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Haines Watts Hereford Phone icon 01432 273189

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (DBEIS) annual survey of SME employers is always an interesting read. As a business owner myself, and having worked closely with other business owners for most of my working life, I feel that I have a good understanding of the issues affecting companies. I’m rarely surprised by the findings of the DBEIS survey but this year I was taken aback by one particular statistic.

Before I reveal the source of my surprise let me set the scene. Business owners are worried. According to the survey 88% of SME employers identified at least one major obstacle to the success of their business with many concerned about multiple issues.

This is not the surprise and neither are the sources of business owner woes. The list below are all fairly typical problems faced by modern businesses and there are at least three that really get my goat but I won’t get started on that.


Major obstacles to the success of the business All SME employers
Competition in the market 47%
Regulations/red tape 42%
Taxation, VAT, PAYE, NI, rates 36%
Late payment 30%
Staff recruitment and skills 30%
Workplace pensions 21%
UK exit from the EU 20%
Obtaining finance 18%
National Living Wage 17%
Availability/cost of suitable premises 15%
Other spontaneous mentions 6%
No major obstacles 12%


No, the surprise is not what irks business owners but what they are doing to address the issues, or rather what they are not doing. According the survey, just 26% of SME employers had sought external information or advice in the last 12 months beyond just a casual conversation.

As a business owner and a business advisor, I’m astounded that only a quarter of SME employers had looked outside of their business for help in combatting obstacles to growth. Is it any wonder that business owners are feeling the strain? See our For Love or Money report for more on this.

Whilst many of the issues listed are unavoidable, there is usually something that can be done to lessen the impact on a business and make them minor annoyances rather than major obstacles.

Take late payments for example. I’m not surprised to see this issue so high up in the list. The late payment culture that has developed in the UK is scandalous but there is plenty that can be done to tackle it if businesses take a proactive approach which includes getting the right advice. My recent blog, 5 steps to getting paid on time, outlines the advice I give to my clients on this issue and a good lawyer will also be able to help with drawing up more rigorous payment terms.

For each of those obstacles, there is an advisor who can help lessen the burden either through directly addressing the issue or through the development of robust business strategies designed to enable businesses to weather storms such as Brexit. It’s no coincidence that my most successful clients are those who consult me regularly on their business plans.

It’s good to talk.

Want to know more? Call us on 01432 273189 or email

About the author

Karen McLellan

Karen specialises in providing business consultancy, tax mitigation and accountancy services to owner-managed businesses. As a business owner herself, Karen understands the challenges of building and running a business.

She provides strategic advice to clients which has a positive impact on the growth and value of their business, and which helps the individual achieve their personal goals. Whether its advice on restructuring, tax mitigation, succession planning or preparing for sale, Karen can help the client get to where they want to be.

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