The UK’s leading membership organisation for small businesses and the self-employed has praised the fighting spirit of companies throughout Scotland. Colin Borland, Director of Devolved Nations at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), also spoke about the importance of being part of a supportive community in order to succeed in today’s harsh economic environment.

Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show With Hunter & Haughey, Mr Borland said: “Scotland’s small businesses have responded to the current challenges. They’ve been tenacious. They’ve been really clever and have adapted.”

As of March 2023, there was a total of 338,385 Small and Medium-sized Enterprises operating in Scotland, providing an estimated 1.2 million jobs. The FSB, meantime, has a current membership of 15,000 in Scotland with the primary goal of helping companies achieve their ambitions. 

“My message here is, if you’re a small family business, there is a huge umbrella group in the FSB that you can be part of. It’s got your back. It’s also a genuine community,” said Mr Borland.

“For example, we do a lot of trade shows, exhibitions and expos and we get the brand out there. I get lots of people coming up and saying: ‘I’m an FSB member,’ then telling me what we’ve done for them, the people they’ve met through FSB, or the vital business connections they’ve gained through us.”

Reflecting on today’s economic climate, Mr Borland noted its similarities to the pressurised environment experienced in 1974, the year the FSB was founded, adding: “Back then the corporates were represented in government by the shape of the CBI. You also had the trade union movement representing the workers. Those in the middle who were self-employed or running their own business had no-one standing up for them, amid obstacles such as extra taxes for self-employment.

“So they got together and said: ‘No, we need to do something about this. We need to even up the score a wee bit.’ That’s why we were formed and we’ve just grown and grown.”

Mr Borland pointed out that fundamental to the FSB’s mission was its work in ensuring top tier legislators listened to small businesses and fully took on board their needs.

“A lot of what we do is behind the scenes, talking about the details, about things that are coming in terms of legislation. 

“We understand the many and varied calls that are on the people who are decision makers but we do get a fair hearing. There are politicians and officials and key decision makers who absolutely get it, who do understand it.”

Mr Borland noted, above all, becoming involved in a small business or being self-employed may bring challenges but also offers great rewards.

“After the 2008-2009 recession, nine out of 10 people who moved from economic inactivity back into the labour market did so by either going to work in a small business or setting one up themselves.

“This demonstrates, in terms of social mobility, self-employment or starting a business is a great way to actually climb that ladder. If you’re feeling stuck or if you’re getting hemmed in by a corporate or a more formal structure, you can get out there and do your own thing and move yourself up.”

Right now, he said, businesses were sharing with him reports of experiencing a flat year-on-year turnover, while costs have gone up by 10%. 

“We asked our members recently, which year had been the toughest, because it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since 2020. Obviously 2021 came out top. However, last year ran a pretty close second. All the support around Covid, which was absolutely marvellous and welcome, disappeared. 

“Moreover, the cost of doing business really has hit people, particularly in the industries such as retail, leisure and hospitality, which are vulnerable to discretionary consumer spend.

“But Scottish businesses have taken it on the chin,” said Mr Borland. “They’re not going to give up without a fight!”