EMP, teleworking, raw materials... what are the challenges facing small businesses?

A recent study conducted by Cercle Perspectives, a group of 17 accounting firms with no fewer than 350,000 corporate clients, reveals the main challenges facing small businesses as the crisis draws to a close. EWPs, telecommuting, wage increases, CSR, rising raw material prices: 4,400 VSE and SME managers surveyed in December 2021 shared their concerns.

Wage increases

VSEs and SMEs face major difficulties in recruiting or retaining employees who match their expectations. Some 83% of them are affected by recruitment problems, which have an impact on their level of activity in 91% of cases.

While increasing salaries is one way of resolving recruitment difficulties, the majority of companies surveyed are not planning to increase salaries any more in the coming months than they have in recent years.

Only 19% of VSEs and SMEs surveyed forecast a higher increase, while 58% anticipate an increase of the same order. For 23%, wage increases in the coming months will be even lower than in previous years.

The majority of companies planning to increase wages are in the industrial sector, and have in common that they have already repaid their state-guaranteed loan (PGE). It's worth noting that the larger the company, the more it plans to increase wages, as its margins are higher than those of smaller companies.

Repayment of state-guaranteed loans

For the most part, VSEs and SMEs have benefited from the public aid measures put in place to help companies cope with the crisis. Of the 67% of companies surveyed in the Cercle Perspectives study "Les TPE/PME, plus fortes que la crise?" that had received aid, 54% had obtained a PGE and/or partial activity allowance, 45% had benefited from the solidarity fund, and only 2% mentioned the stimulus plan.

By December 2021, 84% of the VSEs and SMEs concerned had not yet repaid their PGE, and 34% expect to encounter repayment difficulties. However, the government has since made adjustments, offering companies in difficulty the possibility ofspreading repayment of their PGE over 10 years, with an additional deferral of the first instalment.

CSR policy

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) may not be a priority for VSEs and SMEs, but it is not totally absent from the issues that concern their managers.

Indeed, 65% of companies surveyed said they were concerned by their social and environmental responsibility, but support seems necessary, since 82% of VSEs and SMEs surveyed had not developed a CSR policy. Of these, 59% justify the absence of a CSR policy by the priority given to relaunching their business, and 33% by a lack of resources.

CSR policy only ranks 7th among the issues of concern to VSE and SME managers, the first being their company's financial structure (93%), followed by business development (84%). More than a third (35%) of VSE and SME managers even admitted that they were not concerned by CSR policy.

Rising raw materials prices

A large majority of VSEs and SMEs consider the impact of rising raw material prices on production costs to be significant (38%) or very significant (46%). Out of a total of 84%, the majority of companies intend to pass on these increases in sales prices, only partially for 55%, and in full for 29%.

Only the smallest companies have no plans to increase their selling prices to compensate for higher raw material prices. The agricultural sector is the least likely to increase sales prices, regardless of company size.

Companies are also facing supply disruptions, which are disrupting business for 69% of them, particularly in the construction and industrial sectors.


A minority of VSEs and SMEs surveyed have implemented teleworking, although this rate varies according to company size and sector of activity. For example, only 17% of companies surveyed have teleworked. These are mainly companies with more than 20 employees, in the insurance and finance sectors.

Of those companies that do telework, 38% consider it to be a problem. For the most part, these are the same companies that are experiencing recruitment problems, telecommuting having become as much a criterion of attractiveness as salary.