Small business owners (SBOs) across the U.S. expect larger increases in revenue this year than in 2018, despite growing trepidation about the national economy and inflation, according to the 2019 Small Business Survey conducted by TD Bank.
SBOs show continued optimism about their businesses' prospects, with 54 percent anticipating revenue growth, compared with 52 percent who expected such gains in 2018.
Hiring also is on business owners' minds. Twenty-three percent said they will increase staff this year, compared with 21 percent in 2018. To support and fuel growth plans, business owners are primarily focused on expanding product lines/services (46 percent) and expanding production (39 percent) in 2019, and 43 percent will seek credit.
What's not impacting the bottom line? Tax reform. Sixty-four percent of SBOs said they did not benefit from tax code revisions, in line with last year's survey when nearly half of respondents stated the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would not aid their business. However, 90 percent do think at least one of the provisions could benefit future filings.
While SBOs remain confident, they are watching external pressures that could challenge operations over the next 12 months. According to respondents, their top obstacles include the health of the national economy (37 percent), inflation (21 percent) and finding qualified workers (18 percent).
Main Street Matters
SBOs may feel some pressure from the economy and expansion, but their commitment to their communities remains a major priority. When asked what they do as a business owner to support their community, 62 percent cited using a bank with area locations; 40 percent named living their business' neighborhood; 32 percent said participating in local activities such as charity events and volunteer work; and 25 percent stated hiring employees who live in the area.
Respondents take obvious pride in their businesses and communities. When asked why they started their own business, SBOs said:
* Desire to be their own boss (60 percent)
* Passion for the industry (41 percent)
* Desire to invest in and serve their local community (14 percent, which climbs to 28 percent for those under the age of 55)
"Small business owners frequently report a positive outlook for their business, but they need to create strategies that account for growing headwinds and plans for how to increase revenue while reducing costs," said Jay DesMarteau, Head of Commercial Specialty Segments at TD Bank. "Small businesses often are called the backbone of the American economy, and their continued dedication to their communities is important whether they are an internet-based business or a storefront. This commitment makes small businesses valuable assets to their region and can help shelter SBOs from some national pressures."
Preparing for the Future
Although many SBOs still value offering the "mom and pop" experience, longevity depends on making their business more efficient and attractive to customers. Not surprisingly, technology and digital investments, from banking transactions to point of sale systems, drive this evolution. SBOs report confidence in their ability to use digital/online banking features (76 percent) and the latest online payments and POS technology (63 percent), showing they are committed to adapting to a changing consumer landscape and creating efficiencies that save resources.
SBOs are also more enthusiastic about integrating payments technology. When asked how they collect customer or vendor payments, respondents named electronic transfers like ACH (26 percent vs. 23 percent in 2018); person-to-person apps such as Zelle (23 percent vs. 19 percent); and e-commerce (24 percent vs. 23 percent), although checks/cash still rule. Many SBOs also view incorporating payments technology as an investment, with 12 percent of respondents adding mobile POS capabilities to their business offerings to increase revenue and/or profits.
Long-term planning as a business owner also means creating a strategy for exiting that business. While retirement and succession planning are crucial, this does not appear to be a priority for many SBOs, with 59 percent of respondents stating they do not have a retirement/ succession plan in place, while 27 percent do and 14 percent are altering their strategy. Those who do have succession plans said they would:
* Pass the business to family/co-workers (27 percent)
* Close the business (22 percent)
* Sell the business (17 percent)
"Understanding and harnessing the convenience of technology is critical to how a business will serve customer needs and create scale and efficiencies in their business," DesMarteau said. "SBOs are wise to invest the same amount of effort into planning for their eventual exit as they put into revenue and payment strategies. Business owners should work with a financial planner to create a comprehensive plan that sets their business - and themselves - up for long-term success."