A significant proportion of companies have already assumed digital transformation as a necessary change for their evolution. However, SMEs, and especially self-employed workers, are finding it more difficult to complete this process.
The self-employed make up a large part of Spain’s active population. Specifically, they number more than 3,284,000 workers – including more than 2,000,000 individuals working in a large range of professional activities, from construction to commerce. In addition, more than 37,000 self-employed workers belong to different professional associations, including doctors, lawyers, architects and pharmacists, among others.
The reality of the business and employment situation in our country shows that the self-employed are those who, in general, normally suffer the most when they want to adapt to the new demands of the market. For instance, looking at commerce, they can’t compete with department stores or online marketplaces. In fact, for these workers, the situation is that one in four SMEs does not have an Internet connection on their premises and up to 70% of the self-employed and SME owners are over 45 years old, that is, they are not digital natives. In addition, in the “new normal”, with restrictions still in place on visitor capacity and physical contact, the self-employed have lost their major advantage over large companies: their proximity to customers.
And it is not that self-employed workers are not aware of the importance of digitalisation, but rather, that their focus is on economic factors. But, actually, when you think about it from a global perspective, digitalisation, apart from the technological aspects, is essentially a pillar that relates to a company’s financial health, as it increases competitiveness and, therefore, income (while also reducing costs).
How to start the process?
The time has come for self-employed workers to support this transformation. Launching a digitalisation process is essential to ensure an efficient business: minimising costs, maintaining the same – or even better – results and competitiveness. And, in the case of people belonging to a professional association, for instance, it takes on special relevance due to the nature of their position, which involves frequent communication with the Administration. But, where to start?
In this process, the first step is to rethink the business model in terms of the way information is processed and management tasks are carried out. At this point, the use of technologies is key and has a clear objective: to be more practical. And this new approach involves using tools that enable the standardisation of everything relating to business management (finances, Human Resources…), digitalisation of paper documents, but also speeding up procedures and avoiding travel, which consume a lot of self-employed workers’ time (time that they would surely prefer to dedicate to the development of their company).
In addition, they can take advantage of the options that different administrative agencies offer them to help adapt the business to new technologies.
When looking to expedite procedures, the use of digital signatures and certification tools is key. The use of a certificate that identifies the professional and enables access to electronic signature applications and the management of all kinds of online procedures, both with the various government agencies and with third parties (clients, suppliers…), while ensuring full legal guarantees. In addition, these tools guarantee the identity of the user and their self-employed status, and the integrity and confidentiality of the information, as well as ensuring that transactions are not rejected.
To obtain a digital certificate, the identity of the applicant has to be validated by a certification body, a step that requires the person’s physical presence. But once obtained, self-employed workers will save precious time on travel and queueing.
With the certificate, self-employed workers will be able to carry out procedures with the AEAT (State Tax Administration Agency), including filing and consulting returns, paying taxes and consulting files; with the Social Security agency, such as registering or de-registering with the RETA (Special Scheme for self-employed workers), among many other processes; and with the electronic headquarters of the CNMC (National Commission on Markets and Competition), to carry out procedures such as requesting arbitration or managing digital notifications for appearance.
Digitalisation in the context of COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted society greatly. But, leaving aside matters relating to health, the concept that would define the current economic and social situation is that of uncertainty. No one knows when we will get back to how things used to be just a few months ago. And, in fact, it is very likely that many attitudes and ways of doing things will never be the same again. We can safely say that many changes are here to stay.
This new scenario, which occurred practically overnight, has caught many self-employed workers and SMEs at a stage where they have not addressed digitalisation. If things had been different, many of them would have found themselves in a more competitive position to face the new situation. For this reason, digitalisation has gone from being an option, a desirable situation, to becoming a requirement. Failure to complete this transition will result in loss of competitiveness, efficiency and, therefore, loss of advantage over the competition.
Once they have entered into the digitalisation process and completed it, they can become much more competitive, increase their productivity and the ability to generate employment, and ultimately, grow their business.