What director need to know

After a day or so, most people get back into their rhythm and routine but what about businesses themselves? 

How are they finding the prospect of 2022 – the third year of an ongoing pandemic but without most of the support measures and mechanisms put in place two years ago. 

Furloughed staff had to be reintegrated or made redundant, bounce back loans have to be repaid while VAT and rent arrears have to be addressed.

All of this is before most firms can begin trading in earnest and trying to catch up on lost ground from a quiet Christmas period. 

It’s not the biggest surprise that, for various reasons, most small businesses are not confident about their prospects in the new year. 

The first indicator is new research from the Federation of Small Businesses where more than 440,000 respondents believe they could be forced out of business this year because of an ongoing late payment crisis. 

A third of respondents said they had experienced late payment of invoices in the past three months with 8% indicating that the problem was so acute that the viability of their business itself was threatened. 

One of the ongoing problems for small business owners and directors is that while they are forced to pay their staff wages, suppliers and other bills on time, they can face longer waits to be paid themselves. 

The FSB estimates that more than 400,000 small businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic and a similar number are under threat entirely due to this issue. 

Mike Cherry, FSB national chair, said: “Late payment was destroying thousands of small businesses even before the pandemic hit which has made matters worse. 

“The government has rightly identified greater board accountability as a key to spurring change in this area from bigger companies but delivery has been slow.”

The FSB has said that every large business and government organisation should abide by the prompt payment code that makes 30-day payment terms the norm. They also want every large corporation to have a non-executive director on its board with direct responsibility for payment culture. 

Late payments are just the latest headache for directors this winter with a confluence of threats converging at the same time. 

Another finding in the survey with 1,200 small businesses responding shows that the majority expect their performance to worsen over the next three months rather than improve, especially in the retail, hospitality and food industries. 

The main reason given was consumers adopting a self-imposed lockdown to mitigate the effects of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.  

Mike Cherry concludes with a downbeat assessment of the state of play facing businesses. 

He said: “Today our members are struggling with a fresh wave of admin for importers and exporters. In three months’ time it will be a hike to National Insurance contributions, a rise in dividend taxation, business rates bills and an increase in the national living wage. 

“On top of that, operating costs are surging with many trying to strike energy deals without the protections afforded to consumers.”

The final issue mentioned points to a significant threat to companies that is already looming large in 2022 and that’s the cost of energy.

Mike Cherry rightly points out that unlike individual consumers, businesses are not protected by the price cap imposed by energy sector regulator Ofgem so a workplace can be subject to far higher gas and electric charges than a residential property. 

The FSB survey showed that energy costs were the biggest concern for almost half of respondents posing nothing less than an “existential threat” to firms already struggling to meet their financial commitments.

Craig Beaumont, who conducted the survey fieldwork for the FSB said: “Many small businesses tend to buy their energy via fixed rate deals but when these end they face much higher charges, especially micro businesses.

“These costs really could prove to be an existential threat to them particularly for the fragile end of the small business sector which is emerging from Covid-19 restrictions. 

“Anecdotally, we’ve found that energy bills are the main reason why some small businesses have remained closed and kept their staff working from home. It’s one of the only ways they can protect their finances against these rising costs.”

Even with a price cap in place, domestic customers could see their bills rise between £1000 and £2000 annually from April but this protection is not offered to small businesses who could see much larger increases. 

The FSB is lobbying government to extend the same protections households enjoy to businesses but there has been no indication on this or any other measures to offset the incoming price shock.

Take charge before the energy bill crisis really gets worse

A lot has been written about 2022 being the year of the cost of living squeeze for customers but relatively little has been said about businesses that will undergo the same external pressures on their livelihoods. 

Thousands of small businesses are set to bear the brunt of energy price hikes while simultaneously coping with inflation at high levels not seen for years as well as forthcoming wage, NIC and business rate increases. Importers and exporters are also having the added complications of new administration rules coming into force after being delayed for 12 months last January. 

March will also see the final withdrawal of protections against creditor actions including winding up petition restrictions and statutory demands. 

Whether your business is already undergoing negative effects from current trading circumstances or if you’re worried about what the various issues will do to your company and prospects this year – there is something you can do today to help yourself.

You can get in touch with us and arrange a FREE consultation with one of our expert advisors. 

Once they get a clearer and complete picture of your current status and what other changes are due to affect your business then they can come up with a plan and strategies to strengthen and protect you and your staff from the worst consequences of not taking action. 

You might be surprised by how many options you might have to satisfy your creditors and keep the business running – but only if you get in touch and soon. 

2022 could yet turn out to be a great year for you and your business – but realistically, only if you do something about it.