, automation is going to open up new job opportunities and building a workforce with a progressive mind-set from the outset is key to extracting full value from this new workplace revolution.

I have been successfully running a small consultancy business by myself for the past year, but am now looking to hire my first employee. What is the most effective way for me to do this? Rachel G, Glasgow

Hiring staff is possibly the most important task that small businesses face, especially in a consultancy such as yours.

There are a number of practical steps you can take. Firstly, be clear in your own mind about what skills and competencies are required in order to work for you effectively. Many hires fail because the employer has not clarified in their own minds what kind of person will best fit their businesses values.

Secondly, find a good headhunter that you can trust and who understands your business and the way it works. The value of your own personal networks in finding the right candidate should also not be underestimated.

Finally, while CVs and interviews are important, a hiring process is as much about a candidate’s attitude as it is aptitude. There is untold value in talking to potential candidates outside of the interview environment. In any small business, you are going to be working incredibly closely with your staff, so making sure they are fully on board with your values is imperative.

For more information about Grant Thornton’s Growth 365 service, please follow this link:

Further reading on small business questions

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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