95% of SMBs taking action to combat cost of living crunch

A study from global technology platform, Intuit QuickBooks, has found that 83% of small-and medium sized businesses (SMBs) feel confident about their business performance over the next year, despite the cost of living crisis.

Over two in five (43%) SMBs prioritising growing their business over the next year agree the rising cost of running a business is the main challenge to growth. Rising energy bills (61%) and fuel and travel costs (54%) are most likely to be currently impacting SMBs’ financial performance in the next year, significantly ahead of other costs like increased wages for retaining staff (41%) and the rise in National Insurance payments (42%).

But 95% of SMBs are taking some sort of action to mitigate against rising costs of running a business, with the most popular steps being swapping suppliers (38%), investing in cost-saving tech (35%) or adopting hybrid working (31%).

Overall, two-thirds (66%) of SMBs say they feel prepared for the rising cost of running a business. To address rising costs SMBs are either planning to or already seeking help from sources such as a business accountant (84%) or the government, through schemes like help to grow (83%). And those who don’t feel prepared for the rising cost of running a business say Government financial support is the main thing (53%) that would help them feel more prepared for rising costs.

New gig economy helps SMBs manage cost of running their business

A key reason for small business optimism appears to be the emergence of a new and improved gig economy, which is helping SMBs manage the cost of running their business.

QuickBooks’ study suggests hybrid working models have more than doubled (26% to 53%) among small businesses since the pandemic, with just over three in four (76%) SMBs saying they have hired more freelance/contract staff in the past year.

The average UK SMB hired six freelance staff in the past year, with more than a third (35%) of hirers saying it helps them lower the cost of running a business. Other key business benefits include:

  • The ability to flex staff needs/payroll in line with business needs (41%)
  • Greater diversity in the workforce (38%)
  • Access to a wider talent pool (34%)

The types of freelancer/contractor skills most in demand by those who hire independent contractors or freelance staff are IT (26%), followed by social media (21%) and digital marketing (17%)

Pauline Green, Head of Product Compliance & Programs at QuickBooks, commented: “It’s encouraging to see business confidence so buoyant despite the overwhelming financial pressures facing UK SMBs. For small businesses, the ability to plug skills gaps and fulfil short-term projects with a variety of freelance workers is far more cost-effective than building a permanent team that must meet several business needs. Today’s hybrid world of work is increasingly suited to these types of flexible roles, resulting in benefits for both employers and staff alike.”

However, with the emergence of the new gig economy, employers are now also facing fresh challenges. More than three quarters (76%) of SMBs agree that payroll has now become more complex in the past year, with those saying managing payroll remotely (34%), having more employees with flexible contracts (34%) and keeping up with payroll payments (32%) being some of the biggest issues small business are facing. Overall, almost a third (32%) worry about getting payroll right and paying staff on time.

Pauline continues: “While small businesses are reaping the rewards of a more flexible and agile workforce, it does present challenges when it comes to managing payroll. Digital software can ease many of the complexities of payroll through automation, while accountants are playing an increasingly important role in guiding small businesses through the new world of paying and managing staff.”