Connectivity critical for UK entrepreneurs

Research from BT Business reveals three-quarters of British entrepreneurs feel they couldn’t run a business without reliable broadband and mobile connectivity

Despite the current cost-of-living crisis, the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit stands strong in 2023, with research from BT Business showing that more than four in 10 (44%) of the workforce would like to start a business or side hustle in 2023.

The research was conducted by Opinium of 2,000 UK adults, including 500 people who run their own business or side hustle, between 30 December 2022 and 5 January 2023, complemented by data from the Business population estimates for the UK and the regions 2022 study from the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in October 2022.

Among the key findings uncovered was the critical importance of reliable connectivity for today’s small businesses. With technology and improved connectivity making things easier than ever, almost one in three (30%) UK workers were found to be looking to start up online. Indeed, 41% of entrepreneurs now run their business solely online, with no in-person presence.

The survey also 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.

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. Mobile data usage among BT business customers has grown 16% year-on-year in the past three years. The network reported its highest-ever volume of data processed on Boxing Day 2022.

Flexibility was found to be another motivator for current entrepreneurs, with breaking free from the “traditional nine to five” (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 the benefit of launching their own online business or side hustle would involve 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.

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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 also 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).

“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,” said Chris Sims, managing director of small and medium-sized enterprises at 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.”

BT Business also 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%).

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