Business confidence is a funny thing. The news can be full of doom and gloom and yet many small business owners manage to remain resolutely positive. Certainly, when we polled small firms last Spring, there was a good deal of optimism, with 48% saying they expected 2012 to be better than 2011.
What a difference a year makes. Now, it seems, business owners are considerably gloomier. Our February 2013 small business survey, sponsored by Sage, found that just 34% of business people are optimistic about the year ahead.
And it seems this dramatic drop in confidence is having some knock-on effects. 6% of respondents say they plan to make redundancies — double the 3% who said the same in 2012.
In addition, 22% are unsure about the prospect of redundancies, significantly more than the 10% who said they were unsure about laying off staff this time last year.
It looks as though many are putting growth plans on hold as they adjust to what some are calling “the new normal” — economic stagnation. For instance, just 32% told us they planned to spend more on marketing — a big drop from the 51% that were planning to invest more in marketing in 2012.
Most small firms say that Government support is not sufficient — a total of 72% of respondents told us that the Government will either not do enough or not do anything to support businesses in 2013. Mind you, last year that figure was 73%, so there’s little change there.
What has clearly changed is business optimism.
SME owners are the backbone of the British economy, making up 99.9% of all UK private sector businesses and contributing 48.8% of private sector turnover (according to the FSB).
Small business owners have done everything within their power to ride out this storm — from painful belt-tightening to finding new gaps in their markets and opportunities to grow. But it has been a long haul and there’s a sense that they are growing weary.
It’s important not to give up now. We recently published James Hay’s blog, Keep swimming, on Marketing Donut, extolling the business benefits of simply keeping going. It clearly struck a chord.
The relentless bad news can be hard to ignore but small firms need to stay positive if they are to survive and thrive. Let’s hope that in confidence terms — as well as economically — we have already hit bottom.
Rachel Miller is the editor of Marketing Donut.
Those who completed the survey were automatically entered into a draw, with a spanking new iPad mini available as a prize. The winner was Jackie Beard, owner of Gloucestershire-based florist and flower arranging business Jessabel Flowers. Many thanks to sponsors Sage, as well as Jackie and everyone else who took the time to complete the survey.
If you've been looking for ways to take your daily website traffic levels to the next level, consider utilising the following three types of digital media:
Video marketing is a strategy that is often overlooked by small-business owners, probably because they feel it is beyond their budget. However, having a video advertisement produced that contains all of the key selling points of your business can be a very cost-effective way to promote your business. Once you've paid for the production/distribution, it could remain usable for many years, bringing ongoing benefits that far outweigh initial investment.
Social networking is a great way to share any type of content, whether it be a video advertisement or an informative article. With the assistance of specialists who use powerful software and expertise to promote web pages and advertising materials on social networks you'll be able to attract massive traffic levels before you've even begun ranking highly in the search engines. In fact, generating a viral effect through social networks is perhaps the best way to generate a significant traffic spike with minimal effort.
Having a professional press release developed and distributed can be a great way to improve your SEO (search engine optimisation) and attract more website visitors. A link to your website can be added and if it is posted on a news media site with a high PR, that link should have a positive effect on your website's SEO standings. A well-written press release can be syndicated by other journalists, spreading around the web on other online PR sites.
Provided by digital media agency Custard Media
Auto-enrolment is coming – and you’d better be ready. The first wave is already underway, with the nation’s largest employers now legally required to enrol all eligible employees into a workplace pension scheme, but pretty soon it’s going to be the turn of small businesses. By 2017, all UK employers – from families with nannies to the largest corporations – will be required to operate an occupational pension scheme.
Many smaller employers have never had to think about pension provision before, and the legislation can be complex and confusing if the right financial and legal advice is not sought. It is estimated that about 75% of small employers have no workplace pension scheme at present, and they will have the biggest hurdles in front of them.
The amount of preparatory work for auto-enrolment has been severely underestimated by a number of employers already, so it is best to start planning well in advance. To find out when you will be required to implement auto-enrolment (your ‘staging date’), it’s best to check the Pension Regulator’s website and begin finding out about the changes your business will need to instigate to be prepared for auto-enrolment.
