Positive Economic Outlook for SMEs Across the Nordics

Blog | 26.08.2021

by Azets


Asking 760 SMEs across the Nordics and UK, our SME Barometer, completed in May, reveals a mostly positive outlook for economic recovery. Of course, it varies between fields and company size, and many of the numbers come as no surprise. With more and more people being vaccinated, the restrictions are beginning to lift, and we find ourselves going out of the dark and into the mist. The worst is passing, but here we are about to face an uncertain post-Covid19 world. The SME Barometer takes a closer look at how smaller companies are planning to face this reality, and how they can thrive instead of just survive.

  • 24% of micro SMEs expect the economy to decline compared to just 11% of medium-sized businesses.
  • SMEs in Finland, Denmark and Sweden seem more optimistic than their counterparts in Norway and the UK.
  • 56% of SMEs expect to recruit more staff.
  • 38% have no plans to invest in their business.


Professional service and technology sectors, having remained relatively stable throughout the pandemic, find themselves positive about the coming year. Businesses in retail, hospitality, leisure, and transport were hit much harder, and have an understandably bleaker view of what is to come. Especially for micro businesses in these sectors, there is a lot of hard work remaining to accommodate growth beyond just stability, with 24% expecting the economy to get worse. In contrast, only 11% of medium- sized businesses agree, as most have emerged from the worst of the pandemic with less damage and a cautious sense of hope and positivity.

Looking at the numbers, SMEs in Finland, Denmark and Sweden seem particularly optimistic at the prospects of economic recovery, while their counterparts in Norway and the UK are slightly less so. Finland, being the most optimistic with 75% thinking the economic climate will improve during the upcoming year, shows us that we will adapt to our situation and make the best of it. 

Over half (56%) are expecting to recruit more staff and an overall 68% of all businesses expect to see improvement to the economy during the next 12 months. Still, implementation may prove to be a challenge, as 38% of the SMEs have no plans to invest in their business. Getting back to a place where investing can be a viable option might still be a bit further down the road for many.



Surviving economic decline as a micro or medium-sized business is no easy feat, and for one third of SMEs government-sponsored liquidity assurance has been vital. SMEs in the hospitality, leisure, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors are the ones most likely to have received assistance. Overall, it is uplifting to see that the Nordics have handled this situation fairly well, so much so that SMEs in general felt well supported by their government during the pandemic.

Rebuilding and adapting takes a lot of resilience, and in order to get back on our feet we will need assistance for a while more. SMEs in the Nordics are being quite clear about their needs going forward, asking for recognition for their good work with infection control and safety, so that we can open up more and regain a sense of normalcy. Simplifying legislation, reducing taxes and fees, generational change without tax, and faster case processing are suggestions most businesses can agree with. Any compensation for lost turnover and profit e.g. tax deductions will be a welcome help, and might turn the tides for many SMEs across the Nordics.



As we take our brave steps into what we hope will be better times, we are relieved to see that most businesses have a plan and know where their priorities lie. SMEs in the Nordics retain a great deal of confidence in their business model, and see it as their greatest opportunity for growth. 

While the Nordics listed Covid19, competition, and the economy as some of their biggest threats, they found that their business model and willingness to invest in further automation and digitization to be their greatest opportunities. The plan for most SMEs seems to consist of ensuring the basics are in place for the company to survive and grow, with employee wellbeing as one of the most essential.

  • Nordic SMEs listed Covid19, competition, and the economy as some of their biggest threats.
  • Restructuring the way we approach work, by implementing digitization and automation, will be a key factor in our economic recovery.

Emerging as one of the great lessons from the pandemic is the need for continuous investment in automation, AI, and digitalization, followed by the related challenge of cybersecurity. As a key to adaptation post-Covid19, we are setting the course for restructure in the way we approach work. Creating opportunities for employees to work from home if the position allows it, and digitizing the workload to ensure efficiency and ease of communication are changes that will allow SMEs as well as bigger companies to stand much stronger in the coming years. The everyday structure we have based our lives around is slowly coming back, but it is important that we bring with us the innovative solutions that carried us through the hardships. If investing in increased automation has kept us afloat throughout the pandemic, it will make us thrive once we are back on land.

The SME Barometer revealed to us how smaller businesses have survived throughout the pandemic and how they can begin to thrive after. The results are optimistic, but also remind us that the struggle will continue for many SMEs. It shows that the things we learned during the pandemic are lessons best brought into the future to lessen the damage going forward. The ‘new normal’ for all businesses will involve keeping many of the aspects of the Covid19 changes even as the threat of the pandemic weakens. 

The Barometer shows how hard these businesses have been working to survive, and with some effort, flexibility, and willingness to change, we can make our winning strategies the new normal.

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