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Small Business Confidence in the Economy Jumps 22 Percent in Six Months

Revenue Outlook and Intent to Borrow Remain Flat, while Hiring Plans Sink to Five-year Low

 

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U.S. small business owners’ confidence in the economy has increased significantly from just six months ago, according to the spring 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report, which found that economic confidence ranks among the highest levels recorded in the last five years. The report, based on a semi-annual survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country, reveals that a majority of entrepreneurs (53 percent) are confident the national economy will improve over the next 12 months – up a staggering 22 percentage points from just six months ago. Similarly, small business owners’ confidence in their local economy improving jumped to 51 percent from 37 percent in fall 2016.

 

For additional insights, see the Small Business Owner Report infographic below.  For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the spring 2017 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report here.

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Women small business owners are feeling more optimistic about annual revenue and growth expectations than their male counterparts, according to the inaugural Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, a study based on a survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country, focusing on the aspirations and pain points of women business owners.

 

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Click here to download a PDF version of this infographic.

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Click here to download the Small Business Retirement Solutions Reference Guide (PDF).

Main Street Is Open for Business: Bank of America Survey Reveals Strong Economic Outlook Among Small Business Owners

Small Business Owner Optimism and Confidence in the Economy Is at Its Highest Level Since 2012

 

SBOR-Fall-Thumb2.gifAmerica’s small businesses are gearing up for growth. According to the fall 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, small business optimism is at its highest since the survey’s inception in 2012, with expectations for revenue growth and plans to hire hitting a three-year high.

 

The report, based on a semi-annual survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country, revealed that 72 percent expect their revenue to increase in the next 12 months, compared with 62 percent a year ago. In addition, more small businesses expect to increase staffing, with 67 percent planning to hire more employees over the next 12 months, up significantly from 51 percent in the fall of 2014 and 31 percent in the fall of 2013.

 

Confidence in the local, national and global economies rose as well:

  • Sixty-two percent expressed optimism for their local economies (a 12 percentage point rise year over year).
  • Fifty-six percent expressed optimism for the national economy (an 11 percentage point rise year over year).
  • Forty-five percent expressed optimism for the global economy (a 14 percentage point rise year over year).

 

This optimism was seen even as small business owners expressed apprehension over the 2016 presidential election, minimum wage hikes and an increase in interest rates, as more than one-third of those surveyed expressed concern that these factors could impact their business in 2016.

 

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in optimism among small business owners in the economy, revenue growth and hiring,” said Robb Hilson, Bank of America Small Business executive. “Even with instability in the global markets and the uncertainty they have about the upcoming election, small business owners are confident and ready to expand their businesses. They are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and we commend them for their entrepreneurial spirit and stamina through a challenging economic time.”

 

Not surprisingly, this expected growth demands more capital. More than one in three small business owners (35 percent) say they will apply for a loan in 2016, an 11 percentage point increase over one year ago. In addition, the number of small business owners who report they have applied for a loan in the past two years has increased by more than 50 percent in the last 12 months, rising from 29 to 44 percent.

 

Small business owners embrace workplace 2.0

The workplace culture of the traditional small business appears to be changing, as working environments become more technology-oriented and flexible. For example, most small business owners (88 percent) say that technology is helping them better serve customers, and half have invested in new technology over the past five years to better connect with employees. Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) report that they are investing in technology upgrades one or more times per year.

 

Callout2.gifForty-seven percent of small business owners are now offering telecommuting options – a 12 percentage point jump from five years ago. Most small business owners report a positive impact from this shift, including a better attitude in employees (59 percent) and increased productivity (54 percent). However, some small business owners expressed concerns that telecommuting makes employees unreliable or inaccessible (34 percent), or harder to trust (33 percent).

 

Employee benefits are also changing, with small businesses taking a page out of the startup book by offering perks like areas to relax or unwind such as nap pods and game rooms (20 percent), pet-friendly work environments (11 percent) or onsite gyms and fitness classes (8 percent).

 

Small businesses prepare for cyber-attacks as holiday season draws near

As technology advances, so do cybersecurity threats. More than one in 10 (12 percent) small business owners report that they have been the victim of a cybersecurity breach. With technology being so prevalent, more than half (59 percent) have expressed concern over protecting their proprietary data, and 66 percent report they have taken measures to be prepared for a cyber-attack.

 

These measures may pay off during the holiday shopping season. Small business owners expect a boost to their business bottom line during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, even more so than a year ago, with 31 percent expecting Black Friday to provide a bump in sales in 2015 (compared to 17 percent in 2014), and 43 percent expecting Cyber Monday to have an impact on their business’ bottom line, compared to 29 percent one year ago.