In taking key decisions away from employees regarding their pension savings, there is an increased administrative burden on employers. Payroll systems must be capable of identifying eligible employees and deducting contributions from their salary as required. Employees’ circumstances (and therefore their eligibility) can change frequently and administrative systems must keep up to date to achieve full compliance with legislation.
Not only that, but employers will need to begin budgeting for the extra costs to their business. At your staging date you will only be required to pay 1% of your employees’ salaries into a pension pot, but by October 2018, this will rise to a 3% statutory contribution.
However, it is possible to see this pension expenditure as an investment in recruitment and a driver of organisational performance. Selecting a suitable pension scheme is a crucial decision, especially if you are unable to adapt an existing arrangement. Engaging with employees and aligning pension arrangements with business aims, culture and branding can attract new talent to your business and encourage greater performance from existing employees.
Although many employers do not agree with auto-enrolment legislation, wilful failure to comply is a criminal offence, and may attract fines, imprisonment or both. So, is your business prepared for auto-enrolment?
By Matthew Selby, who writes about pensions and employee benefits for Now Pensions and others.
Invoice finance benefits small businesses by: allowing business growth; protecting cashflow, because late payments and increased credit terms are no longer an issue; providing an alternative to overdrafts and loans that can be difficult to secure at appropriate levels.
This can be seen with two of the fastest-growing industries using invoice finance today. The construction industry has enjoyed an increase of 138% for construction businesses taking up invoice finance from 2007 to 2012, particularly affecting small builders' firms who find it most difficult to secure an overdraft at the levels they need. The manufacturing industry has seen a similar increase in adopters of invoice finance, with an increase of 120% from 2007 to 2012. So why are these industries choosing to take invoice finance as their funding solution?
Invoice finance is flexible; it requires little collateral and takes into account that customers do not always pay invoices on the date of the invoice’s creation. These are especially pertinent reasons for the construction industry, because these businesses are often paid 60 to 90 days after the job is complete.
Invoice finance provides them with a cash advance of any invoices created. By allowing the business to fund projects with the money they would have previously only secured once the job is complete, they can now pay costs such as wages and purchase raw materials, which are required throughout a project’s lifetime.
Banks are unwilling to lend to what is often seen as a risky industry for late and non-payments. This is probably due to construction projects being easily halted by problems such as bad weather, or simply because the job has not been finished to the customer’s satisfaction. These problems can be seriously harmful to cashflow, because the banks are looking predominantly at historical financial data to assess whether a business (particularly a small business or startup) is worth lending to.
Construction businesses that are turning a corner and are in fact profitable, have responded to this by seeking out alternative forms of finance – invoice finance, where funding is judged on the future income of a business rather than its historical records.
Two other extremely popular adopters of invoice finance, according to data from Touch Financial, are recruitment businesses and those in wholesale and distribution. Wholesale and distribution often suffer from late payments, and the nature of the wholesale business means they need a quick stock turnaround in order to maximise income and profits. In no other industry does time mean money more than in wholesale, and invoice finance allows protection against late payment, while strengthening cashflow to allow the purchase of further stock as quickly as possible. This gives the safety and flexibility smaller businesses benefit from the most.
Recruitment is a sector where invoice finance also appears to be thriving. Contractors often require payment before the customers settle their bills and invoice finance provides the working capital to achieve this. Recruitment companies often have few high-value assets, which makes securing a bank loan or overdraft difficult, particularly earlier on in the business’s life. Invoice finance provides cash you are to receive in the future through the invoices you generate today and usually requires little other assets to secure - something an overdraft cannot provide.
Late payments, poor credit history and a lack of assets are all common reasons for small businesses being unable to grow to their full potential. 2013 is likely to see a further increase in the amount of construction and manufacturing sector businesses moving towards invoice finance, while wholesale/distribution and recruitment SMEs should continue to benefit from the flexible funding that invoice finance has provided them throughout the years.
Written by GrahamTripp on behalf of invoice finance provider Touch Financial