After a significant bounce-back in the spring, small business growth forecasts are still looking good and the number of small firms that fear they might not survive has hit its lowest level for two years.
The latest business data from Hitachi Capital Business Finance shows that UK small firms are in better shape than might have been expected given current pressures including transport disruption, labour shortages and fears of a winter fuel crisis.
The new figures show that business confidence has hardly changed over the last nine months, since it bounced back in the spring, and 35% of business owners are predicting growth for the next three months.
Fears about business failure were widespread when the pandemic first hit in April 2020, with 29% of small businesses fearing they would close within three months. That figure has now fallen to just 5%.
Evidence of new-found stability for many small businesses also comes with a rise in the number of enterprises that predict "no change" in their business outlook on previous quarters. This has doubled since the early months of the pandemic, and has risen every quarter this year to a new high of 52%. For small businesses that are unable to predict growth, or are impacted by current market disruption, there appears to be an underlying confidence that they can weather the storm.
Looking ahead to the Christmas sales period, the growth outlook for small businesses across sectors is much improved; in some sectors, current growth outlook has even surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
In the hospitality sector, businesses are gearing up for a busy Christmas period, with 35% predicting growth in the next three months - almost double the figure this time last year (18%). The outlook in manufacturing for the Christmas period is also relatively bullish. Growth predictions here have doubled compared to the all-time low this time last year (from 23% to 49%).
In sectors where small business growth forecasts were least affected by COVID - IT, telecoms, media and marketing - growth forecasts have continued to rise and are now higher than they were before the pandemic.
However, retail businesses along with travel and distribution are less optimistic, with fewer enterprises predicting growth compared to this time last year. These sectors have been seriously impacted by labour shortages and supply chain disruption.
Joanna Morris, head of insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance, said: "Given the challenges we have all experienced getting fuel in recent weeks - and the warnings there may even be no turkeys for Christmas - our latest findings present an emphatic endorsement of the crucial role the small business community plays to the economy and society at large.
"Having experienced difficulty during lockdown, many have found ways to adapt and grow in the last year - and for those that can't grow, a record number of business leaders are able to hold firm and weather the storm … The overall picture is one of remarkable solidity when faced with a volatile market - what has appeared is an agility and a willingness to adapt to change."
Written by Rachel Miller.