The New Year is underway, and if early signs are anything to go by then 2014 could mark a significant turning point for Britain's small businesses.
After years of recession and austerity, the latest reports have revealed that firms are increasingly optimistic about their prospects over the next 12 months.
It's an exciting time, and with confidence on the up a growing number of entrepreneurs could well be tempted to take the plunge by entering the start-up world.
While the mood is not invariably positive - much has been made of the threat posed by rising energy prices - it's clear that the general consensus is now one of confidence after years of uncertainty.
Indeed, a whole host of recent surveys have demonstrated just how optimistic Britain's SMEs are when it comes to other areas of the current economic landscape, with promising levels of positivity in a wide variety of industries.
By getting their expenses under control and improving the strength of their business, small firms can give themselves every opportunity of ensuring 2014 is as fruitful as early signs suggest it can be.
Deloitte's research shows that bank borrowing has returned as the most attractive source of finance for the first time since the financial crisis, suggesting that funding difficulties which have frustrated firms in the past have begun to ease.
Elsewhere Lloyds Banking Group has found that business confidence is now at its strongest level in 20 years - and that companies are more optimistic about the economy than they have been at any point since January 2007.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) paints a similar picture, with its most recent Small Business Index revealing that optimism has grown in every region of the UK - and in each business sector - over the past year.
Yet in among all the positive feeling, the issue of energy costs continues to bubble away in its own simmering pot of negativity.
Manufacturers' organisation EEF revealed that while 40% of firms plan to increase their investment levels in 2014, rising expenditure on energy is perceived as the "biggest risk".
The FSB are sending a similar message, explaining that while there are myriad reasons for SMEs to feel confident about the coming year, energy prices are only serving to detract from the optimism.
FSB chairman John Allan has even said that gas and electricity markets are in "desperate need of reform", calling for greater transparency and easier switching.
In spite of the anxiety surrounding energy prices, the evidence clearly demonstrates that there is plenty for businesses to be positive about in 2014. However, it's also important that firms realise they don't have to accept expensive gas and electricity bills as an inevitable source of frustration.
With substantial savings to be had by switching suppliers, finding a cheaper deal could help SMEs take full advantage of the current wave of optimism.
By getting the expense under control and limiting its impact on the rest of the business, small firms can give themselves every opportunity of ensuring 2014 is as fruitful as early signs suggest it can be.
Image credit: Sarah Reid
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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