Export more, innovate more and don't be afraid to look for alternative sources of finance, are the recommendations of cross-border development agency InterTradeIreland following the release of its survey of businesses.
The report found that manufacturing and the services sectors were the strongest performers in the last quarter of 2012 but, unsurprisingly, the construction sector was the weakest with 66% of businesses surveyed in the process of contracting, surviving at all costs or winding down.
"It is encouraging to see a big jump in the number of manufacturing and business services enterprises reporting sales growth," Aidan Gough, strategy and policy director at InterTradeIreland said, commenting on the fourth quarter 2012 Business Monitor findings. He added that export is an underlying common thread in the best performing sectors.
"We can see that those companies that are exporting are doing better than those which are not. However, it is clear that the burden of leading economic recovery is falling on too few. We need to get more businesses exporting and indeed innovating."
The Business Monitor also found that companies aren't taking enough advantage of the opportunity to innovate.
Only two per cent of businesses stated that their business strategy focused on being first-to-market with new innovations and 10 per cent on being innovative in response to customer demand.
In addition, around 70 per cent reported that they had not developed any new products or services in the last few years and one in five firms believe that they have not had any new customers in the last three years. "Innovation is the bedrock for sustained growth and that firms which engage in this practice are three times as successful as those that do not," Mr Gough said.
"It is important that firms leverage resources available to them from outside their business which can act as catalysts for innovation and give businesses a competitive advantage.
"These organisations form an open innovation ecosystem which can offer SMEs the potential to source and connect with a wider variety of relevant expertise than is currently available, as well as opening up international opportunities.
"The incidence of SMEs applying for finance last quarter was very low. With most SMEs reporting they have not heard of Government schemes or are not familiar with the details of initiatives set up across the island to help firms with alternative sources of financial support, more needs to be done to communicate those services and make businesses more receptive to participating."