A global generation of ‘toughened-up’ businesses are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research from Sage.

Confidence levels are high among SMEs both in the UK and globally. Its Small Business, Big Opportunity? report found a comforting 79% of businesses in the UK are expecting to return to pre-pandemic profitability in the next 12 months versus 81% globally, while 43% are expecting to hire more people in 2022.

The study – carried out by Portland Communications – surveyed more than 2,000 businesses in the UK – and 13,000+ globally – to understand their experience of enduring the COVID-19 pandemic and their outlook for the future.  

Challenges remain: increasing costs are the major concern for more than 60 million businesses around the world, and nearly a quarter of UK SMEs, while more than a third of UK SMEs say they are still not operating normally due to the pandemic.

One third are concerned about reduced consumer spending, with 20% saying reduced customer demand is one of their biggest concerns today.

Around 10% – equating to 650,000 businesses – could be at urgent risk of going out of business, putting 1.1 million jobs in danger.

Investing in technology proved crucial to survival during the pandemic, with 56% now more reliant on tech while around a fifth adopted new tech platforms. This is set to increase in the future, with 44% expecting to invest more in technology over the next 12 months, and a third seeing investing in technology as key to becoming more profitable and to saving valuable time. 

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Sage called on the government to futureproof the success of SMEs by putting them at the heart of the levelling up agenda.

“SMEs have demonstrated incredible resilience throughout the pandemic. But their confidence cannot be mistaken for invincibility,” said Sage Group CEO Steve Hare. 

“The government must do more to safeguard their prosperity against a backdrop of continued uncertainty and rising costs – or we risk forcing them to choose between protecting people or protecting profits. 

“Overlooking smaller businesses endangers the recovery, thousands of UK jobs and the success of the government’s levelling agenda; we all have a role to play in futureproofing their success.”