The results of its latest research on business plans for the year ahead, revealed that an overwhelming 85% of members surveyed are positive about the year ahead and are intending to develop their businesses in the next 12 months.
30% expect to increase the number of their workforce and 15% expect to increase the hours of the workforce. Development of their customer base was cited as the most popular growth strategy with 60% will look to target new customers, while 42% will focus on improving customer service and 41% on new product development.
Alexander Jackman, Head of Policy at the Forum of Private Business, said,
"GDP figures are positive, employment is up and confidence among FPB members has lifted accordingly. With 1 in 3 looking to employ and 1 in 10 looking to increase hours, small businesses are showing a positive, though restrained, outlook for 2014."
Time, money and expertise were cited as the main challenges facing many small firms who have had to downsize and manage ongoing cash flow issues to weather the storm caused by the financial downturn. Significantly, time is listed as the primary barrier, a change from ‘finance' which has been the main barrier throughout the recession. 36% of small businesses in total believe that time will continue to be a major challenge as they look to manage their business and realise their growth plans in the next 12 months. Cash remains an ongoing concern at 26% and 13% believe they are lacking in the necessary expertise.
Even with positive growth aspirations the research also highlighted that "the cost of doing business" remains a key concern for small firms and a significant obstacle for creating the business confidence needed for a sustainable recovery in 2014. Business rates continue to be a worry for many small business owners with 46% seeing them as a continuing burden, followed by the rising cost of utilities at 40%.
However there was positive news on the business finance front, with the number of businesses seeing the cost of finance as a barrier to growth falling from 36% to 24%.
Commenting on the results of the survey, Alexander Jackman, Head of Policy at the Forum of Private Business, said:
"That time is now the biggest barrier for businesses growth potential in 2014 sends a clear message to Government. Now is the time to build on the success of deregulation measures introduced and to really push on minimising the impact of some of the big employment law reforms currently in progress. A focus on creating stability of regulation for small businesses would be enormously helpful."
Despite a positive outlook for the year ahead, business rates and the cost of utilities remain key obstacles to small business growth plans for 2014, according to the latest research from national business organisation, The Forum of Private Business.