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After ending 2018 on a high note, small business owners are optimistic about the year ahead. Small business owners reported confidence in the economy and their hiring plans. But how will the tightest labor market in decades impact their search for talent? Sharon Miller discusses this and more from the Fall 2018 Small Business Owner Report.

 

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“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.

 

The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.

 

Sharon Miller:            Most business owners expect that the end of this year, their revenue expectations for 2018, 80% of them believe that their year-end revenue will exceed 2017, and that's pretty powerful. So, they're thinking this year's better than last year, and they're thinking next year will be even better.

 

Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.

 

Kate Delaney:            It's always a good time when we can be joined by Sharon Miller on the show, Bank of America, head of Small Business. She's here with some great news about small business. The US small business sector looks to end 2018 on a pretty high note according to the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. Sharon, so first of all, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Sharon Miller:             Thank you so much for having me.

 

Kate Delaney:            We have all kinds of questions and it sounds like entrepreneurs and small business owners are feeling really good about the economy. So, what are their expectations for revenue growth and hiring for 2019?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, confidence in the economy, it does remain strong and their revenue expectations, the confidence in the economy, hiring plans, all of that is up since last fall, so we do see an uptick in positive sentiment from business owners and by all accounts, from our most recent survey, the confidence remains very, very strong.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I know we've asked you this before, Sharon, but I'm going to ask again just for anyone who hasn't caught our earlier discussions about previous reports, how is it that you do these reports and compile this data, because I think it's really helpful for people to understand where this information is coming from.

 

Sharon Miller:             So we survey 1,000 small business owners across the country and we do it twice a year. It's from all different types of industries, from all different types of sectors and geographies so that we can really get a pulse on how business owners are feeling.

 

                                   At Bank of America, we have 3.3 million small business clients that we serve, and so every single day we're sitting down with business clients understanding, are you looking to expand your business?Do you want to apply for a loan? How is your working capital? What about your cash flow? These are the questions and discussions we're having every single day. But then we go in twice a year and we want to make sure that, you know, this is how the sentiment is across the United States, and we over-survey in 10 major markets as well, just to see if there's some geographic differences.

 

                                   And by all accounts the whole country is very strong. We see very strong optimism and sentiment from business owners—hiring is there, plans to apply for a loan, that's up, and so all of the different aspects of the report that we're asking, they look better than they did the last six months.

 

Kate Delaney:            Sharon, it's fascinating how you pull all this together, and talking about the 10 major markets and compiling all that information. When you do that, and since you've had such great success with it, this is just kind of a sidebar question, and I think the listeners will find this fascinating: Do you then go back and recalculate, okay, something's changed here or something's moved here with business, so we're going to instead focus on this area? How do you do that when you go into the next year and you plan for the next time around?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, it's the basis of everything we do. I mean, we have to listen to our clients. We need to understand what's happening in the economy, how business owners are feeling, and so we adjust our ongoing continuing education for our bankers. We may adjust the types of information that we're delivering in that city because we operate in 90 local markets across the country and we know that every market is unique. And so, I'm sitting here today in San Antonio, Texas, and there's a lot of building. There's a lot of growth happening, hiring, expansion, and we have a heavy oil industry. We've got a diversified economy, we’ve got financial services here, we've got a lot of tourism. And you may go to another city and it may be very strong in technology, whereas San Antonio, the number one cyber security university sits in our backyard here at University of Texas San Antonio.

 

                                  In San Jose, California, you've got an incubator of high tech and what's happening with the newest wave of devices, so every city's a little different and we want to make sure that we're training our bankers to be able to interact and not just interact with clients, but to get ahead of them and to help them think through their business plan. What's next? Should you apply for a loan, should you use your working capital, what can you expect in the year ahead? And so, that's where we have and use these insights every single day to plan for the year ahead and quite frankly, the next three to five years.

 

Gregg Stebben:         We're talking with Sharon Miller. She's the head of Small Business for Bank of America. We're talking about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report, a report they do twice a year.

 

                                    And Sharon, whenever business people get together and whenever there's headlines about business and the health of businesses, there's a couple of issues that always come up, especially in 2018, 2019, and two of those issues are taxes and healthcare. What did you find small business owners thinking and doing, and what would they like to see change there when it comes to those two issues, taxes and healthcare?

 

Sharon Miller:            Sure. So, as far as healthcare is concerned, we've been doing this survey for the past six years and for every single survey result, healthcare is the top of the list of concerns for business owners.

 

                                  While healthcare costs remain the top concern during this survey, what we found—and that was at 63% of business owners, they’re concerned about the cost of healthcare, about the complexity—this has dropped to the lowest level at 63% in the six years of this history of the survey. So, that's actually down nine percentage points from the fall of 2017.

