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Drawing on new survey data this report provides a profile of micro-businesses with 1-9 employees in Northern Ireland in comparison to UK regional, Irish and US benchmarks. The report provides the first evidence on levels of business ambition, resilience and digital adoption for this group of firms. The Micro-business Britain Survey covered 6,200 firms in the UK - 495 in Northern Ireland – 1,500 companies in Ireland and 2,000 in the US. There are currently around 28,500 micro-businesses employing around 111,000 people (19.7 per cent of the workforce) in Northern Ireland. In 2017 these firms generated sales of £10.4bn, 17.2 per cent of that by all NI firms.

The survey paints a detailed picture of the micro-business sector in Northern Ireland and suggests that:

  • Most micro-businesses are very small, having average employment of 3.3. Most are well established having traded for an average of 29 years and over this period have provided the basic income for the founding family. This household-business link is crucial to understanding these firms.
  • 78 per cent of micro-businesses in NI are family-owned and in the vast majority of cases the founder is still involved in the business. Around half of all micro- businesses in NI are home-based. Family-ownership is more important in Northern Ireland than elsewhere.
  • Four-fifths of NI micro-businesses said their key priority was to ‘keep their business similar to how it operates now’. Only around a fifth of business leaders aim to build a ‘national or international business’. For most of these firms stability dominates growth in terms of ambition.
  • 90 per cent of micro-businesses in NI traded profitably over the year prior to the survey with around 1:3 micro-businesses reporting international sales. 46 per cent of firms reported using sources of external finance.
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