Research unveiled by BT Business demonstrates the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit stands strong in 2023, with more than four in ten (44%) of the workforce revealing that they would like to start a business or side hustle in 2023. And with technology and improved connectivity making things easier than ever, almost one in three (30%) UK workers are looking to start up online.
The survey found that almost three quarters (73%) of those already running a business or side hustle feel they couldn’t do so without reliable broadband and mobile connectivity. Mobile phones are now rated the number one device for managing a business – with 59% choosing their phone as the top tech tool to run their operations – outstripping laptops and desktop computers.
The research uncovered the critical importance of reliable connectivity for today’s small businesses, as 41% of entrepreneurs now run their business solely online, with no in-person presence. The study also highlighted the economic benefits of being a digital entrepreneur, finding that social media, their own website and e-commerce platforms are all now more important than bricks-and-mortar locations for driving sales**.
The new data from BT Business highlighted that the cost-of-living crisis is driving UK-based entrepreneurs to take the plunge – with making extra cash the top motivation for those who have already started a business (28% of respondents agreed).
Flexibility is another motivator for current entrepreneurs, with breaking free from the “traditional 9 to 5” (26%) and being able to work from anywhere in the world (22%) cited as other top reasons for having launched a business in the digital age.
Choosing when and where they work is also key for those in the UK workforce still thinking about starting their own business this year. 38% say that the benefit of launching their own online business or side hustle would be fitting it around other priorities, such as family. 34% would like to do it around their current day job, and the same proportion (34%) are drawn to being able to run their business from anywhere in the world.
Improvements in connectivity have helped to spread the economic benefit of digital entrepreneurship across the UK, with over two thirds (69%) of those surveyed saying technology has empowered them to run their businesses in more rural areas of the country, away from cities.
Social media in particular is playing an important role. Almost a third (30%) of entrepreneurs feel excited about the role that social media plays in running their business. While over three quarters (76%) of today’s business owners rely on social media platforms or an online presence to drive sales.
However, as with all fast-paced advancements, many can be left feeling lost and confused – highlighting the importance of digital skills for today’s “techpreneurs”. The survey data highlighted a proportion of business owners do not feel positive about the role of social media. A fifth (20%) feel “behind the times”, 16% feel “stressed”, and others are feeling “anxious” and “confused”.
“From side hustles at the kitchen table to start-ups and scale-ups, at BT Business we recognise that reliable and fast connectivity is the backbone of small and medium businesses up and down the UK,” explains Chris Sims, Managing Director – Small and Medium Enterprise, BT.
“As digital entrepreneurialism goes from strength to strength, our networks are processing more data than ever. That’s why we’re committed to providing the very best broadband availability, speeds, and mobile connectivity for all of our customers – and investing in upskilling more small businesses to help them unlock their digital earning potential.”
Mobile data usage amongst BT business customers has grown 16% year-on-year in the last three years. The network reported its highest volume of data processed ever on Boxing Day 2022.
As the reliance on digital tools grows, the BT Business team investigated how prepared entrepreneurs feel when it comes to using tech to boost their business. Of those surveyed, 76% expressed a desire to improve their digital skills. Out of this group, 24% want to focus on targeting the right audience online, 21% want to improve their understanding of social media, and another 19% want to strengthen their cyber security skills.
Business owners also recognise the positive impact these improved digital skills can have on their profits – with 35% agreeing it will help them boost sales and reach new audiences. Other benefits cited include saving money (26%) and time (25%).
To help bridge the gap, and support small business owners in improving their digital skills, BT offers a range of courses specifically targeted to work life as part of its Digital Skills initiative. These courses are free to access, and cover a wide variety of topics including digital marketing and social media, helping to address the challenges faced by entrepreneurs navigating the modern SME landscape.
To date, more than 750,000 businesses have benefited from digital skills training support from BT – against a wider backdrop of 5.47 million small businesses across the UK, contributing £2.1 trillion to the economy.
Stacey Kehoe, founder of Brandlective Communications, is a BT Business customer who has benefitted from the free digital skills courses. She explains: “With so much uncertainty around the economy, it can be hard to feel like you have control over your business. However, preparing yourself through training is a great way to stay ahead, ensuring you have the necessary skills to move forwards. Get out there and learn new skills, who knows where it could take your business.”