In this article, Anna and Jemma share the results of The Rural Business Awards’ recent survey, created in partnership with Amazon.

Getting rural businesses’ voices heard

The Rural Business Group is officially launching in February 2019. We are on a mission to help rural businesses’ voices to be heard.

In the same spirit, prior to kicking off this year’s Rural Business Awards regional ceremonies, we worked with our headline awards sponsor, Amazon, to hear your views about what it’s like to lead a rural business. We gathered insights about the joys of rural working, views on rural entrepreneurialism and its future in the face of Brexit, and the role played by digital technology and infrastructure in rural businesses.

The findings from the poll gave a fascinating snapshot of rural business life – highlighting insights of the current picture for rural businesses and views on what the future holds for our businesses.

We enjoy the advantages of a better work/life environment

The fundamental wellbeing benefits from spending time in nature are widely reported. So it tallies that our poll found that views of the local area are the number one upside from working in a rural area versus an urban area, with 69% of rural business people marking this as a benefit. Two-thirds of rural business-people cite their work-life balance as a benefit to working in a rural rather than urban location.

We also found that 3 in 5 rural businesses were either set up or based at home, while the majority of those who commute adapted their mode of travel last year, due particularly (29%) to health considerations, but also problems with public transport (24%) and environmental concerns (22%). Impressively, more than a third of rural entrepreneurs began walking to work in the last year, and an even more speedy 7% switched to a running commute! 

But we need further investment in our local workforce and infrastructure

However, the results also worryingly point to a perceived lack of local investment in training for the workforce. Only 8% of rural businesspeople say that their area supports businesses through provision of workshops for example, and just 12% think local schools or colleges do their part to nurture talent. A mere 4% say that their local area supports rural businesses through investing in travel infrastructure, and only 13% believe that their local area provides sufficient digital infrastructure support.

The latter is particularly concerning in the context of research by Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College, commissioned by Amazon, which found that unlocking the digital potential of rural areas across the UK could add £12 to 26.4bn annually in Gross Value Added (GVA) – equivalent to 4 to 8.8 per cent – to the rural economy and at least £15bn to rural business turnover each year.

And we should support the next generation of talent

On this theme, a great majority (81%) expect to rely more on digital technology for their business to prosper in the future. Accordingly, 42% believe doing more to teach digital skills both in schools and at after-school clubs should be a key way to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs. More broadly, 78% recommend that to encourage entrepreneurialism from a young age, children should be encouraged to think creatively, while 70% also believe in the need to encourage them to ask more questions.

Above all – we are upbeat about the future of our rural businesses

Despite the above concerns, we found a great sense of optimism among rural entrepreneurs overall during our research – there is overall neutrality (63% neither agreed or disagreed) on whether Brexit should have a positive impact on their businesses and a reassuring 86% told us they feel optimistic about the future and 58% plan to recruit in the short term.

It has been wonderful hearing this same sense of positivity when speaking to many of you at our regional Rural Business Awards ceremonies. Despite often having the odds stacked against us versus urban counterparts, whether it’s facing up to outdated stereotypes, battling with funding cuts and a lack of investment in local infrastructure, the sheer talent and success amongst rural businesses never fails to astound us, and we agree that with the right acknowledgement and support, there is much to be excited for in the future.

Anna Price & Jemma Clifford