It was good news for small and medium-sized enterprises, as this winter will see the strongest SME growth since the beginning of the financial crisis, according to a report from British Gas Business and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr).

The Importance of Winter for SMEs predicts £400bn of revenue for the UK’s small businesses during winter 2013/14. This represents a 7% increase on the same period last year, and an impressive 12% increase on winter 2010/11.

The report from BGB and Cebr reveals that wholesalers have the largest opportunity for growth, with an estimated £130 billion of potential revenue available. Retail and manufacturing businesses are looking to share a slice of £24bn and £42bn respectively.

Angela Needle, Head of Propositions at British Gas, said: “This research reveals a positive outlook for small businesses this winter. As growth returns, the businesses we work with up and down the country are looking to capitalise on this opportunity.”

Opportunity for growth

The winter growth opportunity varies by sector and industry. Educational businesses have the largest proportion of turnover in winter at 27.2%. The same period is the quietest for construction firms with 22% of their annual turnover falling between December and February.

Winter is a key period for retail, with online retail growth expected to continue. Retailers without an effective digital sales channel could miss out on a share of £1 billion in revenue spent every week in December alone.

The report forecasts other key trends facing SMEs this winter including improved credit conditions. New Funding for Lending measures are coming into force this month, enabling SMEs to realise the potential for growth opportunity.

Challenges

The winter months can present a number of challenges for SMEs, including:

• Depressed revenues – the post-festive slump puts pressure on businesses: more than 3,000 small businesses will fail in the first quarter of 2014, resulting in more liquidations and bankruptcies compared with any other time of year.

• Severe weather – disruption to the supply chain caused by harsh weather conditions would cost the economy more than £1.9bn this winter, wiping 0.5% off UK economic growth.

• Seasonal flu – businesses with only one employee (75% of SMEs) could lose as much as £200 for every day they are absent from work.

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