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Describing an elephant: getting a fuller picture of the SME view of the future

Written by Andrea Reynolds on Friday, 06 August 2021. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Findings from Swoop’s State of Business Survey 2021 point to a cohort of SMEs optimistic about the future for their market but less confident in the broader economy

Describing an elephant: getting a fuller picture of the SME view of the future

Findings from Swoop’s State of Business Survey 2021 point to a cohort of SMEs optimistic about the future for their market but less confident in the broader economy

There is a parable about three blind men describing the elephant they have all grabbed a different part of. ‘An elephant is like a snake,’ says the man holding the trunk. ‘No, it’s like a tree,’ says the man with his arms around one of the elephant’s legs. ‘You’re both wrong, it’s like a wall,’ says the man who is feeling the flat side of the elephant’s body. The moral of the story is that it’s important to see the bigger picture.   

Recently, Swoop sent out a survey to our community of startups, entrepreneurs and small-to-medium businesses to find out first-hand how they were feeling about the challenges of the year ahead. 

We were particularly interested in how their optimism diverged according to how much influence they had over the outcome: were they confident in their own ability to deal with future uncertainty? Did they see their market growing or shrinking? And how did this fit into the wider economy?

The results showed a nuanced optimism that is not quite the bullish bounceback we might all want, but we did find some information we think that SMEs will need. 

The full figures are in the Survey Report which I’ll link to at the bottom of this article, but I can make my point by looking at where the numbers are skewing. 

In 2021, have you been feeling better about your business than last year?

Over one-third of respondents answered that there had been ‘no change’, the most popular answer, though a significant minority tended towards feeling ‘better’ and a few saying ‘much better’. This suggests a mixed story for SMEs, with some feeling that they have emerged through the worst of the pandemic.  

How confident do you feel about the future of the market you operate in?

A clear vote of confidence here with 45 percent of respondents stating ‘very confident’ and nearly a third ticking ‘confident’. There is market share to be grabbed. 

How confident are you about the economy and its recovery in 2021?

The confidence for the economy sits somewhere beneath confidence in the market with 39 percent of respondents scoring ‘confident’ and 29 percent non-committal. This shows that business owners remain alert to potential economic disruption that may still lie ahead.

Taking any individual question is to risk failing to see the whole elephant: SMEs might be cautious, or bullish, or simply uncertain about how they fit into a changed and changing world. It is also a mistake to ever force SMEs into a ‘one size fits all’ opinion as confidence varies enormously by business sector.

When you see all three results together, however, it becomes clearer where work needs to be done.

Many SMEs are not out of the woods yet. Their future may rest on how quickly they act when regeneration comes to their sector. As for the growing market, SMEs need to have a strategy to access this and acquire new customers through better marketing, better services and better processes throughout the organisation. Finally, the government must play its part in helping SMEs as a key driver of economic health. The elephant in the room is not whether SMEs have the courage to seize the future, because they do; it is more the willingness of lenders to lend and the government to provide opportunities for growth.    

I often look at customers and ask: “What would I do in your position?” The answer in this case is clear: I would prepare for action, understand my options and keep my senses keen for when to execute my plans. 

About the Author

Andrea Reynolds

Andrea Reynolds

With 15 years’ experience in corporate financing, largely focused on matching businesses with funding and investment opportunities, Andrea launched Swoop in 2018 to help SMEs start up, scale up and finance their new ventures.

Arguably the UK’s number one expert in business funding, it’s not hard to see why she is affectionately known to colleagues and industry peers as the ‘Martin Lewis of business finance’.

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