The arrival of Spring sees a significant rise in the percentage of established small businesses (those with a turnover of £1-10m) predicting growth for the next three months – rising from 33% to 50% since the start of the year. Conversely, there has been a sharp decline in the percentage of start-up enterprises predicting growth – falling from 63% to 52% since January.

These latest quarterly figures from the quarterly Business Barometer study by Novuna Business Finance suggest that small businesses with an established trading history and greater financial strength are most likely to be seizing opportunities to grow after a period of great economic uncertainty.

The findings by turnover are mirrored when looking at the age of UK small businesses. The growth forecasts of mature enterprises (that have been trading for 20 years or more) have risen from 26% to 30% in three months – whereas hopes of expansion among younger businesses (those trading for less than five years) have fallen from 46% to 42% since January.

Sector assessment: A 12-month view

Despite a balanced national picture quarter-on-quarter, the analysis of 1,088 small business owners by sector reveals contrasting positions. Taking a longer 12-month view, there were signs of much-needed recovery for small businesses in hospitality, agriculture and retail – three sectors hit especially hard during the Covid era.

In the agricultural sector, the percentage of small business owners predicting growth has risen from 22% to 30% over the last 12 months, with positive growth forecasts in retail up from 25% to 31% and a similar rise in hospitality – up from 33% to 38%.

Whilst the percentage of small businesses predicting growth in manufacturing (34%) and construction (31%) remains largely flat over the 12-month period, growth forecasts have fallen sharply in the media sector (from 49% to 38%) and also in transport and distribution (35% to 25%).

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Further, with uncertainty over UK property prices, growth forecasts in the real estate and property sector have fallen from 21% to 15% over the last 12-months

Regional assessment 

With the percentage of small businesses predicting growth remaining largely unchanged in the South East and North West, it was Wales and the South West that saw the biggest net rises in growth forecasts for the spring months. In Wales, the percentage of business owners predicting growth has risen over the last 12 months from 13% to 28% and in the South West the figure rose from 29% to 33%. 

Conversely, the sharpest falls in growth outlook over the last year were evidenced in Yorkshire (falling from 41% to 27%), the North East (from 39% to 29%) and Scotland (from 37% to 29%). London also saw an annual fall in small business growth forecasts from 44% to 38%.

Jo Morris, head of insight at Novuna Business Finance, said: “Nationally, the percentage of small business predicting growth has been remarkably steady at between 27%-30% for the last four quarters.

“Whilst this suggests resilience, the picture does vary considerably by industry sector – and our latest data also reveals that more established small businesses are those that are more likely to be predicting growth as we move towards summer. 

“In the current economic climate, many enterprises are focusing on financial strength as the platform from which to plan business growth. For many, this involves managing late payments and protecting cash flow and many enterprises also see 2023 as a time to invest – in new equipment and capabilities.

“For established businesses looking to drive growth in 2023, Novuna Business Finance is committed to helping them fulfil their true potential. We understand the growth cycles that small businesses go through and we have both the products and toolkits to support their growth ambitions.”  

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