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80% of SMEs confident of Covid recovery despite gloomy outlook

Four in five (80%) UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are confident they will recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to research we conducted alongside our partners Starling Bank.

The survey of more than 300 UK SMEs across a range of sectors also found that two-thirds (68%) of business owners believe they will return to pre-Covid levels or better by 2021.

Despite last week’s warning from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak of hard economic times ahead, the findings suggest that many SMEs are feeling positive about the future and their ability to bounce back. Their outlook also appears to be improving as lockdown continues to ease, with three quarters (75%) of business owners saying they feel more confident than they did a month ago.

One factor potentially playing a part in this sentiment is the adaptability of SMEs, with nearly two in five (39%) firms changing their line of business to survive the impact of the pandemic. Of this group, many have shifted their business model by going online, prioritising digital products and setting up delivery services. One farmer even set up a ‘goats for Zoom calls’ service, which allowed customers to ‘hire’ goats to appear in their work video calls. It was a move that raked in more than £20,000.

However, there is no doubt that Covid-19 has been a deeply worrying time for SMEs. One in five (20%) business owners said they have considering closing as a result of the pandemic and nearly two-thirds (63%) have seen a decline in revenue, with 19% making no profit at all during lockdown.

The research also shows that many business owners have had to make tough decisions during the crisis, with a third (30%) using their own money to keep the business afloat and a similar number (33)% being forced to furlough staff. More than a fifth (21%) are not confident they can pay their bills each month.

It’s clear that these pressures are taking their toll on business owners, with two thirds (66%) saying their mental health has suffered as a result of the pandemic impacting their business.

Anna Boden, founder and chief executive of Starling Bank, said: “Small businesses are essential to the nation’s efforts to build back the economy as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis. Despite the challenging conditions they face, it’s heartening to see that many are proving so adaptable and resilient.”

Francesca James, founder of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, said: “Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19 and the emergence of a radically altered landscape, I’ve been inspired by the innovation, spirit and tenacity of the entrepreneurs we work with in coping with this unprecedented situation.

“However, it’s been a deeply troubling time for so many SMEs and they need support now more than ever to create the wealth and jobs that are needed over the next few months.”