 

Local insights across the country

The report also analyzed the mindset of small business owners in nine local markets across the country. Key insights gathered include:

 

  • Like their national counterparts, most small business owners in a number of markets are planning for growth over the next five years. Small business owners in Washington, D.C. (81 percent), Miami (80 percent) and Dallas/Fort Worth (78 percent) plan to grow their business over the next five years. Additionally, small business owners in Atlanta (73 percent), San Francisco (71 percent) and Metro New York (70 percent) expect their revenues to increase in the next year.

 

  • Optimism in an improving local economy followed the national trend within local markets as Washington, D.C. (65 percent), Dallas/Fort Worth (63 percent) and Boston (52 percent) small business owners are feeling increasingly confident in their local economy compared to one year ago. In fact, Los Angeles was the only market surveyed where local small business owners were less confident that their local economy would improve over the next 12 months (53 percent, versus 62 percent in fall 2014).

 

  • Small business owners across all markets, including Chicago (44 percent), Washington, D.C. (42 percent) and Los Angeles (41 percent), agree with their national counterparts that their workplace has become more tech-focused over the past five years. In addition, San Francisco (50 percent) and Washington, D.C. (47 percent) small business owners feel that their workplace has become more collaborative.

 

For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, download the entire fall 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report (PDF), and for additional insights, download a PDF version of the Small Business Owner Report national infographic here.

By Joe DiNicola, Bank of America Practice Solutions Executive

 

Small business owners seemingly have endless decisions to make, whether they are getting their businesses off the ground or taking them to the next stage. With growth comes questions about how to staff and fund expansion, as well as when is the right time to pursue a loan. If it is the right time for your business, now more than ever there are a lot of options when it comes to getting the capital you need for your business. According to the latest Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a growing number of small business owners applied for a traditional bank loan in the last year (24 percent), but nine percent turned to alternative funding sources.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding how to secure the capital necessary for your business, but with the right people and resources, it isn’t as daunting as you might think. I recently participated in a Google Hangout to discuss the current small business lending environment and what entrepreneurs should consider before borrowing. Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  1. Ask for help. Mentorship is a critical component when preparing for the capital phase. Find out what worked for established peers whom you trust. Additionally, consider enlisting a CPA to help you in the process - according to the Small Business Owner Report, 73 percent of respondents sought an accountant or bookkeeper for financial advice.
  2. Negotiate financing. You always have the ability to negotiate deal terms, pricing or structure. Generally, you’ll have more room to negotiate if your FICO score is above 700. Whatever deal you strike, stay true to a payment plan that you can manage based on the cash flow of your business.
  3. Keep a potential interest rate hike in perspective. We don’t know when the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, but it is just a matter of time. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; higher interest rates are often a sign of a strengthening economy. Additionally, the increase will probably have little impact on your payments. How you choose to allocate the capital you receive is more important than a rise in interest rates. 


You can view the full discussion with myself, USA TODAY columnist Steve Strauss and tax and finance expert Barbara Weltman, moderated by CNBC contributor Carol Roth, by clicking here.


Video Replay of the Live Google Hangout: Finding Talent and Balance

 

 

Welcome to the Small Business Social Series sponsored by Bank of America. This panel will explore the sacrifices and commitments small business owners make to their employees and customers as they work towards growth. Topics include findings from our May Small Business Owner Report, employee training and development, and how small business owners can find the balance between success and self-sacrifice.

The panel was moderated by Steve Strauss, and you will hear from:

  • Jill Calabrese Bain, Bank of America Managing Director and Small Business Banking National Sales Executive
  • Rieva Lesonsky, CEO GrowBiz Media & SmallBizDaily.com
  • Nikhil Arora, Back to the Roots Co-founder

Jill-Headshot_SM.pngBy Jill Calabrese Bain

 

Last month I participated in a Google Hangout with Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media and SmallBiz Daily; Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots; and USA TODAY senior small business columnist Steve Strauss entitled, “Small Business Success: Finding Talent and Balance.”  During our 30-minute discussion, the panelists shared their experiences making sacrifices for their business and offered advice for small business owners looking to find the balance between self-sacrifice and success.

 

Small business owners are very dedicated to their businesses, with a strong drive to succeed no matter what it takes. In fact, the Bank of America spring 2015 Small Business Owner Report found that 67 percent of small business owners would delay or reduce their own pay before taking any other action, including laying off employees or reducing employees’ compensation. However, a few sacrifices we commonly see entrepreneurs taking may be unnecessary—and could do more harm than good.

