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The cost of doing business has accelerated by 600% and inaction is costing Canadian SMEs dearly

The cost of doing business has accelerated by 600% and inaction is costing Canadian SMEs dearly

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The cost per unit has grown approximately six times more between 2020 and 2021 than the average annual cost growth between 2013 and 2019, according to BDC’s new study, How to cope with inflation and remain profitable. Moreover, 65% of Canadian companies have felt the negative impact of the rising cost of doing business.

Inflation should return closer to its target, but population ageing, the energy transition and global geopolitical issues will continue to exert pressure on costs. The BDC study sounds the alarm: to ensure their survival, Canadian SMEs must prioritise their profitability in order to adapt to the new environment.

“We’re not going backwards; the business environment is changing, and small businesses may be tempted to postpone their strategic thinking or certain investments to support their long-term survival,” said Pierre Cléroux, Vice President, Research and Chief Economist at BDC. “Downsizing and the absence of a mitigation strategy can no longer ensure a company’s survival.”

In order to boost SME growth and the competitiveness of the Canadian economy, BDC looked at what SMEs are doing to cope with rising costs. The bank then estimated the impact of these actions on company performance in terms of revenue growth, outperformance relative to the sector and profitability.

“With the rising price of carbon and increasing labour costs, it’s not surprising to see what strategies have been put forward to ensure profitability; in fact, business owners have had no choice but to implement them to remain profitable,” added Cléroux.

The three strategies that entrepreneurs use most often and that have proven most successful are: 

  1. Using technology to modernise processes (25%), which improves business efficiency and helps revenue growth outpace rising costs 
  2. Reducing the carbon footprint (14%), which helps with cutting energy costs, improving efficiency and reaching a wider market 
  3. Proactive cost management (12%), which enables regular monitoring of financial performance to optimise costs and revenues 

“Nearly 20% of businesses that have implemented at least one winning strategy show above-average growthfor their sector; it’s clear that investing to support revenue growth is a strategy that delivers results,” added Cléroux.

Upward pressure on certain costs will continue over the long-term, driven by three major trends: an ageing population, the green transition and the effects of globalisation on import-export. The BDC study presents the impact of these trends on SMEs:

  • Over a third of companies (36%) cite labour costs as the main negative impact of rising costs.
  • The majority of SMEs (57%) expect climate change to increase their costs over the next three years. About 40% still believe their costs will not be affected
  • Among SMEs engaged in international trade, 68% have already implemented a sourcing strategy to improve their resilience, but 79% expect this to increase their costs
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