100th Survey of Small Business Finds 7 out of 10 Firms Seeking Face-to-Face Advice

Jan 14, 2010, 12:36 ET from ACCA

LONDON, January 14 /PRNewswire/ -- Small businesses are turning to trusted sources for advice as the economic climate, cashflow and bad debt become their dominant problems, according to the 100th Quarterly Survey of Small Business in Britain released today by The Open University Business School, in association with Barclays Bank and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

71% of businesses want face-to-face contact for new advice and information and are turning to their accountants (55%) and business trading partners (51%) such as customers, stockists, and suppliers. Previous years saw an increase in the use of electronic media such as email (64%) and websites (62%). Use of hard copy publications like pamphlets, directories and guides has declined (down to 27%, from 54% in 2002 and 45% in 2007).

Professor Robin Jarvis, head of ACCA's Small Business Policy Unit, says: "In this digital age, it's interesting to see that face to face contact is more important to SMEs than ever. Trust has been a massive issue during the economic crisis, so it is pleasing to see that small businesses are using a variety of sources to help them through the ups and downs of the economic cycle."

Professor Colin Gray, Professor of Enterprise Development, The Open University Business School said: "We have been monitoring the effects of the recession on small firms since before the 'credit crunch' started to raise its ugly head in the middle of 2007. In the second quarter of 2008, as the downturn was sliding into a full recession, we asked our survey respondents what counter-recession steps they were taking.

More than half were taking cuts in their own personal earnings and other cost cutting measures, including two in five of small businesses laying-off staff. This was particularly severe among small hotels, restaurants, retailers, wholesalers and construction firms. Against that, more than 40% - especially providers of business and personal services and small manufacturers - took a more entrepreneurial approach and were actively seeking to move into new markets and lines of business. To do this effectively they need speedy access to reliable advice and information. Our current survey indicates a rapid growth in the use of fast electronic sources of information with an increased need for the reassurance of face-to-face contact"

Larger and more entrepreneurial small businesses are making more use of a wider range of sources of advice and information, including government- funded services and business and trade associations.

Small builders, transport firms and wholesalers have slipped deeper into recession during 2009. The agriculture and fisheries sectors, small hotels, restaurants and small providers of education and health services reported net positive sales balances for the past year though small hotels and restaurants anticipate that sales will fall once again in the current quarter.

While small businesses in the education, health and leisure sectors anticipate a net increase in staff the prospects for employment remain bleak. Most businesses are adopting a 'wait and see' approach with two-thirds (65%) reporting no change in their staffing levels and three-quarters (75%) anticipating no change in the immediate future. There were some signs in East Midlands, North West and London of firms cutting prices in order to boost sales.

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