Neil Bradbrook: COVID-19 world of work means Scottish firms can now think global, not local
Neil Bradbrook, managing director of Falkirk-based Ahead Business Consulting, highlights the new opportunities made available to Scottish businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scotland has just 6% of the UK’s business base, spread out across a third of the land area.
The geography is vast. But the scope for business growth can be slim. We tend to have fewer customers, so we’re smaller. Typically, our turnover is 12% lower than our UK counterparts. And we’re all fighting over the same pie.
You can differentiate yourself by being cheaper – but that’s a race to the bottom. Or you can be good quality. But then it’s just luck of the draw against all the other good quality companies.
In short, the odds are stacked against us versus our counterparts in England. Or at least they used to be…before COVID.
Suddenly, we are no longer constrained by geography. Everyone has learned that you do not have to be face-to-face to do business effectively; services can be provided remotely. For Scottish businesses, that’s huge. Our market just multiplied 20-fold.
You can now offer your services across the whole of the UK. Immediately, your lower Scottish overheads give you an advantage over competitors in London with higher overheads – and steeper prices. You can now genuinely offer a service to London clients that is as good quality, or better, than they currently get – for less.
Rather than competing against fellow Scottish businesses, we can now all thrive by stealing a share of the market across the UK.
The same is true of talent. Scots have always had to leave Scotland to find work. For years, we’ve seen the brain drain of talent heading south to get jobs. The UK has been heavily London-centric.
But COVID has completely changed the landscape. We now all have the capability to work remotely. Businesses are starting to think long-term about new flexible working patterns. We’ll almost certainly see a greater mix of homes and offices – and these will be more geographically dispersed. The signs are already there, with average room rents in London falling 7% during COVID, but rising 2% across the rest of the country.
Now your talent can be in Orkney or Oxford. It means Scottish workers can stay in Scotland. That’s more talent on the doorstep for Scottish firms. Equally, your new recruits might be born and bred in London or Cornwall. We are no longer constrained by geography – and can focus on recruiting the right people for our businesses.
We’ve gone from local to national. But why stop there? Your business can now compete differently whether it’s the UK, Europe or the world.
Brand Scotland is incredibly strong. When the world thinks of Scotland, they think of innovation and hard work, from highly educated and trustworthy people. So, they love doing business with us.
The message is to take the opportunity that COVID has presented and expand your horizons.
A future world of opportunity is opening up and we need to move into that world. There are big advantages for Scottish businesses, so embrace it – and see where it takes you.