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Staff twice as important as technology to UK’s high growth small businesses

4 Feb 2020
  • New report underlines importance of hiring and availability of talent to the UK’s fastest growing businesses
  • USA and China seen as the key markets for increased exports post-Brexit

The UK’s fastest growing businesses say that their staff are the most important factor in their success, according to a new report published today.

Six in ten (60%) high growth small businesses (HGSBs) said that their staff are the most important factor in their success. This was compared to over half (53%) who said it was due the strength of their product or idea, and just 29% who identified technology as the most important factor.

Top five factors HGSBs say contributed most to their success:

  1. We have great staff – 60%
  2. We had a great idea or product – 53%
  3. Technology made our product development cheaper and easier – 29%
  4. The internet made it easier to market ourselves – 29%
  5. We were able to secure funding at the right time – 24%

The findings are taken from the latest Octopus High Growth Small Business Report. Commissioned by Octopus Group and with support from Frontier Economics and Opinium Research, the report highlights the significant economic value of the UK’s fastest growing smaller companies, while also revealing the barriers to further growth and reasons behind their success.

HGSBs are defined as businesses with annual average growth of more than 20% over a three-year period and an annual turnover of between £1 million and £20 million.

HGSBs are the UK’s job creators – and are highly productive

The latest data1 identified 77,646 HGSBs in the UK, equivalent to just 2.9% of all businesses. Despite this, they continue to punch well above their weight, accounting for 84% of net employment growth and employing more than 1.9 million workers.

The findings also revealed that HGSBs are 24% more productive than low-growth small businesses, equivalent to an extra 3 months of economic output. Overall it is estimated that HGSBs contributed £113 billion (GVA)2 to the UK economy every year.

Chris Hulatt, co-founder of Octopus Group, comments:

“It is no surprise that staff are the crucial ingredient for success in high growth businesses. I’ve seen first-hand how important it is to hire the right people, whether at Octopus or the businesses we invest in. You need people that truly care about customers and the success of the business, which can sometimes be forgotten by larger more established businesses.”

“When you look at the productivity of high growth small businesses and the number of jobs they create, the findings also underline why it’s so important that these companies are able to access the best talent. These businesses are the driving force behind the UK economy, and we need to make sure they are given every opportunity to thrive.”

USA the top HGSB target for increased exports

Access to foreign markets will be crucial for the UK’s HGSBs post-Brexit, and 62% of those surveyed said they were currently exporting or have done previously. The most common export market among HGSBs was the USA (56%), followed by France (44%) and Germany (44%).

However, less than half the proportion of HGSBs said were looking to increase exports to France (18%) and Germany (20%). Instead, HGSBs looked to be doubling down on the USA (45%), while a quarter planned to increase exports to China.

Export market Where HGSBs currently export / have exported Where HGSBs want to increase exports
USA 56% 45%
France 44% 18%
Germany 44% 20%
Ireland 37% 12%
Nordic countries 28% 13%
Singapore 22% 12%
China 22% 24%
Baltic countries 17% 8%
Other non-EU countries 17% 9%
Israel 14% 5%
Other EU countries 12% 3%
None of the above 17%


For journalists in their professional capacity only. Issued by Octopus Group. Registered office: 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT. Registered in England and Wales No. Issued: February 2020.