Sage survey of 13,000+ businesses finds strong long-term optimism, but short-term barriers put this confidence in jeopardy

81 percent of SMBs surveyed expect to return to pre-pandemic profitability within 12 months and 46 percent expect to hire more people in 2022, but more than one-third are still not operating normally and one in 10 are at risk of going out of business

Atlanta, Georgia, UNITED STATES

ATLANTA, March 04, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) – which represent two-thirds of global jobs and over half of global GDP – remain resilient and confident in the face of current market challenges. However, these companies warn of rising costs and the need for more government support and better financing options to weather these conditions over the next twelve months.

This is according to new research commissioned by Sage, the leader in accounting, financial, HR, and payroll technology for SMBs. Titled Small Business, Big Opportunity?, the report is the largest study of its kind looking into how SMBs are surviving and thriving despite current public health, economic, and societal challenges – including rising costs of living and the ongoing impact of the pandemic. Sage commissioned the study to look at the confidence of SMBs, surveying more than 13,000 businesses across eleven countries worldwide to understand their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and their outlook for the future.

Key themes that emerged from the study include:

  • SMBs are a critical engine for overcoming global economic challenges, but they are not invincible and still face headwinds
  • The majority of SMBs believe that the aftermath of the pandemic can be an opportunity to promote more sustainable development
  • COVID-19 has unleashed a new generation of toughened-up entrepreneurs

Looking at responses from the more 2,000 U.S.-based businesses versus the overall global average, the survey found:

  • Confidence among U.S. decision-makers is higher than average regarding the upcoming 12 months, whereby almost three quarters (73%) feel confident about the success of their business – four percentage points higher than the global average (69%).
  • In terms of revenue over the next six months, SMB decision-makers in the U.S. are more positive than the global average. A majority (54%) expect their revenue to increase, compared to just 49% on a global level.
  • Moreover, 54% also expect to see their employee numbers increase over the next year, which is significantly higher than the global average of 46%. This includes as many as 22% who expect to see a significant increase, while only 13% of SMBs globally expect the same.

“The incredible contribution of SMBs to global prosperity, recovery and growth cannot be overlooked. Similarly, their confidence cannot be taken for granted,” said Steve Hare, Sage Group CEO. “Governments need to keep small and mid-sized businesses at the forefront of decision-making, and to implement policies that knock down the barriers that stand in their way so that they can fulfil their potential.”

“If we leave small and mid-sized businesses behind, we put the global economic recovery at risk,” added Aziz Benmalek, Sage’s EVP of Partners & Alliances and the interim President of Sage North America. “Be it rising costs and inflation, skills shortages, or lack of access to finance, we need to make sure that the businesses at the core of the economy are given the right resources and support to survive and thrive in the year ahead.”

Key global findings from the research include:

Rising costs and concerns about inflation are keeping businesses up at night

  • Over a third of businesses are still not operating as normal due to the pandemic and are now facing the prospect of further challenges
  • Approximately four-in-ten businesses (39%) expect rising inflation and cost pressures (including rising rent and utilities) to persist as the main risks to their business in the year ahead, significantly impacting growth prospects
  • Nearly 10% of SMBs, representing more than 6.1 million jobs in the markets surveyed, are at risk of disappearing completely

However, business confidence remains strong globally, despite – and often because of – ongoing pandemic pressures
Most businesses globally feel more resilient and better prepared to overcome major barriers now than before the pandemic because of the adaptations they have made over the period, including investment in technology

  • 69% of business decision makers feel confident that their company will be successful 12 months from now, compared to 58% that felt confident this time last year
  • Optimism is starting to filter through into profitability, with four in five (81%) SMBs expecting to be at least somewhat back to pre-pandemic levels of profitability
  • By sector, the businesses that are most optimistic about their success 12 months from now are in the nonprofit, healthcare, education, financial services, construction and technology industries

SMBs expect to increase hiring and remain optimistic about staffing over the next twelve months

  • Nearly half (46%) of businesses surveyed expect to hire more people in 2022 – on average, SMBs expect their workforce to increase by 12%
  • This could lead to the creation of a potential 3.8 million new jobs, including 1.6 million jobs in the United States
  • 35% of SMBs saw their workforce shrink in the previous year but 65% are confident that they will be able to meet their staffing needs over the next 12 months

Government and financial support are crucial to business survival

  • Government support was identified as the single most important resource to contribute to SMB growth over next 12 months (31%), with financing (25%), including bank loans and grants, and better management of cash flow (25%) also noted as key factors to success
  • One in five highlighted lack of government support as a key challenge over the past twelve months
  • The businesses that received government financial support (21%) feel more resilient and better prepared than those that did not receive funding

A majority want to seize the opportunity for more sustainable development

  • 86% of SMBs expect to make a change to become more sustainable in the year ahead, with companies founded during COVID more likely to make this change
  • Over half of SMBs (55%) identified sustainability as being important to their business, with 17% describing it as central to what they do
  • Around 80% are feeling pressure to reduce their environmental impact, with pressure coming from customers (31%), the government (25%), employees (24%) and the supply chain (22%)
  • A majority of SMBs believe that the aftermath of the pandemic can be an opportunity to promote more sustainable development in their countries and local communities

Out of the darkness, a new generation of confident business owners has emerged
Businesses founded during the pandemic report larger-than-average barriers to success, but remain more confident about the growth they can achieve in the upcoming year

  • 42% of businesses founded during the pandemic were by young people (aged 18-34), with the principal decision makers more likely to be men (61%)
  • These ‘Generation COVID’ businesses are much more adaptable, with less than one-third stating that the pandemic negatively impacted their operations
  • These ‘Generation COVID’ companies are more confident they will generate revenue growth in the next six months (57%) vs. those founded pre-pandemic (48%)
  • However, in comparison to businesses founded pre-pandemic, fewer ‘Generation COVID’ SMBs are satisfied when it comes to their current staffing levels (56% vs. 65%), ability to recruit talent (51% vs. 58%), and productivity (58% vs. 68%)

Survey Methodology
A specialist research team from Portland Communications conducted an online survey involving 13,118 SMB decision makers between November 25 and December 2, 2021. The markets included as part of this study are in the UK, U.S., France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Portugal, Malaysia, and Singapore. In each market, decision makers at businesses employing fewer than 250 people were targeted.

Portland Communications’ online polling studies are accredited by the British Polling Council. All data gathered is of a publishable quality.

Click here to access to the full report and regional findings.

Media contact:
Peter Olson

About Sage
Sage exists to knock down barriers so everyone can thrive, starting with the millions of small- and mid-sized businesses served by us, our partners, and accountants. Customers trust our finance, HR, and payroll software to make work and money flow. By digitizing business processes and relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, banks, and governments, our digital network connects SMBs, removing friction and delivering insights. Knocking down barriers also means we use our time, technology, and experience to tackle digital inequality, economic inequality, and the climate crisis. Learn more at and