  • Trying to do it all by yourself. Many small business owners are saying it’s difficult to find qualified job candidates with realistic salary expectations, and therefore take on more work themselves. Consider investing in training and development for your current team; your employees will feel appreciated; and having happy employees often leads to happier clients. Additionally, better trained resources will free up more time for you to think strategically about your business and future growth opportunities.

  • Sacrificing personal finances.  According to the spring report, more than a third (35 percent) of small business owners have carried business costs on a personal credit card. In addition, 29 percent have taken out a personal loan. If you fall behind on payments, you could jeopardize your personal credit, affecting your ability to achieve personal and business financial success. Resources are available. Consider consulting with your accountant, small business banker, or other trusted advisor, to help manage through the options.

  • Failing to reward yourself and recharge. Nearly all (94 percent) small business owners from our survey reported that they offer employee appreciation programs, including team outings, office recognition and extra time off. However, more than half of small business owners we surveyed said that they haven’t given themselves a raise in more than two years…or ever! You would never ask your employees to work 40+ hours without a pay increase or vacation, so don’t ask yourself to do so either. Allow yourself time to recharge. Whether it’s a short vacation or taking time each week to exercise or socialize, it’s important to invest in yourself!


All small business owners know they must make sacrifices for their business from time-to-time. However, make sure you are thoughtful about which sacrifices you do make in order to give yourself and your business the best chance for long term success.  For additional thoughts on these topics and more, you can watch a recorded replay of the Google Hangout. Check it out by clicking here.

Robb-Hilson3.pngBy Robb Hilson

 

We recently released the spring 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semiannual study that uncovers the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners around the country.

 

We’re happy to say that confidence in the economy remains steady compared with one year ago. In addition, two-thirds (66 percent) of small business owners are optimistic about the growth of their businesses over the next five years. Sixty-four percent of small business owners, however, note that their businesses are still recovering from the “Great Recession” of 2008. Most have yet to reach a full recovery.

 

One of the notable findings of the survey is the tendency of small business owners to be self-sacrificing, putting the needs of employees above their own. Sacrifices include accumulating personal debt or delaying their own compensation, versus laying off employees or delaying employee compensation.

 

Employee appreciation programs are widespread and offered by nearly all (94 percent) of small business owners. Popular forms of expressing appreciation include team outings, spot bonuses, office recognition and extra time off. Small business owners also favor customer appreciation programs, feeling that repeat business stems from strong customer relationships. This sentiment is strongest among Baby Boomer owners.

 

Bank of America appreciates the tremendous contributions that small business owners make to the U.S. economy, which is why we’ve planned several special events throughout our “Small Business Month” of May. We’re hoping not only to honor small business owners but also to provide useful insights and expertise through special product offers and local events. In San Francisco, we’re proud to celebrate small business owners by being a presenting sponsor of San Francisco Small Business Week, taking place May 16-22.

 

We’ll also be hosting a Google Hangout on May 20 to discuss some of the themes that have emerged from our spring 2015 Small Business Owner Report. Panelists for the Hangout include Jill Calabrese Bain, Managing Director and Small Business Banking National Sales Executive, Preferred & Small Business Banking for Bank of America; Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media & SmallBizDaily.com; and Nikhil Arora, co-founder of Back to the Roots. USA TODAY columnist and small business expert Steve Strauss will moderate. We hope you’ll tune in by checking out the Bank of America Google+ page Wednesday, May 20, at 8pm ET.

Robb-Hilson3.pngAs the youngest Baby Boomers turn 50, Gen-Xers mature into middle age and Millennials charge into the working world, the small business community is feeling a shift in the way business is done. Among these generations, there are notable differences in attitude, management style and skillsets. But how do these variances affect the way entrepreneurs run their business and influence the economy?

 

Here at Bank of America, we focused on these generational differences in the fall iteration of our bi-annual Small Business Owner Report, which examines the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners (SBOs) across the country. The overall findings of the report will be explored in January’s Bank of America Small Business Social Series Google+ Hangout. Here are some of the key findings we’ll delve into:

 

Millennials are the most optimistic about their business’s revenue and the economy

It likely comes as no surprise that the youngest generation, Millennial SBOs, have the greatest optimism about the economy. More than three-quarters predict their revenue will increase over the next 12 months and 82 percent believe their local economy will improve. Boomers expressed the least optimism, with 52 percent feeling positive about their companies’ revenue growth and 41 percent feeling optimistic about the local economy. Greater optimism from the younger generation may be the result of less exposure to cycles of economic downturn and fluctuations.

