Twice each year, American Express OPEN’s Small Business Monitor releases its findings from a nationally representative sample survey of more than 1,000 small business owners and managers of companies with fewer than 100 employees. The result? An ongoing year-over-year and bi-annual comparison that provides much-needed insight on how small business owners are faring and where they believe their greatest business opportunities lie for the foreseeable future.
Released late last week, the Fall 2013 Monitor findings are particularly noteworthy because they convey the sense that many small business owners are abandoning the “wait and see” approach that many of them adopted in the face of recent economic uncertainty and are instead all about growth. More specifically, the survey reveals that many of them are actively using more social media as well as a number of other targeted tactics and strategies to interact more meaningfully with their customers and build demand for their products and services.
Additionally, the findings show that while business opportunity and other small business owners continue to struggle with all that it takes to run a business and still maintain some semblance of a personal life, many of them see their quality of life improving for the first time in a while, and that’s also great news.
Here’s a brief overview of just some of survey’s more compelling results:
• The number of small business owners who are making capital investments is up to 54% from 49%, while hiring plans are up 35% from 29% year-over-year.
• Cash flow has become less of a concern, down to 52% from 59% just six months ago.
• More than half (56%) of respondents have a positive outlook on their business prospects, and close to four in ten say their revenues are up from a year ago.
• Of the half of the entrepreneurs who said they use social media, 71% of them are now using it to attract new customers (up from 57% last fall), 59% are using it to drive sales (up from 46%), 55% are using it to create a dialogue with their customers (up from 31%), and 36% are using it to create communities where their customers can talk with each other (up from 25%).
• Citing increased customer demand as a key growth goal, business owner tactics to get the job done are up across the board and include: 94% are using incentives and are actively seeking customer feedback to improve products/services, 84% are making the effort to get to know their customers on a “personal” level to better accommodate their preferences, 77% see value in analyzing customer data to better reach them, and 68% say that analysis makes their marketing more effective, while 64% say customer service presents their greatest area for improvement when it comes to innovation.
• Finally, fewer entrepreneurs find it stressful to find a work-life balance than in years past, and many more of them are no longer taking their health for granted as they once did. Plus, business owners are working about a half an hour less per day then they were in 2010.
“Small business owners appear poised to flip the switch to growth mode,” said Susan Sobbott, president, American Express OPEN, in a recent statement. “Business owners are getting more targeted in their approach to building customer demand and an increasing number are using analytics to better understand their customers and social media to drive sales.” And that’s good news.