Cardiff Bay

Looking to start or grow your own business in 2018? Rosemary Proctor from Inspiring Interns lays out the best UK cities in which to do it:


Belfast is the UK city with the best small business growth potential, with Nottingham and Cardiff at its heels, according to the findings of a survey commissioned by the business payment services provider Square.

As part of the survey, 1,202 owners of small businesses in 15 UK cities gave their views on planned growth, confidence levels and the use of business technologies (eg mobile payment systems).

The views of consumers were also taken into account, with 2,044 surveyed on their willingness to buy from small businesses, and whether they were intending to set up a small business in the next five years. In addition, the survey looked at the access small businesses in the 15 cities had to services and support, eg fast broadband speeds.

By bringing together the survey’s findings, Square was able to rank the 15 cities by the growth potential of their small businesses. Behind Belfast, Nottingham and Cardiff (in first, second and third place respectively) came:

  1. Newcastle
  2. Sheffield
  3. Edinburgh
  4. Liverpool
  5. Norwich
  6. Southampton
  7. London
  8. Bristol
  9. Birmingham
  10. Manchester
  11. Glasgow
  12. Leeds

Belfast emerges from the survey as a beacon of optimism. Of the Belfast small businesses surveyed, 73 per cent said they felt confident about their business environment (ie investment, hiring, expansion and revenue growth) – a higher percentage than in any other city.

On average, small businesses in the Northern Irish capital expected growth of 41 per cent – another top score. What’s more, uptake of business technologies was highest among Belfast small businesses, at 41 per cent.

The positivity of Belfast businesses could be in part down to its customers, who were found to be the most loyal. Of the Belfast consumers surveyed, 54 per cent said they were currently shopping at local businesses.

It’s not just Belfast businesses that are feeling cheerful. Given concerns over the impact of Brexit on SMEs, it’s perhaps surprising that of the 15 cities surveyed, only small businesses in Glasgow and Sheffield reported being more pessimistic than optimistic about their business environment. In fact, on average, small businesses said they expected to grow by 29 per cent over the next 12 months.

Contributing to Leeds’ position in the ranking was its apparently low uptake of business technologies; the survey’s findings suggest that they’re used by only 13 per cent of small businesses in the city.

“Overall there’s a huge opportunity here for boosting small business growth”, Square notes. That’s an opportunity that Liverpool small businesses seem to be interested in, with 49 per cent saying that they would be open to exploring the use of business technologies, making that city the most interested in their uptake.

It’s interesting to note that businesses that have adopted internet technologies are well served in Bristol, which the survey found to have the fastest broadband in the 15 cities.

The survey’s results are by no means definitive. Similar studies, focusing on other cities and using different methods, have and will turn up different results.

The title of the best city in which to launch a start-up is hotly contested. Earlier this year, domain names provider Nominet announced that it was Oxford, based on an analysis of over 154,000 Google search terms and 63,000 national business listings.

In another recent study, Edinburgh won the crown. The Square survey is useful in that it gives a picture of the climate for small businesses that are already operating – and that picture is far from gloomy.

Rosemary Proctor is a graduate jobs writer for Inspiring Interns.