One in four firms driven by seasonal peaks

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Date: 6 August 2019

Business owner in her coffee shopA new survey has found that cashflow is a significant challenge for businesses that see their sales fluctuate across the year.

The latest MarketInvoice Business Insights survey of 1,000 UK SMEs has found that 27% are affected by seasonal demand, representing £548bn of revenue.

Seasonal demand refers to peaks in business activity driven by a range of factors, including seasons of the year, weather-related changes, events like the summer school holidays and religious or cultural calendar events.

The key challenges faced by seasonal businesses are: having the staff to fulfil orders (23%) and paying their suppliers (22%). The survey also found that businesses are more likely to be selling to large corporate or blue-chip companies (72%) compared to other SMEs (27%). The typical invoice value of goods and services supplied in peak times is £47,203, for which they will be waiting, on average, 80 days to be paid.

In order to meet seasonal demand, businesses have to prepare for the rise in orders almost 15 weeks in advance. "In meeting seasonal demands, businesses are preparing three months in advance and then waiting almost a further three months to get paid," said Jonathan Allan, cmo at MarketInvoice.

"It's worrying to see them so stretched. Regular and significant peaks or troughs in revenue are tough to manage, but it's possible to smooth the impact. Being prepared and using all the finance tools available is the key to managing seasonal demand."

However, the findings also show that the majority of business owners (54%) are not checking their cashflow forecast on a regular basis. As a means of managing seasonal demand, almost half (48%) of business owners reported increasing their bank overdraft facilities and one in six (16%) used invoice finance.

In fulfilling seasonal demands, 87% of businesses said they were prevented from taking on more orders because of cashflow constraints. However, 67% of business owners admitted they haven't sought any advice about seasonal spikes in trading. Of the businesses that are seeking guidance, most (14%) are turning to their business bank manager for help.

Also this week, a new poll by Hitachi Capital Business Finance has found that more than a third of small business owners (38%) say they won't be having a summer holiday this year. When asked how many days holiday they had taken in the past 12 months, 66% of small business owners said they had taken less than the legal requirement of 20 days.

This trend is more prevalent among the UK's youngest entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of setting up a small business and struggling to take time off. For the 2,839 small businesses surveyed, a lack of money, time and fear of being away from the business emerged as key reasons for business owners not taking time off.

Gavin Wraith-Carter, managing director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance, said: "It is a concern that so many small business owners don't feel they can take a decent break … Work life balance and mental health are important issues. We back small businesses but business success is about more than the balance sheet."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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