On top form: meet the makers who are breaking new ground

Small business owners get a helping hand when it comes to keeping up with the latest trends thanks to Mastercard’s Strive UK programme
Full of fresh ideas: Lou Brown launched Newcastle’s Goodstrangevibes in 2018

The next generation of entrepreneurs differ from their predecessors in one key way: they’re digital-first. With little or no bricks-and-mortar presence, these nimble operators are using online platforms for everything from marketing and customer communications to sales and distribution. But the digital world moves fast, and even the savviest entrepreneurs can feel lost.

“I can feel a generational shift,” says Lou Brown, who launched Newcastle’s Goodstrangevibes in 2018, as a student. “Younger people are on to TikTok and Instagram Reels, so I’m asking how I do that.”

Goodstrangevibes creates illustrated products, including T-shirts, notebooks and greetings cards, to make a difference in such areas as body positivity, mental health, LGBTQ+ topics and sex education. “Three years into running my business, and I’m still learning,” they say. “My website provider recently added gift cards, a function I really wanted. So learning that is on my list too. There are new things, constantly, every week.”

This sense of relentless change will resonate with owners of small businesses across the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a huge acceleration to digital and while some of these businesses were well positioned to cope, many weren’t. Research carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), on behalf of Mastercard, found that while 70 per cent of small businesses believe technology can help improve business performance, 39 per cent feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice of digital tools; and one in three small businesses don’t know how to access the digital and IT skills they need for growth.

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