Looking at the trends in the four quarters of 2021, it is clear that (partial) lockdowns of sectors have been very bad news for business performance. Also not directly hit sectors like the care and service industry underperformed. The horeca, retail and cultural sectors were hit hardest by recurring lockdowns. Business services and technical professionals were more resilient.
We have observed a strong decrease in sales, net margins, investment (willingness), solvability and entrepreneurial wages in periods of lockdown. They are (far) below the levels of the pre-Corona year 2019. Start-ups and the self-employed were the most vulnerable. The type of market in which entrepreneurs operate is of great importance. Turnover, net margins and entrepreneurial wages in the B2B markets are significantly higher than in the B2C markets.
We were unable to establish any direct positive effects of the degree of digitization of businesses on net margins (Q2 special). Rather, the utilization of too many applications seems to deteriorate business performance. Entrepreneur digital skills are able to predict net margins better and positively. We will repeat this special in the near future as many businesses have only recently started to digitize.
Entrepreneurs have lost their way in the forest of local, provincial, national and EU subsidies (Q3 special), halving the number of applications compared to 2015. Tax deduction programs seem far more effective than the dazzling diversity of subsidies. Owners of businesses with staff are especially willing to pay specialized advisors to detect and apply for subsidies on a “no cure, no pay” basis.
There appears to be a strong link between the self-estimated sales skills of entrepreneurs and their turnover, and the short-term growth expectations (Q4 special). The more experienced and skilled in sales, the higher the quarterly turnover and the higher the growth expectation. However, 62% of entrepreneurs are unskilled or untrained in sales skills. And 30% of entrepreneurs indicate that they are not effective at selling.
Overall, the lockdowns resulted in a growing number of entrepreneurs developing into marginal companies. Financial reserves, such as saved pensions and private/partner/family capital were depleted. Lockdowns also increased firm and private debts, which the majority of companies are unable to repay. Poverty is knocking at the door of many Dutch entrepreneurs and, even with the support of a partner income, only 4 out of 10 entrepreneurs earn a more than marginal living.
Our main recommendations in the quarterly reports of 2021 are:
1. Strengthen the solvability of micro-businesses by converting tax debts in subordinate loans.
2. Pro-actively contact entrepreneurs to support them with support possibilities, (poverty alleviation) allowances and free coaching and sales, financial and digital training possibilities.
3. Start proactively discussing the viability of the firm and business model and possible ways to resolve debts. There is strong demand and shortages on the labor market, which makes this the perfect time to guide depleted entrepreneurs to (far) better paid jobs.