 

All generations see themselves as “tech savvy,” but the importance of tech varies

When grading themselves on tech-savviness, the Millennial generation leads the pack with 85 percent of young SBOs giving themselves an “A” or “B.” Gen-Xers followed closely behind at 74 percent, and Boomers trailed with 58 percent giving themselves high marks. When we asked how long SBOs could run their business without a smartphone or tablet, we found a big variance in response. Fifty-nine percent of Boomers said they could run their business indefinitely without a smartphone or tablet. Only 22 percent of Millennials could conceive of this, as well as 39 percent of Gen-Xers. In addition, nearly half of Millennials and Gen-Xers said it would be impossible to run their business without a smartphone or tablet for more than a day.

 

Millennial SBOs self-identify as creative and confident versus their dedicated and hard-working generational counterparts

While Millennial SBOs describe themselves as creative and confident, Gen Xers and Boomers see themselves as hardworking and dedicated. The differences in generational self-perception may not only affect the way small businesses are run, it could also influence the types of businesses opened in the future. 


Generations share some things in common

While SBOs may describe themselves differently, all tend to value a company culture that is focused on the customer. Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Millennials consistently emphasized the importance of a client-centric approach to business.

 

Despite the many ways SBOs approach their businesses, each plays an important role in the well-being of the small business community and the economy. As we’ve seen in our survey, new technology is helping small business owners run their companies more efficiently, maintain more control over their business and offer more complex products to customers. This creates more opportunities for small business owners to be successful, regardless of their generation.


For an in-depth look at generational differences between small business owners and the key findings of the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, please watch the video of our Small Business Social Series Hangout as the panel discusses the generational differences among U.S. small business owners and what this means for the small business landscape.

Video Replay of the Live Google Hangout: Exploring Generational Differences Among Small Businesses Owners

 

 

Welcome to this video replay of the Small Business Social Series sponsored by Bank of America.  The panel discusses the generational differences among U.S. small business owners and what this means for the small business landscape.  This discussion was moderated by Carol Roth.

 

In this video you will hear from:

  • Robb Hilson Small Business Executive,Bank of America
  • Dan Schawbel, Career & Workplace Expert
  • Steve Strauss, Small business columnist, USA Today

We are pleased to share the fall 2014 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study that uncovers the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners around the country.

 

Despite continued concerns about government leaders and health care costs, we’re happy to say that the majority of small business owners we surveyed expect revenues to increase in the coming year, and their confidence in the local and national economies remains high.

 

There is also a notable shift occurring across the country and within the small business community – the youngest baby boomers turn 50 this year, Gen-Xers are maturing into middle age and Millennials are becoming a force in the small business world. Whether they are taking over their parents’ companies or embarking on their own venture, Millennials are making their mark and doing it in their own unique way. As such, this report takes a look at Millennial small business owners and how their attitudes, management styles and skillsets compare to their older counterparts.

 

One of the most obvious implications of this shift is the adoption of technology, and the report takes a close look at both adoption trends and impact on running a small business. As expected, Millennial small business owners are embracing aspects of technology at a faster rate than their older peers, and the way small businesses are run on the whole is evolving right before our eyes – becoming more efficient, mobile and fast-paced.

 

As 2014 draws to a close, most small business owners across the country will end the year on a good note. We found that small business owners are optimistic about achieving their year-end revenue goals and many will celebrate by offering year-end bonuses and other special holiday perks to their employees.

 

At Bank of America, we know the resources that are crucial to a small business owners’ success, both technologically and otherwise, which is why we have dedicated small business experts in local communities across the country. We have also committed to expanding our small business presence and will be hiring more than 200 new small business bankers in key markets throughout the nation by the end of 2014.

 

Whether you’ve been in business for 30 years or are just starting out, Bank of America is committed to providing you with the expertise to sustain and grow your small business.

 

Click here to download the full Bank of America Small Business Owner Report in PDF format.

Jill-Headshot_SM.pngBy Jill Calabrese Bain

 

While the media flashes a spotlight on women cracking the notorious glass ceiling of the Fortune 500, you might argue that it’s really the female small business owners who are blazing a trail by creating companies in record numbers.  Not only are women-owned small businesses expanding rapidly, women small business owners are also among the most optimistic. In fact, the Bank of America® Spring 2014 Small Business Owner Report, found that 70 percent of female entrepreneurs expect their revenues to increase over the next 12 months.

