NEARLY TWO-THIRDS of small business owners plan to hire new staff this year.
That’s according to a survey conducted by the Small Firm Association (SFA), which found that 64% of its members plan to add new names to their payroll during the next 12 months.
However the figure is down one percentage point compared to the results from a similar survey published this time last year.
The SFA polled 748 of its members between 1 and 15 December 2016 and found that only half of the respondents feel the overall business environment is improving, down from 77% one year ago.
Despite the positive early indicators, SFA director Patricia Callan said 2016 proved to be a challenging year for small business.
“The optimism that existed at the beginning of the year has given way to a much more cautious sentiment among small businesses due to emerging wage demands, Brexit and downward revisions of growth forecasts,” she said.
That said, more than half of SFA members said their business is growing, while just 9% said their operations were in decline.
“This shows that 2017 still has the potential to be a strong year if the risks are managed effectively at firm level and government level,” Callan said.
The most common risk cited was wage inflation, with just under one-quarter putting it at the top of their list of threats for 2017.
The weakened sterling exchange rate, a prolonged period of slow economic growth and cash-flow problems were highlighted as other business risks this year.
“Many of these require decisive measures at government level and the SFA will work with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and other departments to ensure the appropriate actions are taken,” Callan said.
High on the SFA’s agenda for 2017 is “full tax equalisation between the self-employed and employees”.
Other priorities include “access to public contracts for small firms and cost competitiveness”.
Callan added that “investment in housing, broadband, childcare and transport infrastructure must be prioritised to ensure that Ireland remains an attractive location for investment and talent”.
She claimed that “if the specific concerns of small businesses are addressed, 2017 will be a very positive year for the sector.”
Unsurprisingly, most small business owners and managers – 32% of them – see the biggest opportunity for their business in “domestic economic growth”.
Participants said getting new products to market, exporting product and new marketing campaigns would present potential growth opportunities.