The Hidden Overhead: Small Business Burglary

Of course every business should consider security a priority. But for startups and small businesses, there is a tendency to overlook physical security – particularly in the formative phases. This could be due to the perception that new or small operations aren’t visible enough to potential criminals, or that they are unattractive targets because they don’t keep as much cash.

Unfortunately, research conducted by Direct Line for Business disputes that. Over one million small businesses have been targeted by criminals in the UK over the last two years.

Small business burglars
photo credit: stavos

With the most frequent offences including break-ins leading to theft and property damage, David Ransom (Director of the Business Crime Reduction Centre) says that crime is the hidden overhead for many small businesses.

As a startup there will be a lot of things competing for your limited funds. You could make your first priority investing in measures for maximising your productivity for example. But if you first ensure that you have a secure environment, you may be able to significantly improve the long-term survival of your business.

Location, Location, Crime Cessation

Where you choose to locate your business will determine the types of security measures needed. A small, home-based operation may not need a physical office, especially when virtual offices can be hired to give the impression of a prestigious address and to provide call answering services. A setup like this will require less attention to your physical security and potentially more emphasis on ensuring your cloud-based storage is secure.

But if your business relies on people actually walking into your store, you can’t afford to be incognito. And with more exposure comes more risk. If you’re based on the high street and advertise your products in the window, burglar proof glass is usually a good start. On the other hand, if you’re not window-selling, sturdy locks and some form of surveillance will be essential.

Wherever you decide to set up shop, take some time to look at the crime rates for the area and chat to experts. “We’ve found that clients initially seeking to save money on rental spaces are usually unaware of the potential expense that can accompany higher risk areas,” explains Sunny Sandhu from West London-based estate agents iProperties.

Affluent areas can equally be at risk though. A recent Greater London Authority report on small business crime found that on average, 80 London businesses are attacked each day with the worst borough being (surprise!) Westminster with 3,044 incidents in 2013.

The bottom line: Do your homework. Look for in-depth information on the locations you are targeting and insist that your rental agent is entirely candid.

Burglar alarm sign
photo credit: Elliott Brown

Security Systems

While burglar alarms are a must for all businesses, not all security systems have to be state-of-the-art. “Sometimes just having proper lighting in doors and parking lots can make all the difference: if your business is highly visible to passers-by with bright lights illuminating your property, that could be a highly effective deterrent,” explains Terry Roffey from security provider Brook Security.

Aside from securing your premises, if you have a retail space you may have to think about additional security for your products like retail tagging systems that will trigger alarms when taken past a predefined limit.

Then there is the (hopefully unlikely) eventuality of dealing with an intruder. A defence alarm like SmokeCloak can be a good solution here, saturating the room with thick smoke, putting a barrier between your goods and the criminal. It also notifies the authorities at the same time.

An effective and additional deterrent of installing security systems is their visibility. Whether it’s the actual CCTV camera or just the product sticker in your shop, knowing there is another layer of security often puts opportunists off.


Although it may not be pleasant to contemplate, you should not ignore the possibility that theft could come from within your business. It may not have to be malicious intent or even neglect on the part of your staff. If you use external companies or have visitors to your premises, you will be more vulnerable.

Minimise opportunities for theft and burglary by introducing a security protocol. This could include an access system that grants entry to certain areas only, depending on the function of the staff or visitor.

Also practice drills for quickly evacuating a space in the case of any criminal activity. An increased company-wide awareness, much like surveillance posters, will also make you seem less vulnerable. As Steve Sell, from Tyco Integrated Security as pointed out, vigilance in retail outlets such as making eye contact with potential offenders can put them off entirely.

The small business sector is responsible for four out of every five new jobs and contributes to more than half of all commercial innovations.

With the internet awash with guides for successfully launching startups, it can be easy to overlook one of the most fundamentally crucial aspects of securing any new enterprise. But whilst you may be starting small, you can’t afford to let there be anything small about your security.