Irrespective of whether you think Brexit will herald a new age of prosperity or is a sure way to decline, there's absolutely no doubt that the economy is in for a few bumpy years. The Prime Minister's recent speech left no room for ambiguity - there are going to be no half measures when it comes to refashioning Britain's place in international trade. We'll be out of the Single Market, out of the Customs Union and, potentially, relying on World Trade Organisation rules to dictate the terms of future trade. It turns out Brexit really does mean Brexit.
Small business leaders and entrepreneurs may well feel that the speech did little more than guarantee a period of profound uncertainty. They now know what the terms of trade with European markets won't be in the future, but will have to wait some time to find out what they will be. This suggests that the recent Federation of Small Business (FSB) headlines about renewed levels of post-Brexit vote confidence may be a little premature.
The FSB reports that small business confidence 'bounced back' to a headline score of +8.5 in the fourth quarter of 2016, up from -2.9 in the previous quarter. However, it has yet to be seen if this is the start of a positive new trend or simply a blip in pattern of declining confidence that has been the trend since mid-2015. Genuine confidence - and business success - will result from a clear view of how to mitigate the risks and maximise the opportunities that the next few years are going to present.
There are a lot of options for entrepreneurs and small business leaders to consider. Some are quite tactical - the extent to which costs and investment should be scaled back until the economic context is more settled, for example. Others are much more strategic. For example, one implication of Brexit will be that the 'domestic market' will need to be considered as the UK only, rather than Europe-wide. Firms will need to deal with this by thinking more strategically about the markets they want to be in and the products they will need to offer. Some may decide to consolidate in the UK while others may seek to build on existing links and use the newly internationalised terms of European trade as a springboard towards doing business even further afield.
Unfortunately, the 'post-truth' age we seem to be living in is making it hard to make sound business decisions. There are plenty of opinions about what is happening and what will happen, but it often seems like the most passionately argued point of view wins out against the best informed. There has never been a greater need for credible business insight and advisory services to cut through the noise. At the GSM London Formation Zone we're seeing an increase in both start-ups and established businesses looking for support. Whether it's as a source of evidence-led insight into new business possibilities or simply space to kick around ideas and explore options, it seems that business support services are becoming more necessary than ever.
As Winston Churchill is once reported to have said "never let a good crisis go to waste". It remains to be seen whether the historic decision to leave the European Union will indeed lead us into a state of national crisis, but entrepreneurs and small business leaders should certainly be taking stock to see how they can benefit from what is, at the very least, a period of increased uncertainty. All options should be on the table, but support should be sought to decide which ones to take up.