We see governments across the world trying to contain a pandemic whilst, at the same time, trying to keep the economy on life support. We also see the governments trying to treat this new phenomenon in the same way as they did in the past. They impose rules and throw money at the problem.
This gives them two major problems. The first is that, for rules to work, they need the support of the people. Unfortunately, a history of not listening had already led to a culture of rebellion and mistrust in government.
Witness the myriad of protests across the world on a multiplicity of issues. Incidentally, whilst it is easy to criticise these movements for their polarised positions, they are a product of governments that also didn’t listen to alternative views.
This lack of trust has opened the door to any armchair critic, who wishes to dispute government policy or create a conspiracy theory, to gain traction from the discontented herd.
The second issue is that throwing money at the problem usually leads to demands for more money and rarely fixes the underlying problems. Nowhere is this truer than with SMEs.
Although the big money gesture may appease the people for a while, it is unlikely to underpin a strong economic recovery. From many years of working in the SME arena I have long found that the first reason that an SME approaches for help is because they want money.
However rarely, if ever, is money the real problem. Money would be a sticking plaster rather than a cure for the cause of financial hardship. But to establish the real problem requires more than simply hearing the first shout for finance. There is a need for a much deeper understanding.
Clearly, in the middle of the pandemic, it is not possible to evaluate the real needs of every business. Nor is it possible to separate out those businesses that were heading for failure pre-pandemic from those struggling because of the pandemic.
As far as the former group is concerned, throwing money at the problem will at least ensure food on the table, even if the end of the pandemic may well signal the turning off of life-support.
But it is those businesses that were doing well before the pandemic that need more than money. The pandemic has not only damaged existing businesses, it has also created a new paradigm for operating businesses once the pandemic is under control.
While traditional businesses may have suffered, online businesses have flourished. So too have the businesses that support online trading. But, more than that, the public have accelerated their acceptance of the use of smart applications and artificial intelligence; even if they don’t realise it.
I, personally, have suddenly found that my smart phone needs more than five Apps. I have become almost cashless in my face-to-face dealings and, the once ridiculed QR code has become my best friend!
For the successful SME from pre-pandemic days, this change provides challenges that money cannot fix. SMEs need help and support to adapt their businesses to the new normal. But there will also be a need to adapt the existing elements of business, such as operations, marketing, selling and so on.
In short, for SMEs to drive the post-pandemic economic recovery, they need to use this present period to make that adaptation. So just giving them money to keep food on the table is insufficient. What they need is a business support programme that will assist them in making those changes.
Those of us that have worked in business support in the past know the value of business support centres. Today’s technology allows us to produce virtual business support centres. Let us stop just trying to survive and start offering SMEs the support they really need to thrive post-pandemic.