 

                                   So, while it remained a top concern in the fall of '17, 72% of business owners were very, very concerned. This time 63%. So it's dropped nine percentage points from our last survey. But again, it's the number one concern.

 

                                   When it comes to your taxes and concern over corporate taxes, that also reached a five year low. And this was at 37% this fall, and that's down 14 percentage points from the fall of 2017. So, although there are concerns and these are still the top two concerns of business owners, it's dropped significantly since last survey.

 

Kate Delaney:            Sharon, when you look at that, what are some of the other things that small business owners are concerned about? What else is on their mind?

 

Sharon Miller:            You know, there's concern about trade policy, tariffs, there is concern about commodities prices, the dollar, the stock market, compliance and government regulation. So, all the things that I sort of bucket into, as really not controllable for business owners. And so these are things going on around them in the economy and the broader market, they have a lot of control over their business plan, around their business. But a lot of these issues and we can't control what's going to happen with the stock market. It's up, it's down, it's going, it's cyclical.

 

                                   And certainly with tax rates, where the government is setting those. So yes, we got to get out and vote, we've gotta do all those things. But when it comes to can a business owner directly control that? They can't, and so the focus in my conversations with business owners, it's about their business, how do they, in spite of everything going on around them, continue to drive forward, to grow and expand and do better this year than they did last year?

 

                                   And most business owners expect that the end of this year, their revenue expectations for 2018, 80% of them believe that their year-end revenue will exceed 2017, and that's pretty powerful. So, they're thinking this year's better than last year and they're thinking next year will be even better. And so, that to me is what they can directly control.

 

Gregg Stebben:         I love hearing about that kind of optimism. We're talking with Sharon Miller, the head of Small Business for Bank of America and the Fall 2018 bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. It's interesting, Sharon, you mentioned what are the things that business owners can and cannot control? Well, one of the things they can control, I would think, is how they make it through a period where hiring is so challenging and so competitive. What kinds of things did you hear from small business owners there?

 

Sharon Miller:            Well, they are experiencing it. You're right. We are in one of the tightest job markets out there. Unemployment rate falling to 3.7%. That's the lowest since 1969. So, that was in September where we had the 3.7% unemployment rate. We are at a historical time within our economy where you know, if you want to work, you're employed. And so, it's really up to the business owners that need to focus on retention.

 

                                   And small businesses are experiencing a very high rate of personnel turnover. They are. I mean, just as in corporate America. So we're seeing more people going to different companies, whether it’s be they're getting more money, they get better benefits, whatever it might be. But I would say that what small business owners are thinking about in order to retain, they're talking about how do I implement a retirement package for my employees? How do I give them healthcare? How do I perhaps think about giving them a more flexible work culture?

 

                                   And so, there are some hiring challenges, but I think that when small business owners focus on the perks of what they can deliver, like flexible hours, maybe giving them some professional development and then when you go a step further and say why do people go to work for a small business? They go to work because they believe working at a small business has got some advantages, including the ability to have less bureaucracy. They have a more collaborative environment, more responsibility.

 

                                   When you're working in a company that has less than 100 employees, you're certainly going to have some greater responsibility and more impact or at least feel that you have more impact for that company. So, there can be some certainly some strategies that business leaders can implement over and above what they're doing, but I think they also have to go with what they already have and press that advantage, which is a smaller environment, less bureaucracy, more freedom for creativity, entrepreneurial and creativity development. All those things that really we hear from Millennials, from people entering the workforce. This is what they want. So, I think small business owners should be proud of that and this should be something that they can use to attract better employees.

 

Narrator:                    We’ve been talking with Sharon Miller, head of Small Business for Bank of America. This has been Part 1 of our interview with Sharon about the Fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. You can hear Part 2 of the interview on January 2nd, here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.comand Bank of America at BankOfAmerica.com.

 

 

Stay tuned for part II

Not long ago, I was researching a company with whom I might do some business  and, as is the case so often with social media, I ended up down a rabbit hole of tangential information. Somehow, at one point, I found myself on the personal Facebook page of the CEO. He was wearing a red baseball cap that said:

 

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“Make America Great Again”

 

That moment affected my decision (although which way I will not disclose.), The moment serves as a reminder that social media generally, and Facebook specifically, is a public, not a private, place.

 

Most importantly for our purposes, you better be darned sure that you want to publicly wade into the political and cultural wars that divide our country these days because if you do, you will surely evoke a strong response one way or another.

 

Now, maybe you are thinking that politics and small business don’t mix, and if so, I agree. People frequent your business because you provide products or services they like. My take is that they don’t really care what you think, and in fact, in this era of divided politics, I suggest what you think has more risk of doing harm than good.

 

But guess what? We may be wrong.

 

According to Forbes, a recent survey of U.S. consumers found that an amazing two-thirds say “they want brands to engage in social and political issues.” That number goes even higher for younger consumers, those 18-34 years old – 73 percent of millennials want brands to speak up.

