Chuka Umunna: How Small Business Saturday can benefit your business

Ahead of SBS on December 6, Labour's shadow business secretary talks to Startups about bringing the initiative to the UK and policy plans

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna is on a mission to help small businesses and bring the “American Dream” to Britain, starting with the Small Business Saturday (SBS) initiative.

Running for its second year in the UK on December 6, Umunna is the man responsible for bringing the scheme – which looks to celebrate Britain’s independent retailers and encourage shoppers to support their local outlets – to these shores after being inspired by the Barack Obama-backed SBS campaign in the US.

With more than £460m spent in UK small businesses on Small Business Saturday last year, Umunna turned his brainstorm on a bus (see below) into a national success story and the Brixton and Streatham MP wants more this year.

With thousands of businesses already signed up for 2015’s initiative and leading organisations and corporates such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), O2 and Lloyds backing the campaign, we caught up with the politician to find out more about the roots of SBS, his ultimate goals for the scheme and the “awesome” journey he’s been on so far.

Given the timing ahead of the Autumn Statement and next year’s general election, we also discussed the key policies the MP would want to introduce if Labour came into power…

Where did the idea for Small Business Saturday UK originate from?

“The idea came about when I was on a bus trip back from Brixton and Streatham, and I was scanning my Twitter. I came across the hashtag #SBS and saw a lot of high-profile people and celebrities like Serena Williams tweeting about it. I Googled it and loved the idea, it was a simple concept; helping small businesses recognise their potential. It was a no-brainer, it’s easy for businesses to become a part of it.

“In February I went to the US and I met with Obama’s team that head up SBS there. I looked at how to market it [the scheme] and identified three golden rules to make it work. To succeed it had to:

  1. Be non-party political, I got in touch with local authorities and got their backing.
  2. Operate from the bottom up, it wouldn’t work if it was top-down.
  3. Centre on small businesses, although several large businesses support it and are involved, it’s not about the large companies.”

What was the initial reaction to the idea?

“On January 3 2013 I pitched the idea and the response was overwhelming, everyone was really interested in it. I then brought together several leading organisations such as the Forum of Private Business (FPB) to get their feedback and they were all behind it.”

How can Small Business Saturday help the UK’s start-ups and small firms?

“SBS provides a vehicle for networking and collaboration. It’s about promoting your local area and it’s not about just attracting business on the day, it’s also about the repeat custom.

“Last year I visited the bookshop in America that Barack Obama and his wife famously visited in 2012 for Small Business Saturday. They often visit shops in their local area, and since that trip the book shop has had a 25% sales boost. Yet this increase wasn’t just to do with Obama’s visit, it was about making people in the local community aware of the shop and raising its profile – that’s an equal boost.”

How would you encourage businesses to get involved with Small Business Saturday?

“Businesses can download the SBS marketing pack and tools so that customers know they are part of the scheme and they can promote this in their store, via social media and so on.”

Can Small Business Saturday bring about wider policy changes?

“I think it can help increase the pressure of action but it’s really a simpler concept than that, it’s about helping the businesses that are the fabric of our communities.

“I think we can have a British version of the American Dream, SBS is one way of making that ‘British dream’ a reality.”

With the Autumn Statement around the corner, what policies would you like to see brought in to support small businesses?

“What I’ve said I’ll do next year if I get in is that I’ll freeze business rates and I would introduce a ‘Small Business Administration team’ like that of the USA. […] I think it’s important to have a dedicated entity for small businesses to represent them but it’s the institution and culture that needs to be changed.

“Finance is another key issue affecting businesses. We would launch a British Investment Bank, for start-ups through to fast-growth firms, which would fund growth and support business cashflow. Late payments is also an area that needs attention.”

Finally, how will you be participating in Small Business Saturday 2014?

“I’m going to be in Brixton and Streatham on the day, I was at the Norwich SBS bus tour yesterday and it’s my impression that brands and organisations are more involved this year.”

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