In mid-February business confidence in this country fell to a new low. The Optimism Index, published by accountancy firm BDO, stood at 88.9 – well below the figure of 95 needed to indicate growth.
Last week the UK lost its AAA rating from Moody’s. On Monday the pound fell to a two year low amid concerns that the country was still struggling to come out of the longest recession for 80 years and that the outlook for the economy was – at best – gloomy.
The same day I was having a coffee with the boss of a web design company. Her message was simple. “We’ve never been busier. Honestly, Ed, since the New Year we’ve never stopped with new enquiries. I’m interviewing tomorrow, and if it carries on like this I’ll be interviewing again in two months’ time.”
And she’s not alone. EROS (Ed Reid’s Optimism Scale) isn’t as scientifically measured as the BDO version, but I’d say it’s definitely starting to move into positive territory. As I travel round North Yorkshire business owners are far more upbeat and far more optimistic than they were this time last year.
The web design boss is a good example. The housing market has traditionally been viewed as the barometer of the UK economy, but if you want to know how optimistic business owners are then talking to a good web designer isn’t a bad place to start. After all, if you’re feeling gloomy and trying to cut back the last thing you’re going to do is spend money upgrading your website. ‘No thanks, the one we’ve got will do for now.’
I’d suggest a commitment to upgrading your website – and the attendant spending on content and social media that goes with it – indicates two things: a) you’re feeling optimistic about the immediate future and b) you’re feeling good about your company’s medium and long term prospects as well.
So is there any more than my general feelings and one conversation with a web designer to suggest that the outlook for UK plc – or at least the North Yorkshire division of the company – may be rather more rosy than the official figures suggest? I think there may be…
• Conversations around the table at TAB meetings are increasingly turning to the need to hire new people. That’s not a vague feeling that someone ‘might be needed,’ or a Board member relating anecdotal evidence from somewhere else, that’s someone saying, ‘If we’re to meet the demand – or if we’re to achieve what we’re capable of achieving – then we are very shortly going to need some additional staff.’
• Yesterday saw the annual Venturefest at York Racecourse. For the last two years the ‘buzz’ around the event has been remarkable: this year it was even more pronounced. New businesses, expanding businesses, potential investors, success stories… it is impossible to come away from the event without feeling that business in the region is on the up and up. And generally speaking, you’re hard pressed to come away without a potential new client or customer as well.
• Finally, the banks are currently very positive about the prospects for a well-run SME. I think there’s understandable reluctance among business owners who don’t want to put work into an application which they feel may be turned down – but the bank managers I know are looking to lend. Similarly corporate and commercial lawyers are reporting increased activity and potential investors (who have hovered on the sidelines until recently) now seem much more willing to take the plunge.
So all in all, I think the future looks bright. Of course the economy is still fragile – only a fool would think otherwise – but at least in North Yorkshire there are plenty of green shoots appearing. And I’m not just talking about the daffodils…