By Bas Burger, CEO - BT Business

Resilient, purpose-driven and customer-focused: lessons from a group of outstanding entrepreneurs.

Last month I swapped the boardroom for the banks of the Thames, as I joined a group of small business owners on a walk and talk session in London. It was a real pleasure to be invited along to a Netwalk – one of the monthly sessions Small Business Britain and BT organise to bring local businesses together, enjoy some fresh air and talk about the realities of running your own operation. This feels more important than ever when you consider that the vast majority of the UK’s SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are working alone.

Since the creation of BT’s new Business unit, I’ve been on a mission to hear from as many customers as possible. BT works with around a million small firms, and it’s not often I get the chance to spend time face-to-face with a group of so many vibrant people who are building their own business from the ground up. Overall, the Netwalk left me feeling proud and inspired. Even in tough economic times, with the international bar set high, it’s clear to me that the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit is  punching well above its weight. 

As a result I’m energised to bring more of that entrepreneurial spirit to my day-to-day leadership: thinking less like a big corporate and more like a small business.

Being brave enough to take the risk

SMEs make up 99% of the UK’s business population and bring in around half of private sector turnover1. These entrepreneurs play a major role in carrying the economy – and the Netwalk really brought this to life for me. When I arrived the first thing that struck me was the sheer variety of businesses, from a security specialist to someone building games to keep kids off screens. In just one session I met people working on their own, people providing valued services, people making products, people starting again.

I also got a real sense of the courage of these entrepreneurs. They are putting their heart and soul into making their businesses work – some side-hustling, some literally betting their house on something new – yet there was an overwhelming sense of optimism and camaraderie in the air. In the corporate world, there is definitely something we can learn here: being bold enough to take risks when it feels right.

Zeroing in on the customer

It’s this entrepreneurial mindset that I am taking with me back into BT. At a time when enterprises of all shapes and sizes are under growing economic pressure, SMEs are having to do more with less.

It’s not an easy time for small businesses. What’s clear from speaking to them is that their relationships with the customers and communities around them are the glue that holds their businesses together. They can’t afford to let this slip, and neither can we. We need to keep a laser focus on delivering for customers – giving them what they need now, and in the future.

Connecting people with purpose

Whether it’s major multi-nationals, public service providers, wholesale partners, large corporates or SMEs, meeting more UK customers this year has left me in awe of what people can do with connectivity. And the Netwalk only amplified this for me. People achieving great things for their communities: devoting their time and expertise to give back via their businesses.

This made me think about the ways we further embed purpose into everything we do as a big business, and how we continue to advocate for our smallest customers. We need to do more to equip them with the tools and skills they need to thrive, and to use our platform as one of the UK’s best-known B2B brands to give small business a stronger voice.

It’s humbling to think that more than a million people just like this are building their businesses on BT. On the Netwalk I heard about people building entire sales strategies on social media – or relying solely on their phones to run their day-to-day operations. It’s up to us to build and maintain a rock-solid digital foundation for their success – today and tomorrow. After all, if they can’t rely on our network, how will they reach their customers, their supply chain, their communities? How will they evolve, expand and reinforce their role as the bedrock of the economy?

It’s our responsibility to keep the spirit of entrepreneurship alive by showing SMEs that we’ve got their back – building them up and empowering them to take risks, unlock their potential and play their part in getting Britain back to growth.

[1] UK Small Business Statistics | FSB, The Federation of Small Businesses


The lifeblood of the economy: leadership learnings from small businesses