Since the last third of 2008, as our world began spinning into what we now call the Great Recession, when talking with small business owners I’ve asked them what is their single greatest concern. Almost every time the answer has been, “More sales.”
Here we are, almost two years into the not-so-great recovery, and we wanted to know what small business owners’ big concern is today. So we asked my radio and online audience this question: Which one of these four areas will be the single most important thing you will work to improve in your business for 2011: grow sales, improve profits, get a bank loan, or find qualified people. Here’s what we were told:
Once again, sales came in on top at more than 40%. No surprise here because, as one of my mentors once told me, “In business, sales cures all ills.” Clearly, with unemployment at almost double-digit levels, a big chunk of small businesses are experiencing weak demand that is slowing delivery of the marketplace medicine of sales.
In second place, one-in-four of our respondents selected profit improvement. This group probably represents small businesses that have achieved sales recovery at a level they can service with the resources they have, and now want to find a way to keep more black numbers on the bottom line.
Perhaps the big story in our survey is the response that came in third – 17% said their big concern was finding qualified employees. The good news is they anticipate hiring. The bad news is concern about the applicant pool not producing qualified prospects for increasingly precious positions.
As ugly as the current 9.6% unemployment statistic sounds, the human fact is uglier: We may have 17 million people either unemployed or underemployed. Structural unemployment – unqualified for 2nd decade of the 21st century jobs – is our most challenging economic headwinds, and the longer this problem persists, the longer it will take for a small business’ first concern – sales – to be solved.
At fourth place was credit availability, with about 14% selecting this option. This response helps dispel two media myths that have been around since 2008: 1) As our survey – and every other one I’ve reported on for the past two years – will attest, most small businesses are not interested in a bank loan; and 2) If a small business wants – and qualifies for – a bank loan, they can get it. Independent community banks have never stopped making small business loans.
Have you decided what your big assignment is for 2011?
This morning on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about this survey and the results. Click on the link below and take a few minutes to listen, then leave your comments on what’s most important to you in 2011.