Should I stay or should I grow?
For a small or medium sized business, the timing of any decision to invest or expand is crucial to ensuring its continued success and, typically, owners will look at both internal and external factors before coming to any conclusions.
The external environment is confusing at the moment. For every article you find stating that business confidence is on the up, you can also find an article talking about how difficult conditions are. But, if you look through the noise, there are certain key themes at the macro level.
Despite it being 18 months since the referendum and nearly 12 months since Article 50 was triggered, we are no clearer about what the future relationship between the UK and Europe will look like. Obviously, if you are a business that relies on European interaction, this uncertainty could be crippling. But, even if you are not, the broader impacts of Brexit on the UK economy and its competitiveness, which could be positive or negative, will have an impact.
Interest rates are another key issue. As a result of inflationary pressures, the Bank of England is giving strong signals that there will be further interest rate hikes this year. These will impact the cost of borrowing and may raise pressures on finances going forward. However, interest rate rises can also have a positive impact on exchange rates altering costs for import/export businesses and supply chains.
As a consequence of Brexit, the Government is looking at how it realigns business related policies to refocus the economy. A major part of this is the Industrial Strategy which is intended to set out the broad vision going forward. Allied to this are the funding schemes/tax credits which are available and will continue to be available to assist business investment/expansion but it is clear that Government will increasingly use this tools to focus on particular areas rather than general business support.
However, whether the broader economic environment is up, down or sideways, businesses still succeed and prosper. And although there will always be exceptions, I would argue that for most small and medium businesses, the key is having a clear direction and strategy.
If a business owner knows what they want to get out of their business and has a clear alignment between that and their business objectives, that will drive what they need to do and when they need to do it. Worrying about external factors which are out of their control and even experts cannot agree on, is frankly a waste of time. So my advice is, if you do nothing else, take the time to revisit and refresh your business plan if you have one, or invest in pulling one together.
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