 

But here’s the rub: That same survey found more than half (52 percent) of respondents would show greater brand loyalty if they agreed with the brand’s position while even more (53 percent) said if they disagree with the brand’s position on an issue, they would frequent the brand less with a sizable minority stating they would publicly criticize the brand.

 

Given that sobering news, while consumers might want brands to speak up, there is a lot of risk for those that do. And yet, even so, there is also clearly a lot of pressure these days on businesses to take a stand. It might be a faction of employees who want their voices heard, or maybe some customers who feel strongly about an issue.

 

So, what do you do? How can you take a stand in an era of highly partisan politics? Here are a few tips that might help:

 

1. Pick your battles: Supporting a politician, opposing a politician, whatever, is just too risky. The possibility of angering your customers is too high with, as I said, little payoff. Unless supporting a candidate or party is mostly a no-brainer for your small business, the general rule is to leave this area alone.

 

Better: Choose to support an issue that resonates with you, your business and/or your clientele. Choosing an issue that aligns with the values of your business can help reinforce your brand. An outdoor travel company can safely champion environmental causes without wading into the political battles of the day.

 

2. Be a uniter not a divider: We all know what the hot-button topics are, and again, the problem is, if you play with those issues you can get burned.

 

A better strategy for the business that wants to get involved is to pick an issue not as polarizing. A topic that aligns with your values and which people generally support allows you to do good while minimizing the risk of alienating key customers.

 

Example: In the past decade, Coca-Cola  expanded its giving portfolio beyond educational causes to include access to safe drinking water and healthy living across the globe. To illustrate, Coke supports the Global Environment and Technology Foundation’s work in Africa to “replenish water sources and improve access to safe drinking water.”

 

World NGO Day can be a first step for small businesses wanting to support a social cause.

 

3. Go incognito: If you really feel the need to share your political views, do what a pal of mine recently did. He created a new Twitter account, an incognito one, and uses it to rage against the other political team.

 

And no one knows that he owns the small business down the street.

 

Check out what Rieva Lesonsky had to say about whether small businesses should take a political stand.

 

 

About Steve Strauss

 

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Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss.

 

Web: www.theselfemployed.com or Twitter: @SteveStrauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC.  ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

It’s our job as entrepreneurs to keep up with the latest trends—but it can be hard to keep up. It’s essential to know what’s driving consumer spending and how you can integrate new trends into your small business. Here’s what to look for in 2019. Have more? Let us know what trends you’re following in the comments section below.

 

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1. Generational marketing

 

There are currently five generations in America, each with its own set of demands. Three (baby boomers, millennials and Gen Z) are so large they have an outsize impact on industries and specific businesses. But no one has more influence in the marketplace than millennials.

 

2. Millennials

 

This huge generation—there are 84 million of them, ranging in age from 19 to 37—is too big to ignore. And they’re in the stage of life where they’re impacting so many businesses. Take weddings – already, according to The Knot, a $72 billion industry. Businesses affiliated with weddings, from retailers, to jewelry designers to restaurants, photographers, florists and dozens more, are poised to grow even more as younger millennials approach the median age of first marriage—29 for women and 31 for men.

 

The Knot reports two to three years after getting married, 35 percent of millennials start a family and 24 percent buy a home. That leads to many entrepreneurial opportunities for years to come.

 

3. Millennial parents

 

Millennials are the nation’s parents—they head 51.2 percent of households with children under age 18. Parents are big spenders—to the tune of $1 trillion a year. And, for the first time, women in their 30s are having more kids than those in their 20s. This is great news for entrepreneurs, since older parents spend more money on food, furniture, clothing, décor, and toys for their kids. More than one million millennial women become new mothers every year, and since so many millennials are still in their 20s, this is a long-lasting trend.

 

4. Home, sweet home

 

Home ownership peaked in 2004, but is now on the rise, thanks to millennials. Between millennials and older generations of home owners holding on to their houses, businesses involved in the remodeling industry will get a boost. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the most in-demand remodeling projects include bathroom, kitchen and whole-house remodels. Homeowners are also asking for more green home features.

 

Seniors (including baby boomers) are demanding more home services—82 percent of them are still home owners. They’re hiring contractors to senior proof their homes. They want wider doorways, lower cabinets, wood floors, and bathroom remodels to make their homes safer and more accessible.

 

They often prefer others handle home maintenance chores, turning to home services businesses to get the job done. While housecleaning, lawn care, snow removal and handyman services aren’t just for seniors, targeting this market can help small businesses build a thriving business.

 

5. Mangia!

 

Americans love to eat, so there’s no shortage of new food trends. According to restaurant and hospitality consulting firm af&co., donuts are 2019’s “dessert of the year.” These aren’t your typical donuts though—consumers want artisanal treats with “unexpected savory flavors and fillings.”

