SMEs becoming ‘increasingly positive’ about outlook

Survey respondents using online tools ‘more optimistic’ on future prospects

Small and medium sized digitised businesses are becoming increasingly positive about their outlook, despite global issues such as Brexit and the US presidential election, a new survey has revealed.

According to the Future of Business survey, respondents had a “significantly” more positive evaluation of their future prospects than their current situation, and were more positive in general when compared to other colleagues in the industry and the general economy.

Although the level of confidence was higher in Europe in general, the survey found Irish businesses had a higher than average level of confidence, especially compared with Spain and Italy, where there was a less positive outlook.

Speaking about the survey, economist Ronan Lyons noted there was a trend for small and young firms to remain are even when they view the sector or own economy as having an uncertain future.


“It’s important to remember that the smaller your business in general you view yourself as a little bit more cut off from the big economy,” he said. “If you set up a small business, you’re a very small player in an often very big sector.

“If you have a company with one two or three people, you are a certain kind of person and you have to be positive about the outlook, even in if there is uncertainty.”

The survey also found that businesses that used online tools were were more likely to be positive about their outlook. such as managing internal business processes, selling products and services, providing information, advertising to potential customers and communicating with products and suppliers.

“Business that are more open to bringing in new technologies and new ways of doing business are more likely to survive and thrive in the sectors, and that’s what we’re capturing,” said Mr Lyons.

Facebook's Niamh Sweeney pointed out the contrast between the survey, which showed 76 per cent of Irish companies responding to the survey said they sell products and services online, and other surveys, such as the research produced by Indecon. "The number that came back from their survey was 32 per cent; small businesses within that was 16 per cent," she said. "The majority of people who responded to this from Ireland had fewer than five employees. You are getting a window into micro enterprises. It's supposed to complement existing data sets rather than replace them."

Irish companies were also above average in terms of international trade. Some 17 per cent of those businesses involved in the survey said they engaged in international trade, with Egypt coming out of top, where 27 per cent of businesses engaged in overseas trade. Ireland came in third at 23 per cent, just behind Vietnam with 24 per cent, and ahead of Thailand, which had 22 per cent of businesses engaged in international trade, and Poland at 21 per cent.

Ms Sweeney said it was not surprising that Irish businesses had embraced international trade, given the country’s island status. However, the number of micro businesses engaging in international trade may be a boost to agencies trying to encourage Irish firms to move into an export business.

The wider survey also revealed a growing number of companies that were women-led, with 40 per cent of firms reporting as such.

The Future of Business survey, which is a partnership between the OECD, World Bank, and Facebook, talks to small and medium sized enterprise, targeting those with a Facebook page in an attempt to provide insight into the digital and mobile economy. The majority of businesses that responded have less than five employees, a subset of information that can often fall outside more traditional measurement methods.

Ms Sweeney said the survey was significant as it was the first time the digital platform has been used through a partnership with the World Bank and OECD to create new data sets that will complement existing data.

The monthly survey began in February 2016, with the report the first of what is expected to be twice-yearly analysis of the information. Since its launch, more than 90,000 SMEs in 22 countries have responded to the survey. The raw data is available each month.

“We wanted to make it available in a timely fashion and available to anyone who wants to use it, so they may well surface other insights and correlations that we haven’t picked up on,” Ms Sweeney said.

The survey currently contains 15 questions for small and medium sized businesses, but more can be added on a temporary basis if needed, making it adapatable, and it is expected the survey will evolve over time.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist