SME news in brief: FSB, cash flow, finance, customer service

News in brief
News in brief

FSB elects new leader

The UK’s largest business group, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), has elected a new National Chairman – Mike Cherry – to lead the organisation for the next three years.

Mike Cherry, was elected at FSB’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Glasgow, after one of the best-attended National Conferences in FSB's history. During his term in office he will seek to build on his considerable success over the past six years leading FSB’s campaigning and parliamentary engagement in his former role as FSB National Policy Chairman and Policy Director.

The Times reported that the FSB was “embroiled in a row over the election of its new leader” as Mr Cherry ran unopposed and that “two other candidates for the leadership, one of whom is suspended, were blocked from running.”

However, a spokesperson for the FSB refuted this, saying: “It’s not correct to say two candidates where blocked from running…The Times was incorrect when it said one of the prospective candidates was suspended. None of the candidates were suspended during or as a result of the election process.”

He went on to explain the election process: “The election ballot is overseen by the Electoral Reform Services (ERS) who you will appreciate are totally independent.

“For the National Chairman election this year there were three nominations considered by the Nominations Committee – but only one was passed to go forward to the next stage by the Nominations Committee. The candidates have been aware of this since December and none of them has contested the decision. The Committee report is internal and not made public but it was accepted in all regards by the wider National Council last year.

“Therefore - Mike Cherry did run unopposed and was declared elected at the AGM in line with our governance procedures.”

Demand for finance rises during April, July and October

Demand for cash flow finance is on the rise, as more UK SMEs turn to alternative finance providers. However, only businesses able to produce accurate financial forecasts and learn from historic trends will succeed in 2016.

Research from Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance illustrates an increased appetite for finance, with the total credit offered to businesses in the tax year commencing April 2015 totalling £841million, up from £823million the previous year. Lending figures also show three clear peaks in demand from SMEs for funding increases, with the number of applications rising significantly in April, July and October on an annual basis.

April, while traditionally hailing the beginning of the new tax year and with it a wave of new government legislation, could be an especially turbulent period for SMEs. In addition, a depleted workforce during July and August can often have a negative effect on business continuity, with limited trading activity and the reduced ability to chase prompt payment denting cash flow.

However, the most pronounced rise in demand for cash flow finance occurs during the month of October, as businesses gear up to capitalise on emerging contract opportunities. While this period typically yields an increase in deals activity within the corporate arena, it is also a busy time for retailers that invest in stock in preparation for inflated sales during Black Friday and in the run up to Christmas.

Optimistic growth outlook for SMEs

UK SMEs have signalled a more bullish outlook in the first quarter of 2016, with growth expectations rising by twelve percentage points in Q1 2016 when compared to Q4 2015, while the number of small businesses expecting sales to decline fell by over half from 17% in Q4 2015 to 8% in Q1.

According to Bibby Financial Services’ (BFS) latest SME Confidence Tracker 48% of businesses surveyed expect to see increasing sales over Q1 and Q2, compared to around two-fifths (36%) in Q4 2015, signifying an uptick in optimism.

Bibby Financial Services global chief executive David Postings said: “Despite the uncertainties of the upcoming EU referendum and a muted outlook for the UK economy, small business owners started the year in an unexpectedly bullish manner displaying more confidence than in the second half of 2015.”

SMEs warned not to neglect customer service

Businesses are being warned of the real cost of cutting corners in customer service and of the importance of human contact.

Following new research by specialist outsourcer, Echo Managed Services, 53% of consumers said they prefer to deal with service providers either face-to-face or over the phone, increasing to 62% in more complex and emotive situations such as making a complaint or trying to correct a complicated problem.

The warning for those businesses looking to reduce customer service costs is that, by cutting the wrong corners, they risk a fall in customer satisfaction rates and ultimately a loss of business through deploying under-trained customer service advisors, or via an over reliance on technology not backed up by the option of expert human contact.

NEA scheme helps create 80,000+ start-ups

More than 80,000 businesses have been set up by jobseekers through the New Enterprise Allowance.

Figures released today by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show 80,830 start-ups in trades like electrical installation, graphic design and jewellery-making have been launched between April 2011 and December 2015 – an average of 1,420 a month.

Of the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) businesses set up, approximately:

  • 30,300 (37%) were by women
  • 19,000 (24%) were by people aged over 50
  • 16,400 (20%) were by people with a disability

Employment Minister Priti Patel said: “The New Enterprise Allowance is one of the great success stories of this government’s drive to get more people into work, as the UK’s employment rate stays at a record high.

“Small businesses are the engine room of the UK economy, and by helping people off benefits and to become their own boss we’re enabling them to make the most of the business opportunities out there at the moment.”