60% of entrepreneurs anticipate a return to normal trading within 12 months

Despite serious challenges entrepreneurs remain positive on outlook for 2021

  • Half of entrepreneurs expect to increase headcount in 2021
  • 70% of entrepreneurs say Government has been supportive
  • Revenues fall for 76% of entrepreneurs since start of crisis

 In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurs across the island remain positive, with 60% anticipating a return to normal trading conditions within 12 months, according to an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ survey published today. The reality of trading in the current environment is evident with 33% of entrepreneurs saying they face challenges implementing social distancing protocols. The barometer of how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting the business community was carried out among 90 former winners and finalists of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ programme.

The findings of this pulse survey contrast starkly to the 2020 annual survey, carried out among 120 of the same group of entrepreneurs in the final quarter of 2019. At the end of 2019, 85% of entrepreneurs said they planned to increase staff headcount in the 12 months that followed; just five months later, 47% have reduced their headcount. However, in spite of current circumstances, 55% still expect to increase their headcount in 2021. Swift action by Government in providing much-needed supports for enterprise has been acknowledged, with 70% stating that they’ve found the Government supportive at this time.

Roger Wallace, Partner Lead for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year, said:“The reality is social distancing is new and very different for all of us. The vast majority of entrepreneurs have had to make sweeping changes to their businesses to allow them to continue to operate in some capacity, while protecting the health of their staff and customers. There is a definite acknowledgement from entrepreneurs that they are facing, and will face, major challenges in the short term but their positivity and ability to find a solution rather than dwell on a problem remains. Many businesses across the island will no doubt be faced with very tough decisions about when it is safe and viable for them to reopen, and how business will look in the future. As we hopefully move towards a wider reopening of the economy, it is important that the efforts private enterprise is making to restart continue to be supported by our financial institutions and our Government. “

While three-quarters (76%) have seen their revenues fall so far this year, the sentiment is more optimistic about 2021 among the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ community, with half expecting to increase revenue. However, the spectre of uncertainty remains, with more than a quarter (28%) saying that the lack of certainty ahead makes it impossible to predict revenues for the coming year.

Following almost two months of widespread business closure and the adaptation to new ways of working, the top three challenges entrepreneurs say they are facing are: forecasting uncertainty (74%), reduced sales (63%); and opening of international markets (38%).

“At EY, we’ve been hosting a range of webinars since the outbreak of the crisis to help our support clients at this time of major upheaval. Our clients and the wider entrepreneurial community are now focused on the future and ensuring the vital elements of business operations are prepared for reopening. Getting things like supply chains, employee logistics to facilitate social distancing and office spaces ready for the return is top priority in the short to medium term. Leading a company through a crisis, can be a very lonely position to be in. It is critical that entrepreneurs are supported through this. I’ve heard countless stories reflecting the value of using networks of likeminded individuals, who can be an invaluable source of independent and unbiased support, advice and insight. For many companies, this crisis has fundamentally challenged their value proposition and business model, however we have already started to see the innovation and resilience of entrepreneurs as they rise to meet those challenges.” Added Roger Wallace.

Peaches Kemp, Co-Founder and Director, the Itsa food group said: “The hospitality industry has been one of the most severely impacted industries during this pandemic. At the start of the crisis, we had to act very quickly to protect the safety of our staff and customers and closed our businesses. Our revenues have effectively been reduced to zero but I hope we will be able to reopen in a safe way soon. However, government supports will be absolutely vital in allowing this to happen successfully. A perfect example of this support and how it has worked is illustrated in the number of businesses who have had to rely on the Temporary Wage Support Scheme. Without doubt, this has been the most difficult time I’ve faced during my 20 years in business. But it is very inspiring and encouraging to see how entrepreneurs have pulled together and supported each other to fight against the threat that COVID-19 has posed to their businesses.” 

The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Ireland programme is supported by Premium Corporate Sponsor Julius Baer International, and Government sponsors Enterprise Ireland and Invest NI. For further information, please visit www.eoy.ie.

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