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Tag Archive for 'economy'

Small business can’t fund an economic expansion alone

How’s the economy going?

In my long career, it’s hard to imagine a time when you could get as many different answers to this question.

We know the answer if we’re talking to any of the millions of chronically unemployed or under-employed; they’re not represented in the misleading U3 unemployment index used by politicians and the media. And the same goes for the millions who were forced to transition from unemployment to early retirement, disability or welfare.

Photo courtesy of morgueFile

Photo courtesy of morgueFile

How about small business owners? Recently we asked them this question: How is the economy looking for you over the last third of 2014? Almost two-thirds of our respondents allowed they like what they see. That’s an improvement from polls we’ve conducted over the past couple of years when barely half expressed optimism.

Are small businesses finally feeling more confident about the economy? For generations Wall Street was accepted as a leading indicator of the economy; today it’s merely an indicator of itself.  I consider Main Street to be the more relevant economic indicator so this increased optimism is good news — at least until Wall Street and Washington do something to derail all of our hard work, like the last financial crisis they created together.

In a follow-up poll we asked small business owners how they would fund their next growth opportunity. Almost half reported they would grow organically with retained earnings (profits) and current cash flow. And consistent with previous polls by myself and others, only three percent chose the historical small business funding source: a bank loan.

Ironically, this growth-by-bootstrapping response is a silver lining of the financial crisis cloud. As I predicted in 2009, in order for small businesses to survive the Great Recession they had to operate more efficiently while reducing debt, which produced two very important financial conditions: 1) a better cash position and 2) more profit. Consequently, it’s not surprising when almost 50% of respondents to this poll reported the ability to capitalize future growth with in-house resources.

Unfortunately, small business retained earnings alone won’t take the economy from moribund recovery to robust expansion. That will require Corporate America to stop hoarding cash and start investing in the economy. The question is, when will Wall Street let them?

Write this on a rock … Small business alone can’t fund an economic expansion.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

Small business: The best boots on the ground

Small business owners are worried about world affairs.

In a recent online poll we asked our audience about that and almost three-fourths are either very or extremely concerned about the state of the world.

Photo courtesy of AGV Study Abroad

Photo Courtesy of AGV Study Abroad

In recent years terrorists have inverted this reality by employing to murderous advantage two icons of the very society they claim to hate: technology and markets. But just as these icons are ironic levers for terrorists who place no value on life, they become benevolent tools in the hands of those who do.

Indeed, when tolerant humans use technology and markets they do three very good and peaceful things: communicate, conduct business and share values. The 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat observed that when goods cross borders, armies don’t. He couldn’t have imagined that today, thanks to technology, goods — and values — cross borders at the speed of light.

Traveling abroad I’ve learned when small business owners in different countries know each other they discover more in common than not. I submit that a small company in Kankakee, Illinois, connecting with an e-commerce customer in Kabul, Afghanistan can, over time, neutralize impediments to peace. And when a Main Street business in Bangor, Maine, shares a best practice with a peer in Baghdad, Iraq, ugly hatred morphs into the beauty of shared values.

The 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Regarding the current debate about “boots on the ground,” there is no greater army of good men and women than small business owners around the globe leveraging technology to do business and share values across borders.

The carcinogens that metastasize into terrorism are ideology, ignorance and intolerance. But since centuries of politics and wars haven’t solved the conflict riddle, is it ignorance or ideology when western leaders don’t include in their peace strategy a potentially powerful and abundant force: small business trade?

Many organizations that have members who are Main Street business leaders can be used to promote business boots on the ground virtually anywhere in the world. The first two President Blasingame would deploy are local Chambers of Commerce and Rotary International.

Write this on a rock … Fight ideology, ignorance and intolerance with small business trade and shared values.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

RESULTS: How is the economy looking for your business as we enter the last trimester of 2014?

The Question:
How is the economy looking for your business as we enter the last trimester of 2014?

36% - This year has been great and we plan to finish strong.
29% - This hasn’t been a great year, but it looks like we’ll finish strong
14% -  We started out well, but the rest of the year doesn’t look so good.
21% - We’re not going to have a good year, first half or last half.

Jim’s Comments:
Comparing our poll this week to similar results over the past couple of years, it actually looks like small business owners are finally feeling more confident about the economy. In previous polls we’ve barely gotten half of our audience to say they were optimistic about the next few months. But this week almost two-thirds like what they see for the last third of the year.

