Two thirds of SMEs planning to grow in next three months

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Employing staff, upgrading equipment and exporting overseas are priorities for owners of fast-expanding small businesses

Chinks of light are piercing the gloom hanging over Britain’s small businesses as Brexit moves towards being settled.

Two thirds of SME owners (67 per cent) are working on growth plans in the next three months compared with 61 per cent this time last year, according to new quarterly research from Hitachi Capital’s British Business Barometer.

Only last month, Hitachi’s barometer reported that the number of SMEs predicting they could close had doubled from 5 per cent to 10 per cent in just three months.

Hiring more staff is the biggest engine for growth for those small businesses predicting significant upturn. Half of these business say they need additional manpower (50 per cent), with IT and telecoms and legal services having the most pressing needs. This compares with a national average of 16 per cent.

Investing in new equipment is seen as the second-best way to encourage growth (36 per cent), small businesses in agriculture unsurprisingly most likely to be investing in new equipment, followed by construction and media.

And expanding into new, overseas markets is the third priority for SMEs who expect to grow significantly (36 per cent).

However, getting their ventures in good financial shapes is the top priority for the months ahead. With a weak pound and the first of what is expected to be a series of interest rate rises, many SME owners are focusing on cutting costs (37 per cent), improving cash flow (20 per cent) and being stricter on getting paid on time (16 per cent).

Gavin Wraith-Carter, managing director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance, said: “What is so encouraging from our new study is that the small business community is not sitting back and waiting for a Brexit outcome to be known. They have told us they have concerns, but they are acting on them.

“Across the UK there has been a notable rise in the proportion of small business owners that have adopted strategies to help them seize opportunities and try to secure growth at a time of uncertainty.

“The businesses that predict the most significant growth are those that are investing in their businesses – bringing people in, looking at new markets and looking at the equipment they need to power growth.”