In order to humanise the data and bring the insights to life, we have the pleasure of speaking to a range of small businesses across the UK. This year to complement the report, we asked them about their digital journey prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how they adapted with tech during lockdown.
East of England
L&L roofing (Essex) was set up by Luke in 2017 and prior to the pandemic, business was mainly conducted face-to-face. During lockdown the business slowed for a few weeks due to supplier difficulties however the business was able to continue, primarily as the work is completed outside. Luke is the busiest he has ever been, meaning he is was in the position to hire another staff member. As Luke wasn’t able to go into people’s houses, he started offering Zoom calls for initial quotations to maintain relationships and to give that added personal touch and professionalism over other suppliers. Due to the increased workload the business now can’t operate without emails and is more heavily reliant on his mobile banking app to be able to check payments have been received on the go.
Astero’s business, AD Chauffeurs Ltd, offers a pre-booked high-end chauffeur service in the Greater London area, with 75% of her revenue coming from corporate travel. Prior to lockdown the business was doing very well with 15-20 bookings a day, and overnight everything came to a halt. Astero had to immediately furlough all of her staff and applied for a bounce back loan. Even though no one was travelling, Astero continued client relationships with the future in mind, via online video meetings and ensured they were maintaining their social media presence with new offers, such as luggage drop offs, offering no contact virtual terminal card payments and highlighting protective shields in vehicles to provide a Covid safe experience. Bookings are slowly starting to build up again and Astero is keen to embrace the technology changes she has made, going forward.
Helen and Mark from Cheshire have been growing Hydraulics Online Ltd since the end of 2004. They provide bespoke engineering advice and independent sourcing of niche products from 80 hydraulic brands to clients throughout the UK, and beyond, in 130 countries worldwide. Their website acts as an inbound enquiry engine to their technical team – so ‘being found’ is critical to the continued success of the business. The business has traded through the coronavirus pandemic; once lockdown started, most of the team began to work remotely. Desktop systems were accessed remotely and like many businesses, they started using online video conferencing with the team, clients, suppliers and other key stakeholders. A team Whatsapp group also, allowed for quick, real time internal communication and general morale boosting. While the rest of the team were busy managing BAU, Helen worked remotely ‘on’ the business progressing several key strategic workstreams and projects.
One project looked at digitising the company’s back office systems. After extensive research and iteratively defining business requirements, the company has now selected a suitable CRM/ERP software provider that will support the business with end-to-end enquiry handling across a number of inbound channels, marketing activities, banking and finance operations and improved analytics, reporting and communications, throughout the business. Helen and Mark don’t plan to stop there and several additional digital projects are planned beyond this
Bolt Body Wellness (Belfast) is a fast growing microbusiness, supplying the health industry with health and beauty supplements. Before Covid, business owner Michael, faced a healthy future financially, customer, sales and systems were all growing steadily. The business largely relied on word of mouth and everything was run from one computer. From the moment lockdown happened, Bolt was affected in two ways, staff were unable to come in to work (which was an issue with only one computer) and all face-to-face meetings stopped. Home workers and furloughed employees suddenly had more time on their hands and took more of an interest in their fitness, which saw a 10% increase in demand for Bolt products – this was all the encouragement needed to make a change to the business. Michael embraced the concept of virtual meetings to connect with staff, and connect his staff with clients, with savings in time and money invested in essential digital technology. He also signed off on a new software ordering system, and client-facing online catalogue, supporting automated product orders 24-7. He’s since invested in an HR system, with an annual £2,000 subscription, that manages the majority of personal staff data and a mobile app giving his employees a secure self-service platform to help organise their own work-life balance. Having been forced to adapt the business by a national pandemic , and to accelerate his own learning curve, Michael is embracing the new digital world and won’t be returning to his digital methods.
Zahid’s business, Ewaste Solutions, based in Glasgow offers environmentally friendly disposal and recycling of IT equipment. The business was highly IT literate and engaged on social media however business was most driven by word of mouth. The main challenges were time and resources and managing in traditional / manual ways (manual stock and job entry) rather than with digital tools. At the start of lockdown, the business was forced to shut up shop for 3 weeks. But with so many individuals home working, IT support was classified as a critical resource. Sales of desktop (rather than laptop) equipment increased exponentially, however the key was to invest in cloud-based access and support software. This allowed Ewaste to monitor and repair desk, laptop and mobile devices remotely, which was vital as customers were slow to return due to social distancing concerns. Zahid is positive about the future – he plans to convert to digital accounting reduce the bureaucratic sprawl across his desk, to improve his website to enable online booking and has hired new staff from the community, to help with the growing work load.
Ellen and Richie started their holiday lets business Conwy Property Management Limited, six years ago, providing a ‘one stop shop’ for owners of second properties/holiday homes in the Llandudno area of Wales. They act as a holiday home letting agent as well as offering cleaning, laundry services and emergency call-out/repair services. In 2019, they converted to from sole trader to limited company status to reflect the growing nature and success of the business. The effect of national lockdown were immediate with income dropping by 95% and they furloughed three employees to operate on a skeleton staff basis. With no business being generated, Ellen and Ritchie use the downtime created to fully re-assess their business. A lot of their operations were paper based and time consuming, so they aspired to become more automated. After a considerable investment a bespoke piece of software is being built for the business which will include a staff logging system, problems with properties can be logged in real time and invoicing will become automated. The system will be fully operational by Christmas and they are looking forward to having more time available to do other things, and running a tighter and well organised business.
Yorkshire and the Humber
Nosh @ No1 is a café business, serving hot and cold foods and beverages to customers in Leeds. Owned and run by Lyndon for the past three years, the business was greatly helped by a large and regular number of breakfast orders, from workers at two nearby businesses. Lydon never considered digital a part of his business plan. He insisted on cash payments, still took money to the local branch twice a week. Covid-19 showed that the business needed to adapt or it wouldn’t survive. Without warning, the Cafe was forced to reinvent and realign itself. Deemed ‘an essential business’ Nosh @ No1 initially gained custom from other outlets. Lyndon quickly realised that, with more people working from home and demand for food surging, fresh opportunities were there for the taking, and he needed to get online. Forced to diversity his products and approach, Lyndon began advertising afternoon tea boxes on Facebook. This innovation, plus the drop in local competition helped deliver a noticeable jump in business. Lyndon estimates had he not embraced technology, he could be 20-25% down in revenue – he wishes he had done it years ago for the amount of business it actually brings in.
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