Understanding the state of the economy is crucial to business success

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Facebook, along with the OECD and the World Bank, are going to put the economic climate under the magnifying glass. [Shutterstock]

A prerequisite for helping European businesses succeed in the new digital and mobile economy is understanding the economic environment in which they operate, writes Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn.

Nicola Mendelsohn is vice-president of EMEA for Facebook.

Businesses are increasingly using new digital technologies to profile, advertise, and sell their products. Technology means a company is able to connect with more and more customers, and its ambitions are no longer held back by geography.

European companies are already making a reality of the Digital Single Market by not just doing business within their own country, but cross-border across Europe and globally.

Policymakers within the EU Commission and across national EU governments who want to help these companies grow need to be able to understand and keep up with this changing environment. What obstacles are these firms up against? How do they rate their future prospects?

Listening carefully to business creates better insights, which can in turn inform the decisions taken by policymakers. Getting this right is critical given the importance of small businesses to our economies. Not only do they make up 99% of all businesses in the EU and provide millions of jobs, they are the most innovative marketers, discover new things quickly and continue to embrace the digital economy much faster.

That’s why we have teamed up with the OECD and World Bank over the past year to develop and now launch the ‘Future of Business Survey”. It provides a pulse on the current and future economic climate in which small and medium sized enterprises operate, and a unique window into the new digital and mobile economy.

Facebook wants to play its full part in this European conversation about helping businesses grow. With more than 60 million business pages active on our platform, we can help provide policy makers with a unique lens into how new and more established companies view the world.

This new survey, which will now continue every month, polls Facebook business page owners, both new and long-standing, across 22 countries (including seven in Europe) and received nearly 100,000 responses. A majority of the businesses that responded have between one and five employees and almost 60% of those businesses were under five years old.

While it is still early days for the survey, it is worth highlighting a few initial results. Overall, businesses that took part had a significantly more positive outlook on the future than of the current period – and that confidence is greater in European countries than the global average.

That’s good for the customers they connect with, the communities they serve, and the people they employ.

For Europe, Ireland is the most optimistic economy, while Italy and Spain have a lower positive outlook.

As for the challenges, small firms consistently raised attracting customers, increasing revenue and maintaining profitability as their biggest obstacles. These are the kinds of important insights that policy makers need if they’re to take action that makes life easier for business.

In a newly mobilised economy, we also wanted to understand how businesses used online tools. The survey found that across the 22 countries, smaller companies drew on multiple types of digital tools to give them an edge – using them to show their products or services, advertise to potential new customers, or indeed to sell their products.

In fact, the survey found that businesses that were confident in their outlook used online tools for more purposes, an important finding that should give further encouragement to Europe’s policymakers working to establish a digital-friendly business environment across the EU’s 28 borders.

We’re at an exciting juncture for the growth of digitally enabled companies in Europe. Everyone wants to maximise the benefits: internet technology is becoming part and parcel of the daily life of businesses from each and every sector – and from every part of Europe.

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