Belfast Telegraph

SME sector facing a ‘double whammy’

By Robin Morton

Small businesses in Northern Ireland are facing a “double whammy” of rising costs and reducing custom as the economic crisis bites, according to new research published today.

BT Business reported that 49% of Northern Ireland firms reported worsening trading conditions during the current downturn compared with 21% seeing an upturn.

But BT Business’s State of the Small Business Nation 2008 showed that SMEs — small to medium sized enterprises — in Britain were in an even worse plight. Some 47% of small firms here reported rising costs, as against a national figure of 57%.

And around 46% of Northern Ireland companies said they had lost customers, compared with 51% for the UK as a whole.

Technology was shown to be playing a key role in the business world with 81% of firms across the UK saying it had a positive impact on their companies.

Some 33% of local businesses said it had enabled them to reach new audiences and 23% cited its benefits to productivity and administration.

Around 64% of the 3,000 businesses taking part in the survey across the UK said they owned a company website. Technology was giving greater opportunities to those launching new businesses from home with 33% of start-ups saying they were most likely to turn to the internet for advice.

Liam O’Brien, managing director for BT Business, said: “The SME sector continues to be dynamic and energising but we need to ensure the right resources and structures are in place during these more challenging times.

“We need to help as many businesses as we can to best meet the current challenges so they are ready for the upturn when it comes.”

Mr O’Brien said support and advice would be available at the BT Small Business and Franchise Show which takes place in Belfast on November 14 and 15.

The event will include advice on responsible business practices with experts including television’s Dragon’s Den business tycoon, Peter Jones.

Belfast Telegraph