SMEs will have a great 2015 – if they can overcome these hurdles » SMEInsider

SMEs will have a great 2015 – if they can overcome these hurdles

Businesses and experts agree that 2015 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for SMEs, but alongside emerging opportunities, there will also be significant new challenges.

UK consumer confidence reached record levels at the end of 2014, and it’s not just bigger brands that can take advantage of this,” wrote Rebecca McNeil, Barclays’ managing director of lending and enterprise, in a recent article for Money Week.

Consumers are constantly on the lookout for products and services that in some way enhance their lives; whether that be a new innovation, or has a practical benefit to them.”

She added: “With a more positive economic outlook in sight, this could also be the right time to consider expanding, or boosting, your business.”

McNeill believes that there are three major areas that will affect SME prosperity this year: the tech boom, exporting opportunities and their ability to monitor changes beyond their control and respond to them effectively.

On the digital side, she pointed to online trade, mobile banking and social media as particularly exciting ways to broaden reach, but mentioned that adopting new technology should be based on each individual company’s customer needs, rather than following trends for the sake of it.

Meanwhile, while she admits that “exporting isn’t for everyone,” McNeil suggests tackling the issue of mounting competition by exploring exporting opportunities with the help of bodies such as UKTI.

With the UK being a saturated market, it could be that the biggest growth opportunity for many businesses may be outside the UK,” she wrote. Most importantly, though, McNeil advises that companies “keep an eye out” for risks emerging from extreme weather conditions or regulatory changes, making sure that they have adequate insurance and a back-up plan to deal with disasters. Issues such as pension auto-enrolment for employees, which comes into effect this year, could potentially catch out some SMEs if they do not keep organised and respond quickly enough to new obligations.

Those that don’t comply may face fines so it is infinitely better to do your homework now,” she said.

A recent Barclays survey of 500 SMEs showed that business owners are most excited about the growth potential brought about by increasing customer demand, improved technology and digital platforms, while overseas opportunities. Uncertain oil prices, extreme weather, regulatory changes and competition were all cited as areas of particular concern.