What it feels like as a small business owner staring into the face of Brexit

Jonny McCormick is the Director of Rosseau Ltd and runs a podcast called Spoke. 

I’m an eternal optimist. I always think things are going to go my way – that the chips will fall in my favour. The few times I’ve played the lottery I’ve been convinced I’m going to win. Every time I’m boarding an international flight I think I’m going to be bumped up to First Class. I remember the day before the 2016 Presidential election saying that there was absolutely no way that Donald Trump would even get within shouting distance of the presidency. There was a similar story on the eve of the UK EU referendum. I was a Remainer and I remember going to bed that evening and having a brief conversation with my wife. She had expressed some concerns which I immediately dismissed (that should have been a warning sign!) … I said that there was NO WAY we would be leaving the EU. I wasn’t even remotely worried about it. I think I actually said to a colleague earlier that week that it would even be close like 70/30 in favour of remain. I guess what I’m trying to say is that despite all of this optimism I’m often wrong – but I’m an optimist nonetheless.

However, when it comes to leaving the EU I’m struggling to hold on to any modicum of optimism. Is there any? If so, please let me know – I could do with the boost of hope. If I was still working for a large corporate organisation like I have in the past I might have been less concerned about Brexit and what it means, but since starting a business just over a year ago things feel very uncertain.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t some sort of doomsday approach to Brexit I’m not saying that come the end of March the bottom is going to fall out of our economy and there will be no government stability. But, what I am saying is that we just don’t know – and that’s almost worse. When you don’t know what the outcome will be it’s really hard to make plans. For businesses that export it’s clear that they’ll need to plan some contingencies but for a small business that’s just considering what to do next to expand their business or thinking about where they can invest some of their capital it’s really hard to know what to do. I know this is something I’m struggling with and I’d bet I’m not alone.

There’s lots of thought leaders, companies, policy agencies and third sector organisations who are trying to help people navigate the uncertainty and they’re doing a good job. But, this becomes increasingly difficult when the government and our politicians can’t agree on a plan. Clandestine deals, secret handshakes and midnight negotiations might be good for holding together a tenuous power-base but it doesn’t help small business owners deal with the uncertainty that is growing day-by-day.

So, what do you think? What would you say to a small or medium sized business owner? Are they right to be cautious and wait until the chips of Brexit finally fall before making any decisions? Or is this approach too risk-averse…do you think Brexit and its impact is being overemphasised?