How are small business owners doing in 2021?

2020 was a tough year for all of us. And even though things are now looking like they’re getting back to some sort of normality, 2021 has been hard going too – especially for business owners.

Here we take a look at the thoughts of six small business owners, to see how they think things are shaping up as we enter the second quarter of the year.

How do business owners think the economy is shaping up in 2021?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) asked business owners to give their thoughts on the year so far. Here’s what they had to say. 

The shop owner

“Though the first three months of 2021 were quiet due to lockdown, April has been far better with a combination of online spending through our digital platform from consumers living further afield, and strong sales from our bricks and mortar shop from customers old and new re-exploring the town centre again now that they are able to. We have seen a huge shift in people wanting to support and build relationships with smaller businesses, choosing us over larger stores. The pandemic, paradoxically, could prove to be the saviour of the high street rather than its nemesis.”

Barry Whitehouse, owner at Banbury-based art shop, The Artery

The digital marketer

“Having had to totally pivot our business during 2020, knowing we were starting 2021 in another lockdown felt very grim indeed. But things in the first quarter of 2021 were different. In the first national lockdown last year, the UK’s businesses were suffering from shell shock, but during the latest lockdown battle-hardened businesses were using the time to regroup, plan and market their way out of it. We picked up a lot of new business in the first quarter of the year following Boris Johnson’s Roadmap announcement, and more again in April once the next stages of the roadmap began to roll out. We sense a feeling of buoyancy and hope, which is a great indicator of general feeling about the economy.”

Debbie Porter, MD at Derbyshire-based Destination Digital Marketing

The consultant

“In April 2020, after quarter of a century running my own business, I nearly lost everything, so it’s a great feeling to still be in the game over a year since the pandemic struck. Best of all, the first 3-4 months of 2021 have shown some real promise for us. Even a barnstorming 2021 won’t make up for the massive financial loss we suffered last year but there are certainly signs that the business world is coming back to life. Fourteen months on from the start of the pandemic and it feels as if many organisations have resized and adapted, become a lot leaner and are now looking to the future.”

Gillian Jones Williams, MD at Hampshire-based Emerge Development Consultancy

The hospitality owner

“As a staycation business, our customers were booking their summer holidays in desperation during the first three months of the year, like children grabbing the last packets of sweets in a corner shop. There were tears and tantrums when we had sold out of luxury holiday homes for July and August by the end of January. This was happening even before BoJo’s roadmap to recovery, with a lot of uncertainty as to whether the bookings would actually take place. The UK holiday remains the safest and surest travel option for 2021, but when the world does finally open up again, the staycation could suffer. While Salcombe is one of the most beautiful coastal locations in Europe, we sadly cannot supply le soleil with total certainty for les touristes.”

The IT firm

“As an IT specialist, our growth remained strong throughout the first quarter of 2021. We have seen a real need, or rather requirement, for IT services throughout the various stages of the pandemic. This has coincided with a massive rise in cyber attacks hitting businesses across the same period of time, which has also helped our industry maintain a degree of momentum. When the economy does open up, it will do so with a hybrid working environment. This means every business will absolutely have to review its business technology strategy moving forward. They will have to be ready for any future changes that may be imposed on the way businesses operate, and technology will lead those changes. With that in mind, we’re optimistic about the future.”

Toby Stephenson, CTO at Derby-based IT firm, Neuways

The ecommerce owner

“Over the past month, footfall on the high street with genuine intent to spend has been a welcome turnaround for local shops, many of which were suffering long before Covid-19. What we are seeing unfold on the UK’s high streets marks a seismic shift in attitude that is far more supportive of local and independent businesses. Long may it continue.”

Dr Jackie Mulligan, Founder of and who is on the High Streets Task Force

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