SME growth plans are scuppered by lack of funding

Written by: Rachel Miller

Date: 2 July 2024

A smiling woman in her floristry

The challenges involved in securing external finance are preventing many small businesses in the UK from achieving their growth potential.

Research commissioned by Manx Financial Group has found that almost one-third of SMEs (31%) say they have had to stop or pause an area of their business due to lack of financing. It means that business owners have had to put plans on hold, including hiring staff, marketing, launching new products, conducting R&D and expanding into new markets.

According to the research, the most popular external finance options for SMEs are short-term business loans and secured loans. However, one in ten SMEs that looked to secure external finance were unable to access it. Business owners reported that the biggest barriers in sourcing external finance were:

  • Loans were too expensive (34%);
  • The process took too long (25%);
  • Lack of flexibility with repayment terms (25%);
  • The lender did not understand their business (21%).

However, the findings also suggest that with right funding, most small business leaders believe they could significantly grow their business in the next year. They say that sales, new market expansion and new product development will be the areas that will see the most growth. With appropriate external finance, most of those polled believe they could grow their business by up to 29% in the next 12 months, a significant increase from 19% in 2023.

"Our research reveals a persistent challenge that SMEs continue to face: securing financing remains difficult. The economic impact is significant, as SMEs contribute to about half of all private sector turnover in the UK. Innovative solutions are urgently required to address this funding gap … Government intervention is crucial to support SMEs, which are vital to the UK economy and, for some time, we have been advocating for a permanent government-backed loan scheme tailored to different sectors and incorporating both traditional and non-traditional lenders. Such a permanent scheme has the potential to play a pivotal role in unlocking economic resurgence for numerous companies, thereby sustaining the overall economy." Douglas Grant, group ceo, Manx Financial Group.

SME growth plans at risk

Research conducted by Novuna Business Finance paints a very similar picture. Its survey has found that more than half of small businesses (53%) say they will not be able to achieve their growth plans without securing finance. Reliance on finance is greatest among small businesses in the agriculture (63%), media (60%) and manufacturing (59%) sectors.

The findings come at a time when data from the Impact Investing Institute shows that the success rate for SME applications for bank loans dropped from 80% in 2018 to about 50% last year. In addition, a House of Commons Treasury select committee found that a "difficult environment" for SMEs risks "disincentivising risk-taking, innovation and potentially, growth".

"Access to finance is a lifeline for UK small businesses, yet many are finding this lifeline increasingly out of reach and struggling to manage their cash flow as a result. The ability to acquire new machinery or upgrade technology - importantly at the time it is needed - is vital to any small business's growth and profitability. Any barriers to this risk not just stifling the future of an individual business but will also have a knock-on effect on the economy at large." Jo Morris, head of insight, Novuna Business Finance.

Of those reliant on finance, 25% say they won't be able to hire more staff if they can't secure finance. Upgrading computers and IT equipment is a key priority for 17% of small business owners. This is particularly significant in the legal (35%) and retail (33%) sectors.

Written by Rachel Miller.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.