Nearly 70% of businesses here believe economic prospects are bleak in the face of continued coronavirus lockdowns and post-Brexit trade arrangements, a survey has said.
The NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry also said around 40% of members feel prospects for their own businesses are poor.
More than a third of those surveyed in the final quarter of 2020 had seen little or no improvement in their business since the pandemic began.
About 15% planned to cut staff numbers, over a third planned to reduce capital investment while one in five planned to scale back on office space.
And one in five members told the survey - conducted in November while the majority of businesses were open - that they could not survive continual changes in government policy on Covid-19.
NI Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said: "Quarter 4 was another difficult period for businesses in Northern Ireland, who continue to face challenges on an unprecedented scale. If these results are the foundations for trade in 2021, then they are confirmation of another tough year ahead for many.
"The tighter coronavirus restrictions many businesses are currently coping with will weigh even more heavily on the key drivers of growth and indeed survival, in the months ahead."
She said businesses needed another support package for the whole of 2021, and not just incremental intervention.
"The current drip-feed approach to business support measures is too short term. The UK government must provide long-term plans which allow businesses of all shapes and sizes to plan ahead."
Overseas trade had already suffered due to the pandemic - and faced further damage as a result of Brexit, she added. "Our members have continually raised concerns around the practical implications for their business of the UK's transition out of the EU including the region's future trading relationship with GB. Our concern is that the survey suggests that the pandemic has already taken its toll on how NI trades externally and with the added complexities brought about by EU transition, that trade outside the region could be deeply impacted."