Viking survey shows pressure and positivity among SMEs

Most commentators agree that the worst of the recession is now over. Across almost every sector of industry, business has picked up and is expected to continue picking up in 2015 and beyond.

And yet, judging by a survey of SME owners carried out by office supplier Viking, businesses around the country – in particular small businesses – are still under relentless financial pressure. Here’s what the survey found:

–       1 in 3 SME owners say that delays in getting paid have had a ‘significant impact’ on their business

–       40% have had to borrow from family and friends to cover expenses as a result of late payments

–       68% say the Government is not doing enough to encourage banks to increase lending to SMEs

In the context of an economy that is expected to grow more in 2014 than any other in the eurozone, these findings are a little troubling. Indeed, it’s nothing short of shocking that 4 out of 10 SME owners are borrowing from family and friends to get by.

Late payments are without doubt the scourge of the small business sector, so we can only hope that the National Payments Plan – which will see a move away from cheques and towards online payments – will speed things up for under-pressure SMEs.

The Viking survey also puts banks firmly in the spotlight. Whatever about the darkest days of the recession, Ireland’s main financial institutions now say they are open for business and backing the small business sector with loans, overdrafts and other initiatives.

Is that really the case? Are banks doing everything they can to ensure that businesses have access to credit, the lifeblood of SMEs? Is the Government doing enough to ensure that banks must loosen the purse strings and lend? (Our research suggests not.)

For thousands of SMEs operating in the retail, agriculture, manufacturing, IT, construction and other sectors, the reality is that this year will most likely end with bosses working extra hours over Christmas just to meet their end-of-year targets.

Hang on, though. In case this all sounds a little gloomy, the Viking research also unearthed something rather amazing. As part of the survey, SME owners were asked: “What is your business outlook for the next quarter?” The results:

Positive: 83%

Neutral: 17%

Negative: 0%

That’s right. In spite of credit worries, late payments and the rest, not a single SME owner who completed the survey thinks their business will shrink in the next quarter.

There’s pressure alright. But there’s positivity too – and lots of it.

Cullen Communications handles PR for Viking Ireland