Business set to turn the corner from January

The 2009 Business Pulse report, commissioned by BT Business as part of Small Business Week, with 7,200 respondents, is the UK’s largest survey of small and medium sized businesses this year. In spite of the challenging environment, 61% are confident about their business prospects for the coming year and 45% say their business operates for the better as a result of the downturn. 41% believe small businesses will innovate and diversify to create new industries as the UK emerges from the downturn.

The impact of the recession is still raw for 18% of firms who say it’s had a negative, lasting impact on business performance. 43% say they’ve lost customers, 17% say business costs are up and 16% cite an increase in debt.

The research measured the current health, drivers and inhibitors to successful UK business, to understand the full impact of the recession on small firms. Respondents were indexed by age, gender, region and industry sector and findings show that females aged 46-55 have been most affected by the recession; Northern Ireland, London and the West Midlands are the most affected regions, with the construction sector and companies with two-five employees hardest hit. Nationally 48 % of small businesses say turnover is down with nearly a quarter seeing a dip of more than 10%.

Mark Prisk, MP, Conservative Shadow Small Business Minister (pictured above), said “Small businesses are vital to the country’s economic recovery; they don’t want a hand out, but a hand up. They know that if they make it in the tough times then they can prosper in the better times. It’s important that we listen and understand to the practical problems which they face, so that established companies can grow and new businesses can flourish.”

The report identified the positive steps firms have taken to manage the downturn. Smaller organisations have been quick to change the way they operate with 45% of respondents saying that the recession has changed their business for the better by enabling them to reduce their spending (54%), better manage and retain their customers and market their business more effectively (26%).
Word of mouth plays a crucial role in business survival, with small firms looking to peers, friends or family for advice. 47% of respondents have approached peers and 32% choose friends and family before their banks (29%).

External support is still critical to drive business forward. 43% of respondents want more support around access to finance, 39% ask for more access to legal and regulatory advice and 33% request more advice about growing their business.

Full findings of the research will be debated by a business leadership panel hosted by Peter Jones and Lord Digby Jones at the launch of Small Business Week. The panel will discuss what’s required from the commercial and non-commercial sector to support smaller enterprises.

Small Business Week 2009 is dedicated to championing commercial, industry and government support for the UK’s 4.7 million-plus smaller enterprises. It is supported by BT Business, in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce, Business Link, the ACCA and NatWest.

A number of events, roundtable discussions, web seminars and advice clinics will be taking place throughout the week. More information can be found at