As SMEs emerge from a challenging period, 2022 is expected to bring a period of optimism and the help is out there to ensure they hit the ground running.
With businesses now through the worst of the year, it’s a time of optimism for SMEs which are looking to build upon the work they’ve carried out during tough conditions. Now that we’re coming through the other side, attention is focused on how the future will look.
A recent report from Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) found that, despite the impact Covid-19 has had on Irish businesses, two in three small companies have a positive outlook for 2022, while 68 per cent said it changed the way their business operates.
It’s good timing for Three Ireland to launch its Grants for Small Businesses Programme, which offers a bursary fund of €100,000.
Managed by the small business network and support provider, Enterprise Nation, the new programme will look to fund ten small businesses across the country and award them a portion of the bursary – including cash, as well as advice, support and connectivity solutions from Three Ireland’s expert business advisers.
The conditions are that you must be a company in the Republic of Ireland, with nine or fewer employees and operating for at least six months. Twenty will be shortlisted from the applications who will then need to give a virtual pitch to say how the grant will help their business.
As for what the programme is interested in, Padraig Sheerin, head of SME for Three Ireland, mentions how important it is for SMEs to frame their experience and get it out there.
“As Irish people, we love to tell stories,” he said. “What is the story of your small business? What journey have you been on? Where do you plan to go by getting involved in this programme, and where do you think it’s going to make a difference?”
Sheerin mentions that there’s no magic answer that will get you chosen, whatever direction you’re heading in or whether you’re just interested in growth, the main thing is hearing where a business is now and what their plans are.
There are two crucial elements to this programme; the first is to ensure that successful applicants are from all four provinces. One finding from B&A found that more companies outside of Dublin feel they’re struggling more than those in the capital.
While it’s easy to focus on urban areas where there is more activity, it benefits both the country and the wider SME network to ensure support is across the board.
“This is for everyone and we encourage businesses across all provinces to get involved and apply,” he said. “We understand how hard it’s been for every business over the past 18 months, and we want the support from this programme to be spread throughout Ireland.”
“It’s a great opportunity to be rewarded, but we also hope that shortlisted businesses will take something away from the process, such as an insight into where their own business is headed and what changes they have to make.”
During the process, shortlisted SMEs will also have the opportunity to talk about how the award will benefit their local communities. This could range from giving someone part-time work for the Christmas period, allowing a retailer to take on a local sponsorship opportunity, or increase their marketing and PR.
Getting an SME off the ground is enough of a challenge without having to deal with the aftermath of a pandemic, and the connections and networks that the programme will provide can be worth their weight in gold. That is where Three Ireland and Enterprise Nation’s expertise come into play.
“Irish small businesses are very adept at reaching out and networking with each other and having community spirit,” he said.
“Whether people are successful or not, Three is always there to help our customers. Our team of experts are always on hand to advise customers on their current operation, as well as helping them to look at ways they can do things differently. We look at their business challenges, as well as their opportunities and propose some of the solutions we think will benefit them, and we’ve seen this work for our customers time and time again.”
That advice will be vital as we enter a world where striking a balance between office and remote work will be a challenge. The same report from B&A found that almost half of companies expect hybrid working to be the new norm, while one in three expect their business to remain remote during 2022.
“It’s fair to say at the moment nobody has the answer on what the future of work will look like, and that’s fine,” he said. “We’re all now on this new journey where we need to try things, test things, learn things and change things up when needed.
“Ultimately, we’ll get to the point where we have the best of both worlds, the original office or retail environment now complemented by the ability to harness the power of technology to work from anywhere and develop even more innovative ways to drive business growth.”
That’s going to bring up some challenges for businesses of all sizes as they try to find the right combination, especially since the same report mentions how big a concern technology and communications, marketing and PR is for SMEs.
For the successful applicants, Three Ireland will be providing support across those areas, which will help SMEs in the long term, be it using modern messaging systems to run marketing campaigns or through connectivity to enable remote working from home.
All of it opens up possibilities for these organisations to create a positive experience by being fully available to customers, as well as providing the best working environment for employees.
More importantly, the optimism shown ahead of 2022 is down to the resilience and community spirit that SMEs showed throughout the last 18 months and will hold them in good stead.
“If you’re looking for positives from the pandemic, from day one, the whole community had an ‘in it together’ mindset, and when it came to small businesses and their creativity, their ability to adapt was incredibly impressive,” said Sheerin.
“The positivity through the research gives me great optimism that things will continue to improve and Irish small businesses will continue to innovate, adapt and thrive;, and that’s an exciting prospect.”