Despite concerns about the impacts of the 4th wave and the end of government stimulus, the leaders of Canada's small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) are feeling optimistic about their prospects for the next three years and about the state of the Canadian and global economy, finds a recent KPMG in Canada survey. Nine in 10 (92 per cent) are confident they have the right strategies to overcome these and other hurdles allowing their business and industry to grow over the next three years. This is consistent with the positive outlook among Canadian CEOs of large corporations.

"Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses are more optimistic about their growth prospects over the next few years, and are poised to accelerate the pace of digitization and hire workers with in-demand tech skills," says Mary Jo Fedy, National Leader, KPMG Enterprise. "The majority of private enterprises and family businesses that have made it through the tough times are getting back on their feet, although many have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Overall, the long-term outlook is more hopeful, even as economic uncertainties and risks remain."

Business confidence: SMBs and corporates

KPMG's Business Outlook Poll finds that nearly a third (31 per cent) of SMBs forecast between 2.5 per cent and 4.99 per cent per annum earnings growth for the next three years. One quarter (26 per cent) have a more aggressive growth outlook, anticipating 5 per cent to 9.99 per cent per annum earnings growth, while 17 per cent anticipating less than 2.5 per cent.

SMBs and corporates

'Going digital' the key to driving growth

Canadian SMBs recognize that accelerating their digital connectivity and integration is core to their growth strategies.

The poll findings show that:

  • 82 per cent of SMBs recognize they need to be a much more digitally integrated company
  • 85 per cent are investing much more in new technology
  • 54 per cent plan to make further digital investments a priority to bolster growth

"The last year and a half clearly demonstrated that going digital is essential for success," adds Ms. Fedy. "Companies that will lead the way forward will be able to adapt rapidly to emerging risks and capitalize on the digital opportunities realized during the pandemic through sustained tech investment and adoption."

When asked to identify their most-important strategies to achieve their three-year growth objectives, 71 per cent of SMB leaders said they're relying on organic growth, compared to 25 per cent of corporate CEOs who are more apt to pursue mergers and acquisitions.

Top SMB risks: talent, supply chain and cybersecurity

Notwithstanding the more positive outlook about future prospects, SMBs identified three top operational and growth risks: talent, supply chain disruption and cybersecurity

In comparison, CEOs of large corporates said the greatest threats to growth are emerging/disruptive technology and regulatory risks and expressed similar concerns regarding growing cybersecurity threats.

  SMBs Large corporations
Risk to Growth: Rank: 
Talent risk 1 --
Supply chain risk 2 --
Cybersecurity risk 3 3
Operational risk 4 4
Interest rate risk 5 --
Labour cost risk 5 --
Emerging / disruptive technology risk -- 1
Regulatory risk -- 1
Environmental / climate risk -- 5
Tax risk -- 5


Nearly 70 per cent of SMBs plan to increase headcount over the next three years, but they can't find workers with the skills necessary to compete in today's marketplace, raising the table stakes for retaining and attracting talent. Interestingly, large corporations didn't even rank talent risk as a future risk, although it was a top concern a year ago in the initial massive shift to remote work.

"The war for tech talent isn't going away anytime soon," says Ms. Fedy. "Our poll confirmed that SMBs are finding it harder to attract candidates with the tech skills so critical to their future competitiveness and ability to innovate. SMB leaders may fear losing out to large corporations that have bigger budgets to recruit and pay top dollar for these highly skilled workers."

Supply chain disruptions are also an ongoing concern, particularly among SMBs that rely on external inputs to operate at full capacity and fulfill previously pent-up consumer demand. Supply chain ranks second only to talent risk as a potential obstacle to SMB growth, although large corporations deemed it a lower risk factor. Almost four in five (79 per cent) SMBs intend to source more product inputs within Canada, compared to only 25 per cent of large corporates.

"The pandemic exposed supply chain vulnerabilities that, in this next phase, are driving a majority of SMBs to rethink their supply chain processes and inputs to avoid future disruption," says KPMG's Jerome Thirion, Partner and National Lead Supply Chain Management Consulting. "Many companies right now are faced with finding the right mix between a variety of product offerings, cost-to-serve and supply chain complexity. The pandemic has shown that lowest price isn't necessarily the best answer for the bottom line and that a balance between global and local supply chains helps to better manage risks, enhance resiliency, and improve customer service. Given the importance of SMBs to our economy, this development bodes well for future domestic investment and Canada's recovery."

The rise of cyber incidents and the security concerns of a hybrid work environment also present growing operational risks for SMBs and large corporates alike, making it both a high priority and risk to growth that will need to be managed to maintain consumer trust.

Read more insights from KPMG's Business Outlook Poll and CEO Outlook: Canadian SMBs: Optimistic, hiring, and looking to make a difference.

About the KPMG Business Outlook Poll

KPMG polled 505 Canadian small- and medium-sized business owners and decision-makers between August 6 and August 15. The online survey of business owners and decision-makers were all drawn from Delvinia's premier online research panel, Asking Canadians, through the Methodify platform. Of the 505 survey respondents, 35 per cent are family-owned businesses and 74 per cent are privately held, while 31 per cent have revenues over $100 million annually and 24 per cent have annual revenues between $50-100 million.

About KPMG CEO Outlook

Now in its seventh year, the KPMG CEO Outlook provides an in-depth three-year outlook from thousands of global executives on enterprise and economic growth. See the 2021 Canadian Insights from some of Canada's most influential CEOs of large companies and organizations.

About KPMG in Canada

KPMG LLP, a limited liability partnership, is a full-service Audit, Tax and Advisory firm owned and operated by Canadians. For over 150 years, our professionals have provided consulting, accounting, auditing, and tax services to Canadians, inspiring confidence, empowering change, and driving innovation. Guided by our core values of Integrity, Excellence, Courage, Together, For Better, KPMG employs nearly 8,000 people in over 40 locations across Canada, serving private- and public-sector clients. KPMG is consistently ranked one of Canada's top employers and one of the best places to work in the country.

The firm is established under the laws of Ontario and is a member of KPMG's global organization of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International, a private English company limited by guarantee. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. For more information, see

For media inquiries:

Nancy White
National Communications
KPMG in Canada