Proportion of Small Businesses Predicting Organic Growth Hits Two-Year High As Omicron Restrictions Ease

Sunday 20th February 2022

More than three in 10 small business owners (32%) have started 2022 predicting organic growth for the next three months - the highest level since January 2020.

Now in its ninth year, the tracking study by Novuna Business Finance suggests that small business confidence in January is often an accurate indication for the year ahead. The latest figures reveal that whilst the percentage of small business owners predicting significant growth for the next three months remained unchanged from this time last year, the larger group predicting organic growth has risen sharply. Compared to this time last year, there have also been falls in the proportion of small businesses predicting contraction or collapse.

Small business growth predications: Annual trends 2018-22

(Column percentages)

Q1 2022

Q1

2021

Q1

2020

Q2

2019

Q1

2018

Significant expansion

4%

4%

6%

5%

6%

Organic growth

32%

22%

32%

29%

33%

No change / stay the same

46%

45%

44%

46%

47%

Contract / scale down

9%

14%

10%

10%

8%

Struggle to survive

7%

13%

5%

7%

4%

Don't know

2%

2%

3%

2%

2%

Short-term changes since Omicron restrictions

Looking at shorter-term change on the previous quarter, the percentage of small business owners predicting net growth rose in the construction sector (up from 26% to 38%), real estate (up from 24% to 36%) and confidence more than doubled in agriculture - up from 12% to 23%. In contrast, those industry sectors hardest hit by Christmas Covid restrictions saw a fall in confidence for this quarter. In retail, the percentage of small businesses predicting growth fell from 29% to 23% and in the troubled hospitality sector growth predictions fell from 34% to 29%.

Welsh and Scottish businesses bounce back from lockdown

The key regional highlights were in Wales and Scotland, where growth predictions for the next three months hit a 9-month high - a resounding bounce-back after the challenging period of Christmas restrictions.

Q1 2022

Q4

2021

Q3

2021

Q2

2021

Q1

2021

Wales

27%

20%

20%

39%

18%

Scotland

35%

29%

29%

32%

17%

Elsewhere, London saw a moderate increase in the percentage of small businesses predicting growth, but there was a sharp fall in the south East (falling from 39% to 27%). It is possible that Covid had greater disruption on small businesses that supply London market than it did on enterprises based in the capital.

Home working as productive as returning to work

With millions of people facing a return to the workplace in the coming months, the research also suggests working from home can be equally as productive as returning to the office. Nationally, 39% of small businesses unaffected by Covid predicted growth for the next three months, compared to 37% of enterprises whose staff will continue to work from home. It was business that had been temporarily closed as a result of Covid (20%) - or were having to re-purpose their services and offer (27%) - that were far less likely to predict growth for the next 3 months.

The research also reveals a correlation between growth outlook and progressive view towards technology and the environment. Businesses that had fully used technology to drive operational efficiencies were far more likely to predict growth than those that had not innovated enough (27%), or who struggled to make full use of it (18%).

On green issues, small businesses that were working on a clear plan to become carbon neutral were also far more likely to predict growth (54%) compared to those enterprises that were taking small steps on sustainability (37%) or were doing nothing (28%). Whether sustainability drives growth - or whether growing businesses take the issue more seriously - the research indicates a clear trend; investing in sustainability correlates with business growth and confidence.

Joanna Morris, Head of Insight at Novuna Business Finance comments: “After a challenging Christmas trading period for many small businesses, our latest findings are very positive. Overall confidence, defined as the proportion of businesses predicting growth, has now held firm for three consecutive quarters - with an important year-on-year improvement in businesses transitioning from contraction or standing still to predicting modest or organic growth. These are green shoots, a sign many are turning the corner, or planning to.

"Our task at Novuna Business Finance is to help small businesses to fulfil their true potential. With a background in manufacturing not banking, we understand the cycles many businesses go through - and we think the findings from this quarter's research suggest more small businesses are putting building blocks in place to build growth strategies in 2022. The rebuild after Covid won't be easy, but small businesses have a vital role to play - and we will do everything we can to support the economic recovery in the small business sector this year."

Note to editors

The research was conducted by YouGov among a representative sample of 1,211 small business decision makers during January 2022 spanning all key industry sectors.

Percentage of small business owners that predict net growth: 

Quarterly comparisons (column percentages)

Q2

2022

Q4

2021

Q3

2021

Media & marketing

52%

47%

45%

Manufacturing

46%

48%

29%

IT & telecoms

40%

36%

40%

Construction

38%

26%

31%

Real estate

36%

24%

35%

Finance & accounting

35%

41%

41%

Legal

29%

40%

23%

Hospitality & leisure

29%

34%

30%

Transport & distribution

27%

29%

37%

Retail

23%

29%

41%

Agriculture

23%

12%

15%