The European Referendum is now just over a week away.
The general consensus is that the economy will take a dip after the European Referendum – whatever the outcome.
As a small business we are largely dependent on the local economy and our own investment and growth plans will probably stall.
We could be about to take a step into the unknown?
The likely outcome of the European Referendum?
If nothing else, the European Referendum has confirmed my belief that the printed word is still the best form of communication.
We have been bombarded by newspaper, television, radio, liveried buses and advertising from all sides.
It is the written word that has been the most influential medium to date.
Newspapers have generally supported the Brexit campaign.
Whereas the majority of senior business figures and independent authorities feel the economic case for Remain is indisputable.
The bookmakers are usually correct and they feel we will vote to Remain – although the odds are shortening!
One theory is that the public are becoming bored – and probably more interested in Euro 2016, Ascot or Wimbledon!
Opinion polls have lost all their credibility after the last general election.
However, the Scottish Referendum showed that we are largely risk averse and do not want to step into the unknown and risk our own futures.
My favourite article relating to why Brexit could actually happen explains the possibility against overwhelming economic logic.
The best article reflecting the benefits of leaving the European Union is based on some business case studies – many here in the West Midlands.
And a balanced view comes from the London School of Economics arguing why it is best to remain within the EU.
But as with the Goldman Sachs predictions for the football – nobody really knows!
In the same way that the next president of the USA is elected – it is likely to be decided upon who the electorate dislike least!
What issues have not been addressed so far?
The main worry over the possible Brexit outcome of the European Referendum concerns any future trade deals and the continuation of uncertainty.
Firstly, our USB’s of having the global language and general stability within Europe allow us to be the “gateway” to the largest single market in the world.
If we left the union, investors from around the world would opt to locate or re-locate on the mainland.
Secondly, we do not seem to be able to produce high quality people with experience of business in our public services.
Do our own politicians and civil servants have the ability to negotiate good trade deals?
This would suggest that any trade deals struck independently would not be particularly more beneficial than those currently in place.
There is also a particular concern about the lightweight team of politicians and business leaders supporting Brexit and being capable of implementing their proposed solutions.
And thirdly, not enough is being made of the importance of selling services within Europe and beyond.
Services make up the bulk of our economy.
We will continue to depend more and more on services in the future.
They are usually outside the scope of any international trade Agreements other than the one we are currently trying to establish within the EU Single Market.
A single market for service industries would place us as the leader in creative industries, financial services and many other sectors if we Remain.
How will the European Referendum affect industry in the UK?
The first thing to note is that the European Referendum has already slowed our regional and national economy over the last few months.
There is considerable uncertainty around – and the majority of our customers seem to be holding back on investment plans.
Costs are increasing much faster than prices – and in particular the living wage will become the final straw for many a small business.
In the retail industry there are already some 46,000 empty shops of which some 11,000 have been empty for 3 years or more.
A more complex supply chain and price rises caused by a weaker pound will make things a lot worse.
We are all fighting for a smaller piece of cake and there is not enough business to go around.
There will be some serious casualties in the months ahead.
How will the European Referendum affect the printing industry in the UK?
According to the Print Week poll printers seem fairly split regarding the European Referendum vote.
Technology has overtaken many printing businesses trying to grow in a declining market and a digital world.
Many have diversified into cross media, large format or other growing sectors – like digital printing .
In the case of Direct2Print we are searching for new and complementary services – like digital communications and web design.
We import some of our specialist printing from the continent because it is more cost-effective than to source from within the UK.
So if we leave, it is likely that our costs from print and paper suppliers will increase.
Can these costs be passed on to our customers? Probably not!
However, we have gained from the European Referendum.
Our largest order this year so far has been an order for 100,000 business cards and leaflets promoting Brexit – ironically funded largely by an EU Grant!
How will the European Referendum affect the West Midlands area?
The outlook in the West Midlands area is not good!
Creating growth requires creativity, long term planning and investment.
We do not seem to possess this capability with our short-term approach to business.
But the majority of industrial estates and business parks already have a very low occupancy.
The average High Street in the region illustrates the same national trends of decline.
A large amount of the funding for re-investment has previously been obtained through European grants.
The worry for the future is that the other regions of the UK will claim a larger slice of the available money from a UK government.
Decisions made in London are more likely to be based upon political rather than economic reasons!
Finally – Be Prepared!
If Brexit does happen we will all need to adapt very quickly.
If the Remain vote holds up there is also likely to be a slow period of growth whilst there is considerable political turmoil.
Having a printing business is going to get tougher.
Having a West Midlands printing business is going to get tougher still!
It is not all bad news though!
Small companies can move quicker and faster than their larger competitors.
Businesses will need low cost and practical marketing solutions from specialists.
The internet is opening new opportunities to expand market reach.
Small niche print suppliers like Direct2Print can now print and distribute not just throughout the UK but to Europe and beyond.
We can, hopefully, soon all get back to business as normal when this uncertainty ends.
But for most of us it will mean a new strategy and approach to grow in a highly volatile market.