 

This month, both The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Inc. magazine held prominent industry conferences for female entrepreneurs. Having attended both events, we heard from many women during morning walks, networking events and fireside chats.  We discussed everything from access to capital to empowering female entrepreneurs, but an interesting topic that arose was the different approach women take to their businesses compared to their male counterparts. For instance, women rank empathy, creativity and multi-tasking as key qualities, while men value their confidence and tech-savviness more than their female counterparts (2014 Small Business Owner Report).  Here’s what else we heard:

  • Improving Time Management:  Women seem more likely to sacrifice time for themselves to run their businesses, while men are more likely to sacrifice relationships with their spouses/partners and time with their children. To get more time back, we all need to be willing to invest in our people. Women are far less likely to do this than men, with only 14 percent saying they would invest in employee training if they had a loan (versus 29 percent of men who said the same).  Employee training is critical, and we can empower our teams to get the work done while we focus time on the larger, more strategic issues.
  • Using Innovation: Technology is extremely important, however, only one in four women (27 percent) invest in new equipment.  Investing in new technology is vital for an efficiently run company and can allow you to stay connected as you grow.  At the NAWBO conference, Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, founders of Georgetown Cupcake, discussed ways to better leverage technology and data to manage their business and position the company for growth. New technology helped them track and utilize the number of customers who come in the door each day to the cost of materials.
  • Seeking Financing:  Nearly one in three women (29 percent) feel they have less access to capital than their male counterparts. What can we do about this, and how can women entrepreneurs find confidence when applying for financing? One way is to look to organizations that understand, encourage and actively help women-owned businesses achieve their goals. I am proud to say that Bank of America recently teamed up with the Tory Burch Foundation to form Elizabeth Street Capital, an initiative that’s designed to boost female-owned businesses through mentorship, networking and access to capital.

 

As the business world is ever-evolving and women continue to take a leading role, take pride in what makes us different, as entrepreneurs and as women.

 

I recently participated in a Google Hangout with NAWBO Chair, Darla Beggs; Inc. magazine Editor-at-Large, Kimberly Weisul; and CNBC correspondent and moderator, Carol Roth.  You can watch a recorded replay of that event by clicking here.

Small business owners are a busy group of people. While they often have the freedom and flexibility to do what they love, they are always “doing.” And when you add in family, friends, and household responsibilities, it can often feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.Andy-Rowe-Headshot.png

 

According to the Bank of America® Spring 2014 Small Business Owner Report, time is extremely precious for small business owners. One in four works more than 60 hours per week, and a whopping 72 percent say they have made significant sacrifices in their personal lives for their business. Family and vacation time are also affected; more than half (52 percent) of small business owners surveyed feel that they should be spending more time with their family, and 62 percent give up vacation and leisure time to run their business.

 

However, one of the great advantages of living in the digital era is that there are many ways to get that coveted time back. Here are a few examples of ways to improve efficiency in your small business:

 

  • Outsource. From managing recruitment to laundering your employees’ uniforms, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Determine what tasks are always moving to the bottom of your to-do list, and figure out the best resources to help you remove the added stress in your life. Freelancers, interns, and virtual assistants are all good sources to start with. Additionally, websites like Task Rabbit can help you find individuals to do everything from web design to proofreading at a variety of price point.
  • Master your schedule. Sometimes we unwittingly let technology slow our productivity. Set aside uninterrupted blocks of time to work on specific tasks, and do your best to limit phone calls, meetings and emails from disrupting your focus. Multi-tasking might feel like a must, but studies show that the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less.
  • Learn the power of “no.” Before you opt into additional commitments or tasks, think carefully about how the experience will benefit you and/or your revenue. Are you tweeting every day to an audience that doesn’t engage back? Maybe it’s time to look at a different medium. Going to networking events that haven’t garnered new business in a year? Time to reevaluate. In the time gained, look at the tactics that are sure to make a positive impact on ROI and focus on those.
  • Utilize online and mobile banking tools. Bank of America offers remote check deposit that saves you a time-consuming trip to a bank or ATM. You can take some of the hassle out of payroll with Intuit® Online Payroll—everything is done online, you have access to a service specialist, and you get the fast paydays and detailed reporting you and your employees need. Additionally, using a mobile banking app allows for secure transactions while saving you time.

 

While I’ve only touched on a handful of tips, there are a lot of free and affordable programs and apps that can help seamlessly integrate work and personal schedules. It’s possible for you to turn dead time into productive time, allowing you to use those extra hours for what’s really important to you.

 

 


This month, I’ll be part of a Google Hangout with MasterCard on this very topic, alongside leading small business experts from around the country. We would love to have you join us on Wednesday, June 25, at 8 pm ET.

 


* Intuit is a registered trademark of Intuit Inc., used under license. Bank of America is a registered trademark of the Bank of America Corporation. Member FDIC.

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