Why big firms need the little guy

With the economy threatening a triple-dip recession, big firms need to help SMEs stay afloat: they are the engine room and the route out of economic misery...

by Ben Dowd
Last Updated: 14 Feb 2013

With Friday’s GDP figures showing a 0.3% contraction in the last quarter of 2012, fears of a ‘triple dip’ recession are rife. But while we’ve been dealt a difficult hand with the eurozone crisis, in the business community we don’t always help ourselves. 

For too long, business in the UK has worked in silos and it’s damaging our ability as a nation to innovate. This year, I believe big business needs to play a greater role in helping smaller players reach their full potential – and in turn, help us all to reap the rewards of economic recovery.

As we’ve seen through 2012, the success of our SMEs is crucial to economic recovery. Small businesses alone accounted for 47 per cent of private sector employment and over a third of turnover – they clearly form the engine room of our economy.  So, for me, there are three clear wins to be gained by big business doing more to help in this space.

First, by lending a hand, we can help SMEs improve their chance of success - whether through funding, mentoring, skills training or even free office space. 

Second, it’s not all about small business gains – big businesses too can get something out of good relationships with smaller players.  In the UK, we’re lucky to play home to one of the world’s most dynamic and fast-growing SME communities. We’re surrounded by vibrant thinking and innovative working practices that are so common in start-ups, which can positively influence the way we do business.

By their very nature, big businesses can too easily become stuck in their ways – choking off the innovation and ideas generation that have the potential to help them keep one step ahead of the competition.  By working with the small business community, we can remind ourselves what it means to be fleet-footed and gain a new perspective.

Finally, when small business is thriving again and big business refreshed, the wider economy will inevitably reap the rewards and realise proper growth. I strongly believe that it is only through this collective effort of big businesses, underpinned by continued action from the government, that we will get through the recovery period and fuel a more innovative and progressive Britain. 

Ben Dowd is business director for O2.

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