By Daniel Hunter

A wide-ranging report published today (Tuesday) gives a unique and revealing portrait of entrepreneurs in Europe and the USA as they cope with another year of economic crisis. Despite financial pressures, stress and sleeplessness, they still have faith in their futures and maintain the determination to succeed.

Published by Hiscox, the international specialist insurer, the fourth DNA of an entrepreneur study reports findings from research of 3,000 owners or partners in small and medium-sized businesses in six countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain.

“Our fourth annual study of SMEs confirms what we know from working closely with them: they consider and manage a wide variety of local, national and global risks everyday while keeping faith in their values and ambitions," Bronek Masojada, CEO at Hiscox, commented.

"We hope that the insights in our study will help all those supporting SMEs make their essential contribution to economic recovery.”

Key themes from the study:

Optimists outnumber pessimists

Although SMEs had experienced tough trading conditions, the study found 48% of respondents were optimistic about the year ahead for their business, compared to 27% who declared themselves pessimists and 26% who were not sure. The Spanish (28%) had the lowest optimism, and the Dutch (61%) the highest.

In five out of six countries, a majority of respondents reported an increase in new customers: the leader was Germany (72%) followed by the USA and the Netherlands (64% and 62%). Across all countries, 75% of respondents hope to avoid redundancies in the year ahead or even recruit, and 61% were not letting the eurozone crisis affect their business plans (57% in the five EU countries). As many as 91% found benefits from running an SME compared to working in a large company.

Tight finances — but stable relationships with lenders

Forty five per cent of SMEs reported profit growth over the last 12 months (33% in Spain, 58% in Germany). However, across all countries 62% had not needed to renegotiate borrowing from a lender, and 74% of those who had renegotiated had been successful, partially or totally.

Stressed but determined

Across all six countries, the average working week for leaders of SMEs was 42.8 hours, and 2.1 of those hours were spent on government regulation. The Germans put in the longest hours - 47.1 hours on average each week (2.7 hours on government regulation). The British had the shortest average working week — 38.5 hours, with 1.6 hours spent on government regulation.

Forty three per cent of all respondents said that the economic downturn had given them more stress (54% in Spain, 24% in the Netherlands), and 31% reported sleep problems due to increased worry. However, 30% said that the downturn had made them stronger and more determined to succeed, and 31% said that it had spurred them on to work more efficiently.

New recruits — keen but not so good at languages

Among the SMEs across all six countries who had recruited school leavers or graduates in the past two years, 63% gave them high ratings for keenness and motivation, 56% for reading and writing and 52% for basic arithmetic. However, only 41% rated them highly for speaking different languages (USA 33% and UK 26%).

A helping hand

Only 22% of SMEs across all countries had asked for outside help from business groups or elected representatives. Eleven per cent had approached a business or small business organisation, and 9% a local councillor or mayor. Just 3% had turned to a representative in their national parliament or assembly and only 1% of respondents in the five EU countries had approached their MEP.

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