What does 2014 have in store for the UK's small businesses?
A look at upcoming changes that will affect small businesses in 2014.
David Cameron used his New Year message to promise small business owners they'll receive government support "every step of the way" in 2014, and SMEs will now be looking for sure signs that the prime minister is going to deliver the goods.
Whether its tax breaks, cheaper finance or other incentives designed to help smaller firms establish themselves, there are certainly plenty of ways in which the coalition can boost British businesses - but just what's in the pipeline for the coming year?
Initially SMEs are going to have to wait for measures that have already been announced to come into effect - namely aspects such as reforms to business rates.
The Chancellor has capped any increases at 2%, and while firms are still likely to see their costs jump, the rises will not be as sharp as they could have been.
It's a policy that's received a fair amount of praise - especially given the extent to which expensive rates have been blamed for the demise of Britain's high streets - and one that will be more noticeable when bills for the coming year start to arrive in the post (usually in February or March).
Zero hour contracts
An area which the government is yet to address definitively but an issue on which it is currently consulting, zero hour contracts could be up for review once a thorough assessment has been made.
According to December 2013 figures, business confidence is up year-on-year in every region of the UK - as well as in every sector.
People have until March 13th to submit their thoughts on the subject, after which the coalition is sure to make a number of proposals which could impact on businesses that have adopted the practice.
We've had our say on this topic on the blog before, and you can have your voice heard by filling in the online form at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website.
Small steps for energy
Business energy is another area where we're set to see slow and steady change, as Ofgem's regulations mean all bills will have to display contract end dates by the time April arrives.
It's a small measure that doesn't address the full range of problems in the SME energy market, but it's a step in the right direction nonetheless - and it should help smaller firms keep a closer tab on their gas and electricity contracts.
However - irrespective of the government's plans - many businesses will be looking to determine their own fortunes in 2014, and the latest research from the Federation of Small Businesses indicates the general consensus is a positive one.
According to December 2013 figures, confidence is up year-on-year in every region of the UK - as well as in each business sector.
It may not be a definitive measure of how strong a year SMEs are set to enjoy, yet the signs are certainly promising, and increasing optimism tends to be a product of an improving economic landscape.
As we wait to see how 2014 plays out in high streets and offices throughout the country, there's also the next Budget to look ahead to - a point at which we should get a clearer picture of the government's plan for businesses ahead of next year's general election.
Image credit: Dan Moyle