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Riding the Small Business Roller Coaster
by Rieva Lesonsky
May 25, 2022
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As we close out what some call “Small Business Month,” it’s a good time to check in on how small business owners feel and what they think about their future prospects. I checked out some of the latest surveys of small business owners to see how they’re faring.

Small Business Owner Report

According to the recently released Small Business Owner Report (SBOR) from Bank of America, small business owners feel optimistic—“but.” The wariness is due to their lack of confidence in the national economy (only 31% felt confident) and their local economies (only 39% expected improvement).

Yet, the SBOR shows how resilient business owners are, with almost 40% planning to expand and 64% expecting sales growth. But they’re well aware of the headwinds they’re facing, including—88% admit to feeling the impact of inflation, and 76% are dealing with a disruption in their supply chains.

And 35% of small business owners say they’re still dealing with the impact of “The Great Resignation,” finding it challenging to fill job openings. Sharon Miller, Bank of America’s President of Small Business, Head of Specialty Banking and Lending, says, “Business owners continue to prioritize attracting new talent and retaining existing employees. Hiring plans have rebounded to their highest level since fall 2018.”

Preparing for a stronger future, the business owners report they’re:

  • Raising prices
  • Cutting costs
  • Giving their employees a raise
  • Delaying the delivery of foods and services
  • Prioritizing digital sales over in-store revenues
  • Accepting more forms of cashless payments
  • Increasing their use of social media
  • Embracing new and emerging technologies, especially for cybersecurity, adding 5G, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI)

Small Business Insights

Almost all (99%) of the business owners surveyed in a new Small Business Insights report from Intuit QuickBooks also were concerned about inflation, and 52% say they’re “very concerned.” In addition to inflation, they’re worried about many of the same things as indicated in the SBOR, plus they feel their businesses are threatened by:

  • Cash flow
  • Cybersecurity threats (42% have already experienced a breach)
  • Low demand for their products/services
  • Lack of funding
  • Low-priced competition

The business owners have established priorities to create a stronger foundation for their companies. Their top 5 include:

  1. Increasing online sales
  2. Improving marketing
  3. Investing in technology
  4. Developing new products/service
  5. Boosting employee engagement and productivity

Megaphone of Main Street

In SCORE’s spring Megaphone of Main Street report, nearly 63% of the small business owners say higher expenses and other inflationary pressures have resulted in declining sales and lower profits in the past six months. Plus, they’re experiencing:

  • Higher costs, as vendors and suppliers are charging 65.7% more than they did six months ago
  • And 53.5% pay more for their utilities and gas

Those aren’t the only pressures:

  • 33% have increased their own compensation due to higher personal expenses 
  • 22.7% say current employees want salary hikes  
  • 23.4% say customers are demanding lower prices 
  • 35.9% are struggling with cash flow issues

To fight back, Betsy Dougert, SCORE’s Vice President of External Relations, says many small businesses “have taken active measures to combat the difficulties they’re experiencing, such as seeking more profitable clients, adjusting their product mix, or improving technology, but most are raising prices.” 

They’re also targeting more profitable clients and customers and changing their product mix.

Community Support

The SBOR and a different Small Business Insights report show that American consumers understand how important small businesses are to their communities. The Insights report shows that 66% say small businesses are the lifeblood of their community and 90% say it’s important to buy local.

The SBOR shows that today’s consumers are more motivated to support locally-owned businesses. The entrepreneurs appreciate that support. Bank of America’s Sharon Miller notes that 72% of business owners say “business ownership has become more difficult, community and family support” help keep them “passionate and excited for the future.”

The SBOR shows that today’s consumers are more motivated to support locally-owned businesses. The entrepreneurs appreciate that support. Bank of America’s Sharon Miller notes that 72% of business owners say “business ownership has become more difficult, community and family support” help keep them “passionate and excited for the future.”

A Changing Decade

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the SBOR, and it’s interesting to see how much small businesses have changed in that time. Most business owners (72%) believe business ownership has gotten more difficult over the past decade, primarily due to a dynamic and more competitive business landscape.

Perhaps due to technology that makes us more productive and efficient, business owners today seem to be managing their time better, with 46% saying they can spend more time with their families than they did ten years ago, and 37% have made more time for personal wellness.

Technology has played a changing role in marketing as well. Sharon Miller says, “The small business landscape has evolved over the past decade. One of the greatest changes has been the increased importance and adoption of social media and digital tools.” The SBOR shows that “53% of business owners say social media is one their most impactful marketing tools, compared to just 32% of entrepreneurs in 2012.” As we look to the next decade, digital tools and social strategies will continue to be critical to business success.”

Are you feeling pressured too? Let a SCORE mentor help you. You can find one here.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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Washington, DC 20002

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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