 

Food on demand (either pick-up or delivery) is also soaring. Off-premises dining (including carryout, delivery, drive-through, curbside pickup and food trucks) accounts for 63 percent of restaurant traffic nationwide, and delivery is the fastest-growing segment of this market, says the National Restaurant Association. Consumers expect restaurants to deliver food. 

 

Younger millennials actually prefer off-premises dining—24 percent order takeout three to four times a week, compared to 21 percent of older millennials, 17 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of baby boomers, according to the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) and the Center for Generational Kinetics.

 

6. Looking Good

 

Men’s grooming is a burgeoning industry. Men’s personal care products (including skincare, deodorant, soap/bath products, hair products & shaving/depilatories) are already a $4.5 billion industry. Millennials are driving this trend as well, increasingly scooping up anti-aging products. According to new research from Mintel, 34 percent of dads (with children under 18) who use personal care products care about preventing the signs of aging, compared to 26 percent of male personal care product users overall.

 

And yet, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database, only a small percentage of men’s personal care products make anti-aging claims. This leaves a huge gap in the market. Mintel says, there’s “a significant opportunity for anti-aging personal care products specifically formulated for and marketed to men.”

 

These are just a few of the trends Americans are expected to embrace in 2019. Consumers have rising expectations, however, so you’ll have to work hard to meet them.

 

     What’s next?

 

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

Have you wrestled with issues such as these?

 

  • Your business is struggling financially. A supplier sends you their monthly invoice—and they’ve significantly undercharged you. Do you correct the error?agreement-arms-business-1081228.jpg
  • Your children’s toy store is in the thick of the holiday shopping season when you discover that your best-selling product line is made using child labor. Do you keep selling the products?
  • You’ve received complaints that one of your employees is making derogatory and inappropriate comments to coworkers. But he’s your top salesperson and you know he’s recently received another job offer. Do you confront him?

 

In these and other situations, a small business owner may have to choose between principles and profits. But is it really an either-or choice?

 

Short-term profits, long-term price

 

Sticking to your principles may cost you in the short term. In the examples above, it could cost you money, customers or your best salesperson. But if you abandon your principles, you’ll pay a higher price in the long term.

 

Actually, you may not have to wait that long. Social media makes it easier than ever for customers and prospects to see what your principles are and when  you’re conveniently ignoring them. A potential job candidate could see employees at your company complaining about on-the-job harassment. A customer could discover the child labor issue before you do. Transparency gives consumers the upper hand.

 

Profiting from principles

 

In fact, sticking to your principles can pay off. According to a Deloitte study, purchasing drivers such as “social impact, health and wellness, safety and experience” are becoming more important as consumers increasingly base purchasing decisions on their values and beliefs.

 

In the last 12 months, 74 percent of consumers in a JUST Capital survey say they began purchasing or purchasing more of a company’s products or services in order to show support for its positive behavior. The same poll found nearly eight out of 10 Americans would take lower pay to work for a company they perceive as “just.”

 

The stock market believes principles and profits can work hand in hand. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index rates public companies based on the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Participating companies report on their financial, social and environmental performance.

 

What principles do consumers care about most? The way you treat your employees takes top billing. Worker conditions, including fair pay, good benefits and a safe workplace, are the top priority for one-fourth of U.S. consumers considering companies’ principles, JUST reports.

 

How to balance principles and profit

 

How can you hold onto your principles while still making a profit?

 

  • Identify your business principles. What are your core values? What does your business stand for? Review your mission statement, value statement or vision statement. Are they still accurate?
  • Talk to your team. What do your employees think your business stands for? Do they believe the company is truly living its values? Your employees are the ambassadors for your business; they must be on the same page when it comes to company values.
  • Build your business’s values into your employee training. Set guidelines for how employees should treat customers, coworkers and vendors, as well as consequences for not doing so.
  • Practice. It’s not easy to make ethical decisions on the spot. Practice by roleplaying potential scenarios as a group. What should employees do if they see another employee harassing a co-worker? Is there ever a time when it’s justified to take office supplies home?
  • Look in the mirror. If your business isn’t living up to its principles, do you play a role in that? Perhaps you set production quotas so high that employees have to rush to keep up, compromising product quality. Own your mistakes and lead by example going forward.
  • Keep your eyes open. Pay attention to what your vendors, customers and suppliers are doing. It’s a global world and we’re all connected. Doing business with people and companies that share your principles will strengthen your commitment to your values.

 

Principles and profits can and should go hand in hand. Committing to your business principles and educating your customers about them will boost your brand—and ultimately, your profits.

 

Read next:

 

 

 

About Rieva Lesonsky

 

Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.

 

Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.

 

Web: www.growbizmedia.com or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2018 Bank of America Corporation

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