Business development · 22 June 2016

As voting booths open for Britain’s historic referendum, what should small business be thinking about?

polling booth
The outcome of the EU referendum will have implications for all businesses

The time has finally arrived – the UK’s referendum on its future in Europe is upon us, as voters must decide whether to remain in, or leave the EU on 23 June.

Knowing that his job could be in jeopardy if the Brexiteers come out on top, prime minister David Cameron has made a series of last-ditch attempts to win over voters in a week of heavy campaigning.

In an impromptu speech outside the door of 10 Downing Street, an earnest-looking Cameron warned any undecided voters that it would be young people, children and those yet to be born that would feel the real weight of the economic downturn that a Brexit would cause.

With two of the most widely recognised polls – YouGov and Survation – showing the rival camps neck and neck before the final day of campaigning, it’s of little surprise the prime minister should be feeling hot under the collar. One of the UK’s most distinguished pollsters – professor of politics at Strathclyde University, John Curtice – even told The Independent that the referendum looked to be an exact 50-50 split, with the result too close to call.

Despite such a close race, only a small proportion of business owners have made attempts to prepare for the changes that could come. A recent survey conducted by Interim Partners discovered that as many as 80 per cent of small company owners had failed to put measures in place to prepare their organisation for an exit from the single market.

On top of changes to trade deals with individual countries that stand to have an impact on all businesses, small firms might also bare the brunt of the additional costs a Brexit would likely bring. Additional price hikes in legal services, cross-border travel and imports are all highly probable in the event of a Leave vote.

So, going in to the referendum with the polls dividing the vote so equally, and with the outcome uncertain, what considerations should small business owners be thinking about to minimise the risks of losing out? Here, with some suggestions from Interim Partners, are some final Brexit-related thoughts for Business Advice readers.

Consider developing new markets

Conversely, if Britain decides to leave the EU, small business owners may find it easier to export, as the likely drop in value of the pound could see a cut to prices and a rise in the demand for UK exports generally. To capitalise on this and to maximise the chances of success when beginning to export, company owners can try to develop a range of new markets – particularly ones outside the EU.

Build bridges

Maintaining financial stability and creating business opportunities in times of uncertainty is tricky, and small firms will need all the help they can get in the confusion that might follow a Leave vote. Owners can consider teaming up with competitors to pool resources or share knowledge to see their business through a rough patch.

Communicate properly

Leaving the EU would be a confusing time for consumers as well as business owners. While your firm works out its next move, make sure to tell your customers what’s going on and what they can expect from you. Keeping clients well-informed will make them more likely to stay loyal.

Have a back-up

It’s important to give your company as many options as possible, should your initial post-Brexit plans fall through. Expect business partners could react unexpectedly to a Brexit, so think about alternative business strategies to fall back on.

Go with the flow 

Even if leaving the EU is not the option you would prefer for your business, it may present previously unforeseen opportunities. If a Brexit occurs, owners should stay positive and on the look out for new business as the dust settles – embracing the change.

On the eve of the Brexit vote, are small business voters swinging one way?  

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

Business development