By Hugh Lightbody

THERE are few events in history that compare to the pace and scale of Covid-19 and the impact it has had on businesses throughout Scotland. Within weeks, entire sectors shut down as public health measures were introduced, as people across the country rapidly found themselves adapting to the “new normal”.

As efforts are made to reopen the country, while keeping the virus at bay, businesses, and the livelihoods and jobs they support, are fighting for survival. The UK economy is expected to experience its sharpest downturn in 314 years, and the latest Fraser of Allander economic commentary estimates that Scotland’s economy will take the best part of two years to rebound.

Despite this grim outlook, Covid-19 has also shown people’s ability to be resilient, innovative, and quickly adopt new ways of working. This is clear from the surge of interest Business Gateway advisers have had from individuals starting up a business, despite the challenging climate.

On the surface, this may seem counter-intuitive. However, a business that is started in a volatile financial climate is often flexible, agile, and able to withstand difficult market conditions. Additionally, with people making the most of their time at home, some are using the opportunity to develop a targeted and specific idea that has real potential.

There are also trends which may present opportunities for businesses. Consumer habits have shifted during lockdown – a recent survey by Deloitte Digital found that 61% of Scottish customers are favouring local businesses in their communities. There are also unprecedented levels of state support available for businesses that will create or protect jobs.

Customers’ shopping habits may continue to change as home working becomes a more permanent trend. Greater volumes of people working away from cities and town centres will have an impact on how businesses reach customers. City centre premises may no longer be as attractive, and ecommerce, a growth area for many years, will accelerate further.

It can be daunting to take the plunge and start your own businesses at the best of times, which is why external, neutral and specialist advice is vitally importantly if ideas are to succeed in this uncertain and fluid environment. Business Gateway advisers across the country are working closely with business owners to help determine whether an idea is viable, identify gaps and ensure that businesses start on the strongest footing. DigitalBoost, the Scottish Government’s leading digital skills programme for businesses, delivered by Business Gateway, offers practical guidance and advice that helps businesses upskill in areas such as digital marketing strategy, online trading, cyber resilience, and data analytics.

Of course, the impact of Covid-19 cannot be forgotten. Ensuring businesses operate in line with Scottish Government guidance on containing the virus will also be of paramount importance. Business Gateway has been working hand in hand with the Scottish Government and other enterprise agencies to ensure that this sector specific guidance is readily available to business owners.

At a time where, like everyone, we ourselves are concerned about our families and our livelihoods, I have been heartened at the support people have shown for each other at this incredibly difficult time. It is this attitude that I believe makes endeavours such as starting a business more possible. While the road to recovery may be a challenging one, the adaptability and resilience that businesses have shown gives me some confidence that we can slowly but surely bounce back from this crisis and “build back better” a stronger Scotland.

Hugh Lightbody is Chief Officer, Business Gateway National Unit