As you know, I now consider Main Street, not Wall Street, to be the leading indicator of the economy. If I’m right, this poll response is good news we can count on–at least unless Wall Street and/or Washington does something stupid to derail all of our hard work.

Main Street, not Wall Street, is the leading economic indicator

What sector of the U.S. marketplace produces over half of the economy, signs the front of over half of U.S. private payroll checks, and is the perennial new job engine?

No, it’s not Corporate America or Wall Street banks. It’s Small Business America. If this sector were a sovereign country it would be the largest economy in the world.

So why does Wall Street, instead of Main Street, get all of the economic media coverage?

William Dunkelberg, Ph.D., NFIB’s Chief Economist, is the oracle of the Main Street economy. For more than 40 years his monthly Small Business Optimism Index has been the gold standard for this sector. Alas, since 2007 his Index has recorded an unprecedented cycle of sustained levels below the 40-year optimism average. Find the Index at smallbus.org and NFIB.com.  Plus Bill reports his findings on my radio program every month.

On the other end of the precious metals scale of small business polling, closer to the copper standard, is me. For several years my online poll has asked small business owners weekly about their take on the economy. Recently we asked which of five business issues is the most pressing:  cash flow, a business loan, more customers, Obamacare, taxes and/or regulations.

Here’s what we learned:

SmallTownUSA

One marker of sustained business success since 2008 is deleveraging, which manifests, in part, as improved cash flow. Consequently, when cash flow concern registers only a 16% response, and loan demand gets no takers, these are the two sides of the deleveraging coin. But low loan demand also means low growth expectation.

Obamacare barely moved the worry meter at 5% in our poll because this issue will be dormant until Q4 2014, when we learn what the 2015 employer mandate will cost.

The big concerns, more customers at 54% and taxes/regulations at 25%, can be taken two ways: No one admits to having enough business and no one likes taxes and regs. But based on the economic indicators of the first half of 2014, plus recent tax increases and out-of-control growth of regulations that disproportionately hurt small businesses, these are not gratuitous responses; they’re the true top concerns of small businesses. And they track with the NFIB Index.

As I’ve been saying since 2006, Wall Street is no longer a leading indicator of the economy; it’s now merely a leading indicator of itself. If you want to know the true condition of the U.S. economy, listen to Main Street small business owners.

Write this on a rock … The small business sector is now the true leading economic indicator of the U.S.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

The big concerns, more customers at 54% and taxes/regulations at 25%, can be taken two ways: No one admits to having enough business and no one likes taxes and regs. But based on the economic indicators of the first half of 2014, plus recent tax increases and out-of-control growth of regulations that disproportionately hurt small businesses, these are not gratuitous responses; they’re the true top concerns of small businesses. And they track with the NFIB Index.

As I’ve been saying since 2006, Wall Street is no longer a leading indicator of the economy; it’s now merely a leading indicator of itself. If you want to know the true condition of the U.S. economy, listen to Main Street small business owners.

Write this on a rock …

The small business sector is now the true leading economic indicator of the U.S.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

RESULTS: Which of the following is the most pressing challenge your business has right now?

The Question:
Which of the following is the most pressing challenge your business has right now?

16% — Negative cash flow
0% – Getting a business loan
54% — Need more customers
5% — Impact of Obamacare
25% — Taxes and/or regulations

Jim’s Comments:

SBA Poll Results: How is the economy looking for you?

The Question:
With two months of 2014 behind us, how is the economy looking for your business?

5% - So far, 2014 sales are great and expect this to continue.

34% - We’re seeing improvement over last year.

42% - So far, this year is trending no better than last year.

18% - This year is looking worse than last year.

My Comments:
When we asked you about your instincts about the new year in our online poll the first week of January, 60% of you said you were either positive or very positive. Alas, as you can see above, now two months into the new year, less than four in ten small business owners see any signs of economic growth in the early going. With this kind of response from the pathologically optimistic sector that creates over half of the U.S. economy, it looks like anything but a robust recovery continues to be our reality.

Here’s the understatement of the decade: This is starting to get out of hand. Of course I’m talking about what seems to be entrenched malaise on Main Street. Please remember, I’m just commenting on what you report to me. I would much rather be talking about how excited everyone is about the future. I’ll have more to say about this in an upcoming Feature Article. Stay tuned and thanks for participating.