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How SMEs overcame the challenges of 2020

By Stewart Haworth, Director of Debt Finance at OakNorth Bank

A few weeks ago I did this panel for TheBusinessDesk, where we talked about how SMEs overcame the challenges of 2020 and the lessons learned. The overarching theme is that it’s been an incredibly challenging year, but seeing the resilience, creativity and kindness of businesses we work with has been inspirational.

Reflecting on the past year, here are some of the creative solutions businesses that OakNorth Bank work with have come up with and how these businesses adapted to try and make the best out of an incredibly difficult situation.

Lisa Kerford, Managing Director at Bolton-based Aptus Utilities, one of the UK’s leading providers of multi-utility services, oversaw the strategic management and implementation of new business processes to keep a 300-strong workforce motivated and buoyant throughout the pandemic. She successfully led the team to safely execute the full shutdown and restart on all onsite operations in the second and third lockdown. She did such an incredible job keeping the business running, that she’s now been named a finalist for the National Business Women’s Awards in the Lockdown category.

In December Mark Booth, Managing Director of Hayfield, one of the UK’s leading housebuilders, shared how the team’s proactivity during the pandemic has kept the business on track to make £100m turnover this year. Mark stated, “During the first national lockdown every housebuilder across the country went into survival mode. However, knowing that the pandemic would result in a shortage of new homes, we made the proactive decision to re-start construction across all our developments in May. No-one predicted the surge in sales to the UK’s housing market when it was able to re-open, and from our perspective it is yet to show any signs of slowing down. We enter 2021 with an astonishing forward order book of 40 per cent.

Another great example of a business making the most out of a tough situation is The Jade Hotel, a family-owned and operated hotel in South Kensington, that decided to use the time to make renovations and refurbishments which would have otherwise been difficult to do when guests were staying.

As you can see, some businesses have pivoted into online and other businesses will grow either product or capability. I think what we will see as well is through the end of the furlough scheme and through unemployment that undoubtedly will come, is the opportunity to pick up good, entrepreneurial staff. I strongly believe we’ll see a massive injection of entrepreneurial spirit, as we see more people taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture.

At OakNorth Bank, this is what we call “ONtrepreneurs”, borrowers who have not only used this last year to survive, but also thrive through it.

We’re incredibly proud to support some of the strongest, most innovative and resilient businesses in the country. As such, we’ve approved over £2bn in new loans in 2020 and will continue to support our existing borrowers and speak with new customers who are looking to grow in the year ahead.

Businesses looking to grow may be looking to do so in a slightly different way than they thought 12 months ago. It’s probably the biggest satisfaction to watch a business grow over time and keep track of it. I think there’ll be a lot more of that in the next 6-12 months, then in the medium term, it will be great to see how that unfolds.

If you’re looking for debt financing to scale your business, please get in touch and I’ll see if we can help. You can reach me at stewart.haworth@oaknorth.co.uk.

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