In the world of startups; lean and agile are often terms used when testing business ideas, launching products into market on shoestring budgets, and failing fast, learning quickly. We spoke to finance expert Jasmine Birtles from MoneyMagpie on her thoughts of SME finance and what’s lined up for 2017.

MoneyMagpie is a national money-making and money-saving website aimed at consumers and those who want to set up a small business. It also has a section devoted to its national Clear Your Clutter campaign which happens every year (this year it will be on March 11th) and encourages people to make and save money by ditching their junk and living a simpler life.

Jasmine Birtles is an internationally-recognised financial journalist and TV presenter. She is the author of 38 books and regularly appears on news and magazine programmes on TV and radio commenting on financial and economic stories. She lectures on branding, money management and how to run yourself as a business.

What were the biggest issues SMEs faced in 2016?

Brexit, Brexit and Brexit…and technology.

Brexit pushed Sterling down which has been good for businesses that sell abroad – particularly tourism – but many SMEs have found their costs rocket as raw materials and transport suddenly jumped in price.

Technology and the internet generally have continued to weaken the high street so that traditional retailers – including small boutique operations – are now facing extinction unless they move everything online. Technology also continued to erode jobs which can be good news for bosses except that technology has often proved itself to be much more unreliable than was originally believed.

For those just starting out, do you have any small business tips and ideas that they can use this year?

Yes, do a LOT of research and make sure that you do a realistic business plan. Also, make sure you go for a sector where you know there is room for you and which is growing. For example, as it’s quite possible that we will get another recession soon, businesses connected to debt management, bailiffs and the like could do well. Don’t just create a business because it’s what you personally enjoy (e.g. cup cakes, Pilates studio, designer lingerie), you must have cast iron figures that prove it is viable before you take the leap.

Marketing has changed considerably in the last year, especially for small businesses, do you have any tips that SMEs can use to market their products and ideas on a shoestring budget?

The various social media networks are a wonderful boon to SMEs. I know of businesses that work entirely off Facebook. Spend time even before you launch your business, building a network on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and SnapChat.

If you are selling products, see if you can set up a business on eBay, Amazon, Etsy or one of the platforms that already exists and can help to promote your product for you. If you have a bit of cash to spend, do Facebook ads because they are currently relatively cheap. Same for Youtube ads. In fact, if you have the time to create some fun videos for Youtube then go for that as well. All of these can do your marketing for you if you work at it a bit.

What can small businesses do to provide more certainty and continue to grow despite challenges in 2017?

That’s a big ask in this year of uncertainty!

Firstly, keep costs down as much as possible, but don’t scrimp on promotion and marketing if you can manage it. Also, make as many liaisons with other businesses in your sector as possible, including competitors. How can you promote each other? How can you share costs – including PR and marketing – and even share clients? in tough times we need to share and help each other both as individuals and as businesses.

Are you a small business owner?

Check out our SME business finance guide here

Download guide