Our survey says...

Our survey says...

The latest headline-grabbing entrepreneurial report raises more questions than answers, writes Andrew Mernin as he reaches for a pinch of salt.
Seemingly not a week goes by without some national survey telling entrepreneurs and business leaders what their peers are a) expecting b) concerned about or c) fearful of.

The majority, as most business hacks will testify, are carefully constructed figures lovingly wrapped around a thinly veiled – or sometimes downright obvious – PR message. Buzz phrases like cautiously optimistic, weathering the storm and break into new markets feature highly. But the deep-seated motive is to promote rather than inform.

Then are surveys built on scare tactics. Over 90% of businesses don’t have proper data security, a survey has revealed. Read said report further, however, and it emerges that it was conducted by a firm which sells data security and relied on the findings of its own, brow-beaten customers. Such tactics are akin to an ice cream maker telling us that kids don’t eat enough ice cream.

Today, though, there came an exception – a survey with what seemed to be genuine credibility. Although the survey only questions 31 people, this band of respondents has formidable authority in terms of guiding businesses towards success.

Each business leader questioned sits at the helm of a company with an average annual turnover of £42m, or a combined £1.3bn. And from the outset, Investec’s Entrepreneur Confidence Index made for informative, if gloomy, reading. The headline stat was the recording of the lowest level of entrepreneurial optimism since its launch three years ago.

Only 13% of respondents said they expected the national economy to improve in the next 12 months, with 39% expecting a slight deterioration and 10% forecasting things to worsen considerably.

But conflictingly, all of those interviewed said they expect their revenue to grow this year, with one in five anticipating growth of over 20%. This despite their predictions of ongoing uncertainty.

Perhaps this miss match between their expectations for their businesses and those of the wider economy shows that top entrepreneurs have as much faith in their own abilities as they do a lack of faith in the politicians managing the economy. Or, as is more likely, the figures reveal two of the most common traits of the best self-made business people.

Firstly there is the refusal to get bogged down in fluctuations in the economy and to see every downturn as an opportunity. Independent discount retailers, home entertainment providers and pawn brokers are among those that have exemplified this in recent years.

Then, from a cynic’s point of view, there is the self-promoting nature which no entrepreneur worth his salt can survive without. The innate ability to paint their company in a positive light and even mask, at all costs, the true picture of things behind the scenes is as much a part of business as book balancing for some entrepreneurs.

For the sake of the private sector’s bid to drag the company towards recovery, hopefully the former rather than the latter trait is the dominant force behind these latest figures.