By Marcus Leach

A poll of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK conducted by Experian reveals that 70 per cent are expecting sales growth in 2012. Almost one in five SMEs (18 per cent) also plan to increase their headcount next year.

Of those anticipating improved performance next year, increased sales to UK customers is seen as the biggest growth driver for more than two-thirds (68 per cent). 12 per cent expect growth to originate from international sales and one in four (26 per cent) plan to expand into new areas or markets next year.

75 per cent of the SMEs polled stated that they had access to additional cash that they could use within their businesses. 45 per cent claimed had access to cash reserves they could use to fund their growth activities, while 19 per cent had money set aside to cover emergencies.

The poll also shows that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of firms polled intend taking on new credit over the next year, with a further 33 per cent undecided as to whether they would take on new finance.

Experian’s snapshot of the experiences and expectations of 133 SME firms in the UK, conducted in October 2011, also indicated one in ten anticipate increasing investment in marketing over the next year.

22 per cent of respondents expected to maintain the same level of business activity, while just two per cent of those surveyed expect their business to shrink in 2012.

Of the 23 per cent of SMEs that intend borrowing next year, the greatest demand will be for flexible forms of finance such as business overdrafts (first choice for 26 per cent of respondents) and company credit cards (23 per cent). Just eight per cent of firms that had previously applied for commercial credit claimed to have been unable to obtain it.

“Although this is just a snapshot of the SME market, our poll suggests that there is some optimism among SMEs," Max Firth, Managing Director for Business Information Services at Experian, said.

"Those SMEs that do intend applying for credit are favouring flexible forms of finance, and some plan to use their capital reserves to fund growth and cash flow as well. The use of data, software and analytics makes it possible for lenders to increase their share of the SME market by finding those that have the greatest growth potential and ability to afford new credit.”

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