The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland yesterday (Monday January 30) launched its biggest state-of-the-nation survey project, The Big Small Business Survey.
Owners of small businesses across Scotland are being asked an extended series of questions covering every aspect of the trading conditions and challenges that they face.
The aim is to give small businesses, and by extension the communities that they represent, a loud, fact-based voice that influences politician and policymakers, locally and nationally, at this extremely difficult time.
The survey is open to all, FSB members and non-members alike, and the more responses it generates the more accurate the results.
Leading the project is Stacey Dingwall, Head of Policy at FSB Scotland. She said:“It has been an incredibly challenging time for businesses over the last couple years and 2023 looks like it could be even more difficult. That is why it is more important than ever to open a space up for small business owners to tell us what they are experiencing, what their challenges and ambitions are, and what effects local, national, global events are having on their businesses.
“By getting a comprehensive view of the small business community in post-pandemic Scotland we can make sure that our policy work continues to be evidence-based and decision makers locally and nationally are aware of what their needs.
“This survey is open to all small business owners, not just FSB members, so we encourage all operators to fill out the survey, have their say and ensure their voice is heard.”
David Richardson, the FSB’s Highlands & Islands Development Manager, said, “I cannot stress the importance of this survey to the Highlands & Islands strongly enough. Business owner after business owner tells me how difficult life is at the moment – their pain is obvious – but, sadly, these comments and case studies are not enough to convince the powers that be on their own.
“If, as the voice of small businesses locally and nationally, the FSB is to convince politicians and policymakers that action is required, we must present them with hard facts that reveal the true nature of the threats, challenges and opportunities that businesses face, and these can only be obtained through surveys.
“And this is certainly not just about the national picture. The more people that take part the more we will be able to break the results down locally, giving us a true picture of what is happening in the Western Isles and across the country.
“We often say to businesses, ‘help us help you by taking part in this or that survey’, and never has this been more important than now. If you run a business, please help us help you by completing our Big Small Business Survey today.
The survey link is https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/bigsmallbizsurvey/
Also published yesterday was the latest HIE Business Survey. Mr Richardson said: "Clearly, the results of HIE latest survey (out today) will make fascinating reading, but our survey goes where theirs doesn’t, and we break ours down by area, so the two complement each other beautifully."
Confidence in the economic outlook for Scotland was at the lowest level since this was first asked (in October/November 2021): 41% of businesses were confident, while 58% were not. Businesses in the Highlands and Islands were more confident in the economic outlook for Scotland (41%) than those in the South of Scotland (37%) and the rest of rural Scotland (33%).
Reflecting on the last six months, 63% said their confidence had decreased, 5% said it had increased, and 31% said it had stayed the same, with net confidence the lowest it had been since October/November 2020.
Views on business performance over the last six months were mixed, with 36% saying their business had performed well, 41% saying business had been fairly steady and 22% saying they had struggled.
The majority (85%) of businesses were confident they would be viable over the next six months, while 13% were not. Confidence was down on the previous wave, when 91% were confident and 9% not.
Among those that were confident in their viability, 50% expected to be operating at about the same level in six months time, while 13% expected to be operating below and 13% over and above their current levels. Around a fifth (22%) felt it was too soon to say.
Among those not confident in their viability, 25% expected to be operating at a loss in six months time, 16% expected to have downsized and 7% to have ceased trading completely. Just under two-fifths (38%) were unsure about their likely operating position.
Over the past six months employment was fairly stable while sales or turnover performance was mixed (34% said it had increased, 22% decreased, and 44% remained the same). Exports had increased for 16% (higher than the 11% reported in June/July 2022), had decreased for 18% and were stable for 62%.
Around a quarter (23%) of businesses felt able to plan no more than a month ahead (with 9% planning week to week, and 14% monthly). One in five (20%) felt able to plan no more than three months ahead, 23% six months ahead, and 17% 12 months ahead. Just over one in ten (13%) felt able to plan beyond the next 12 months.