What will drive and slow down SME growth in 2017?

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2016 was full of shocks and surprises, so with a new year now upon us, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be hoping for less turbulence in the coming months.

So what does Britain's small business community expect to see throughout 2017? What do people believe will be the biggest drivers of growth and the main obstacles that stand in their way this year?

Interestingly, technology looks set to become more and more crucial to SMEs over the next few months.

According to Barclays' latest SME Hopes and Fears Index, 37 per cent of SME owners believe the improved availability of technology will help drive growth in their business this year.

Meanwhile, 30 per cent are confident of accessing international markets and taking advantage of export opportunities across the globe.

In addition, more than one in five plan to stimulate business growth in 2017 by boosting their online activity and establishing a much stronger digital presence.

Ultimately though, two of the main influencers on growth this year could be external factors over which SMEs have little control.

Some 22 per cent of SME owners say consumer demand will be critical to their fortunes throughout 2017, while 21 per cent believe their business outlook will be shaped by the state of the UK economy.

This leads us neatly onto the factors that SME owners believe could stand in the way of growth in the next 12 months.

More than four in ten said the state of the UK economy would negatively impact on efforts to expand this year, while many also expect gas and oil prices to prove problematic in the near future.

A similar proportion are also concerned about the impact that inflation could have on their bottom line throughout 2017.

Meanwhile, 35 per cent of respondents admitted that competition from businesses in the same sector might affect their prospects this year, and 33 per cent are concerned about the effects of fluctuating exchange rates.

And how could SMEs go into 2017 without Brexit being foremost on their minds, following last year's referendum that saw people vote for the UK to leave the European Union?

Twenty-two per cent of SME owners cited the triggering of Article 50 as a major concern for the year ahead, while 29 per cent expressed worry about the prospect of Britain pulling out of the EU.

So what does Barclays' SME Hopes and Fears Index tell us about the state of play in the small business community?

Ian Rand, chief executive of Barclays Business Banking, commented: "This is the time of year when many businesses are planning ahead, and our Hopes and Fears research shows that small businesses are aware of several challenges that may face them in 2017, but they also see many strong opportunities for growth."