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Guest blog – Helping London’s SMEs navigate Brexit uncertainty

Date: June 11, 2019


Chris MacNeil, managing director of e/booster Limited talks about the free Brexit-preparation events giving crucial advice to small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in London

Ever since the Referendum in June 2016, Brexit has been the B-word we haven’t been able to escape.

As an SME owner, preparing my own business for the uncertain path ahead, it has led to the creation of a programme of free events helping other small and medium business owners in the same position.

Running an Amazon retail and consultancy business since 1994, I have been delivering training in transformative business environments and technologies, enabling organisations to uncover hidden opportunities.

Since the referendum, I’d been looking at my own business, e/booster Limited, and conducting a risk mitigation exercise to ensure that my company was protected against Brexit to the fullest extent possible.

Risk analysis forced me to examine other growth options – including my capability in consultancy and expanding my Amazon business into other marketplaces.

When the opportunity arose to tender for a contract to deliver Navigating Brexit for SMEs (NBS) training, funded by the London Growth Hub and supported by the Mayor of London, I tendered for the contract and won it.

Getting ready for Brexit

The NBS programme was launched in March to deliver free Brexit-readiness training to 1500 entrepreneurs and SMEs across London, and events taking place throughout the summer in most of London’s boroughs.

Together with EU expert, Sietske de Groot, who runs her own consultancy TradePeers Ltd, and Guido Reinke, Ph.D, an authority in regulation and compliance, working under the umbrella of BrexitHelp.net, we have more than 50 years of experience between us.

I have known Guido for many years and have respected his professional background and skill set. Initially we teamed up to help him sell his Brexit Impact Analysis book, which then evolved into exploring consultancy options.

Sietske is newer to the team: having met her in November 2018, I stayed in contact and invited her to join us on the NBS bid in Jan 2019.

Planning for the unknown

With “deal or no deal” questions still dominating political discourse, rather than being a drawback the uncertainty ahead, the collective disquiet has actually helped to shape the content of the NBS seminars.

The team is having to anticipate the changes, both the risks and opportunities, that Brexit will bring to the economy and business in a disruptive political landscape, marked by a Conservative leadership race in full swing and a 31 October deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU.

Events have helped shape the material. For example, the UK was supposed to have left the EU on 29 March, but that decision was delayed.

We had an event running on 29 March in Greenwich which had to be modified accordingly. The initial extension was until 12 April, so the sessions we ran after that date were different from the earlier sessions.

We also shape the seminars and workshops according to feedback from the audience – different local authorities tend to have a higher prevalence of one business sector over another, so we offer relevant case studies.

We go over the relevant terminology and theory surrounding Brexit-defining terms such as common market, trade deals, EORI and more. We look at what’s happened and what hasn't happened, as well as speculating about potential outcomes.

In the second part of each seminar, we offer a hands-on workshop enabling businesses to think through the potential impact of Brexit to them.

Working from experience 

As we all run small businesses, each member of the team appreciates how stretched an owner is trying to keep several spinning plates in the air – dealing with everything from customer satisfaction and employee loyalty to smooth supply-chain operation and dealing with professional services, such as accountants.

Our lives are strained as we also want to commit to spending time with our families, friends and on personal pursuits. Brexit – whether a threat or an opportunity – will destabilise the delicate balance that business owners have worked hard to implement.

That’s why we want to help SMEs cut through the confusion so they understand where their touchpoints are with the EU, what the main risks to their businesses are, how they start asking the right questions, and how to find post-Brexit opportunities.

The feedback has been very positive. We are consistently scoring four and five stars out of five on our satisfaction surveys.

During the workshop sessions, SMEs are very vocal about the threats and opportunities they see during and after Brexit, and often ask for more signposting to specific resources.

Every session will leave audience members with at least one eureka moment – be this examining the SME's supply chain for stability, considering potential VAT issues or analysing staff for free movement of people issues.

Facing the post-Brexit future

There's no one silver bullet we can give people for how to plan for Brexit. However, attending sessions months in advance of Brexit gives companies the crucial time to seriously plan for all eventualities with all the facts at hand.

With a Q&A session at the end of each seminar and a certificate of attendance, there are free sessions across London for all small businesses with a turnover of less than £44m, that have been trading for over six months.

Chris MacNeil About the author

Chris MacNeil has been providing organisational transformation consultancy and training to firms of all sizes for 25 years across retail, healthcare and telecoms. Soon after the Referendum, Chris began to implement Brexit contingency plans for his own company, an Amazon retail and consultancy business.