The Contribution of Small Businesses

The annual Small Awards recognise the small operations who have a big impact

Small business is a pretty big deal. In the UK, small operators, with a turnover of less than £10m, make up a whopping 99.3% of all private sector companies, according to the latest statistics.

The little guys are clearly punching above their weight, and that’s something the Small Awards aims to highlight. The awards launched in 2017 to celebrate and bring deserved recognition to small companies making a difference in their communities.

“With 5.6 million small businesses in the UK, there are huge numbers doing great things that may not be recognised by the usual awards due to geography, scale or even awareness of the benefits and recognition such awards can bring,” says Michelle Ovens, director of peak b, the campaigning organisation behind the awards.

“The Small Awards shine a spotlight on those who are making a real impact in their communities and local economies, up and down the country, from Cornwall to County Down.

Success metrics that look beyond just profit

The figures are clear: the vast majority of UK businesses are small, and they are crucial to our economy. Latest figures suggest they’re responsible for 60% of private sector employment, with an annual turnover of £2 trillion.

Ovens believes their impact runs far deeper, though, suggesting that smaller companies tend to measure success in different ways and are often more socially minded than some of their larger counterparts.

“Small businesses are often criticised for having poor productivity levels, but this is a metric that does not apply to the majority of independent firms up and down the country. They provide employment for members of their communities, ensuring that they have ‘good’ and rewarding work,” she says.

“When we ask small business owners what is important to them, productivity is not a factor, and even profit is not considered as central as creating a living for others. In peak b’s Small Business Community Impact report, we found that profit is not a primary ambition for small businesses, and that 72% believe providing a living for oneself and their staff is their number one priority.”

Prioritising people “speaks to better mental health, better social mobility and can even impact physical health outcomes,” adds Ovens.

Caring in the community

The awards judging panel, made up of small business owners, entrepreneurs, investors and public sector workers, look for this ethical, community-minded ethos when choosing winners. The process begins with a call for entries each December, closing in March for shortlist selection before the London ceremony in May.

“Our small businesses can be from any sector, of any age or from anywhere in the country but they must be making an impact in their community beyond making a profit,” says Ovens.

This year’s Small Business of the Year was Fortis Therapy & Training, providing mental health support in Grimsby. The company is credited with sparking regeneration in the Lincolnshire town, which has suffered from youth unemployment and inadequate transport infrastructure.

“We chose Fortis because it has helped to bring light into a town that has seen little for many years,” says Ovens, adding that it has been part of a “small business movement” that includes another Small Awards winner, Riverhead Coffee in nearby Cleethorpes.

High-street heroes

Amid news of high-street closures from restaurant chains to department stores, small businesses like these are the positive flipside. Riverhead Coffee took this year’s High Street Hero award, focused on “small businesses who are regenerating high streets up and down the country.”

“Small businesses put customer experience at the top of their priority list. They engage with consumers in a way many larger chains do not, because they rely on that community relationship to survive and thrive,” says Ovens.

In the case of Riverhead Coffee, that means offering customers extra value with supper clubs, live music, workshops and art exhibitions. The company also engages and works with other businesses in the community, sourcing ingredients from local suppliers.

Making it bigger

Of course, not all businesses stay small. Many of them thrive and grow to become a little bigger and brighter.

Serenity Loves, which won Small Business of the Year in 2018, was launched by Peterborough-based Jo Bevilacqua in 2012 when pregnant with her second child. Struggling to find the time and space to enjoy having her hair done, she opened a salon with a creche attached.

Her company now has an annual turnover of nearly £400,000, providing jobs in the community and giving parents of young children a much-needed break.

Work For Good, winner of this year’s Mission Possible category for social enterprise, has so far helped more than 300 small businesses incorporate charity-giving into their business models.

“If just one in 20 SMEs gave two days revenue a year that would create close to £1 billion of new charitable funding,” Ovens points out.

It’s yet another example of the impact small businesses can make, and why they deserve to be celebrated.

Frances McMonagle
Originally from “Up North“, since moving to London a few years back Fran has made it her mission to make the most out of living in the city. She can usually be found with a green tea, coffee or cocktail in hand busy taking far too many photos.

Date published: 28 June 2019

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