Survey reveals small business owners' optimism about 2012

By: Rachel Miller

Date: 15 February 2012

Our recent survey attracted almost 700 respondents – all hoping to win a Dell Vostro laptop. Many congratulations to the lucky winner — Cyd Smith of C S Accounting Services in Tyne & Wear.

This was a competition with strings attached. We asked you to share your views on the current business climate and about your plans for 2012. And the results paint a very interesting picture.

Today’s small firms, it seems, have a positive outlook for 2012.

Top-line results reveal that almost half of small businesses think things will improve in 2012, one third are planning to invest in new job roles and cloud computing technology, the majority are planning to spend more on marketing and just three per cent expect to make redundancies this year.

But what’s fascinating is that small firms are doing this by themselves. They say that they don’t expect government help and most are not looking to borrow money from their banks.

Small business owners speak out

Let’s take a look at the results. The first thing to note is that 82 per cent of respondents describe themselves as SMEs or sole traders with a turnover of less than £2 million. Respondents are fairly evenly scattered from across the UK.

Crucially, most of our respondents (63 per cent) are owners, founders or managing directors. A further 22 per cent describe themselves as either directors or managers. So these findings come straight from the horse’s mouth.

A number of questions were designed to take the temperature of business confidence among small firms. And the results are encouraging. Only three per cent, for instance, say they expect to make redundancies this year. Ten per cent are unsure. But the vast majority — 87 per cent — do not expect to have to lay off staff.

Another positive indicator concerns marketing spend. 51 per cent of respondents expect to spend more on marketing in 2012. Just nine per cent plan to cut their marketing budgets.

Next we asked — “In general, how do you view the economic outlook for your business in 2012 compared to 2011?” Only 16 per cent think things will be worse. Almost half (48 per cent) think things will be better.

Support for small firms

The thorny question of support for small firms shows that entrepreneurs are determined to succeed, with or without help from government or the banks. Two-thirds of respondents (67 per cent) say they won’t be asking their banks for finance. And only five per cent plan to approach their banks for new funding this year.

What about government support? We asked respondents to choose the statement that best matched their view on government support. These are the results:

  • 45 per cent agree that “we do not expect the government to support our business and sector in 2012”.
  • 28 per cent agree that “government is unlikely to do enough to support our business and sector in 2012”.
  • 22 per cent agree that “the government will do what it can in the current economic climate”.
  • Just five per cent agree that “private businesses should work to offer support rather than the government”.

Investment plans

Small business owners are fairly cautious about recruiting new staff, although one third (34 per cent) say they are planning to invest in new job roles in 2012. More respondents, however, are sure that they will not be creating new positions (44 per cent).

The number of respondents planning to employ young people via training schemes, internships and apprenticeships is a little underwhelming. A fifth of respondents say they plan to take on new young recruits (21 per cent) but most are either unsure (12 per cent), considering it (24 per cent), or definitely not recruiting young people (43 per cent).

The majority of SME respondents (60 per cent) plan to invest in technology in 2012. And the message is loud and clear — cloud computing, virtualisation, outsourcing IT and mobile working are likely to get the lion’s share of investment.

Overseas expansion is less significant. The survey shows that 19 per cent of respondents are already trading overseas. But most respondents only trade in the UK and plan to keep it that way (62 per cent). Just nine per cent are planning to start trading overseas in 2012.

Optimism for 2012

Overall, this survey highlights a good deal of optimism among small businesses as they face the year ahead. We are planning to conduct another survey later in 2012. Please take the time to respond and help us to give UK small business owners a voice.

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