Tag Archive for 'Small Business Owners'

Top 10 Things That Keep Small Business Owners Up at Night

If you ask any small business owner “How’s business?” invariably they will respond: “Well, I can always use more customers.” So if someone asked you what’s the greatest concern of small businesses, you could be forgiven for being wrong if you said they need more sales, because that’s what most people think – especially politicians.

When it comes to buying and selling, small business owners are pretty good at that – every company is founded, and has been built to do those things. But operating a small business in the 21st century has become more complicated than ever before, which is why people who know small business know the best way to find out what’s really going on is to ask the owner what keeps them up at night.

One organization that knows how to ask small businesses the right questions is the National Federation of Independent Business. As you may know, the NFIB’s monthly Index of Small Business Optimism has been the gold standard for such research for 43 years. They also have a quadrennial report that speaks directly to the “what keeps you up at night” question. It’s the NFIB Small Business Problems and Priorities Survey, and in the 2016 report, you may be shocked to learn that “more sales” came in at #45 out of 75 options.

With an almost 15% response from 20,000 members they surveyed, 2,831 small business owners told the NFIB that their greatest challenges weren’t the competition (31), or social media (64), or online retailers (61). What about poor profits? Nope, that’s #16. Even the most initiated observers of small businesses would feel safe in presuming that cash flow would be #1, but this primordial Main Street challenge is actually #25.

If you listen to politicians, you’d think needing a loan is what wakes small business owners up at 2am. Surely you know better than to listen to politicians when it comes to small business or the marketplace, because needing a loan is almost last, at #70. That monthly NFIB Index I mentioned earlier has reported that since 2007, established small businesses have been adhering to what I call “The Great Deleveraging.” They don’t want no shtinkin’ loans.

So what is the numero uno greatest small business challenge? Drum roll, please: The cost of health care. Number 2 is oppressive government regulations. Number 3 is federal income tax on businesses. Number 4 is uncertain economic conditions. Number 5 is tax compliance complexity. And six through nine are also all government related. This next point is very instructive: The first operating challenge to break through the top ten is #10 – finding qualified employees. Let’s review: Nine of the top 10 greatest small business challenges are directly associated with government.

Some might say health care costs are not the government’s fault, but that would be Rip Van Duffus who just woke up from a seven-year nap and never heard of Obamacare. To be fair, let me hasten to add the cost of health care was a small business challenge prior to Obamacare. And this law did “bend the price curve,” as promised. Unfortunately, for the small business sector, Obamacare bent the cost curve up, not down.

Thanks to the NFIB Survey, President Trump and the 115th Congress can’t say they don’t know where to start helping small businesses. Indeed, they’re neck deep with the Obamacare “repeal and replace” debate right now. But here’s some “Breaking News”: We polled our online audience about that issue and 94% said “Yes” to repeal and replace, but half said, “Take the time to do it right this time.”

There’s no doubt that 26 million American small business owners – with health care costs on their minds – had a significant impact on the November election. So my advice to the political class of all three parties – Democrats, Republicans and Trumpicans– is to take the time to get healthcare right this time. And then quickly start reducing the other eight non-operating challenges government is imposing on the most important job creators in America: the heroes of the Main Street economy – small businesses.

Write this on a rock … What’s good for small business is good for the world.

Washington’s New Hashtag: #WithoutAnySenseOfShame

Let me tell you a story.

A boss gives an employee a project on January 1st that could easily be completed right away. This project had significant financial implications for the company. Month after month the boss checks in with the employee but finds the project still isn’t completed. The employee hasn’t done his job.

Finally, in the middle of December, almost a year later, the employee delivers the finished project as if there’s been a great accomplishment, but with two pieces of bad news: There are only two weeks left for the project to contribute to this year’s business, plus the project just delivered will be useless on January 1 without being completely reworked.

No doubt right now you’re yelling, “Who keeps an employee like this?” Or perhaps you’re saying, “This is a joke, right? No organization operates like that.” Sadly, this scenario is not only true, it’s been happening in a real organization, like in the movie Groundhog Day, for several years.

The employee in my story is Congress and the employer is America’s small business owners. The projects are 52 tax extenders which Congress has chosen to reapprove annually rather than make them permanent.

Many of these extenders are key factors in growth strategies, plus cash and tax planning for millions of businesses. Perhaps the most prominent is section 179 of the tax code. Part of this section allows and sets a limit for direct expensing of capital items in the year of acquisition, rather than depreciating those items over years.

For several years the Section 179 expensing limit, and the amount awaiting re-approval, was $500,000. But if this provision isn’t renewed it drops to $25,000. And just like in my story, instead of finishing the project permanently, Congress keeps renewing this extender each year, which wouldn’t be so bad if they did their work in January. But in 2014, without any sense of shame, Congress passed another one-year extension for the $500,000 level on December 16.

The expensing provision might not change whether you make the investment, nor the price of the purchase, but it does impact cash flow and tax planning for the year of acquisition, which is a big deal for most small businesses. If you were trying to make a 2014 equipment purchase decision, you had less than two weeks – over the holidays – to get that equipment in service in order to take advantage of the expensing option.

When you’ve read my past criticism of the anti-business practices of the political class in Washington, this is but one example. Like it or not, the tax code is very much a part of business investment decisions for companies large and small. And when investment decisions impeded at the micro level of a single purchase are aggregated across millions of businesses, it has a negative impact on economic growth. It’s not difficult to see how Congress’s failure to do their job has contributed to the moribund 2% annual GDP growth we’ve been suffering since 2009.

So here we are again feeling like it’s Groundhog Day because, like last year, Congress still hasn’t renewed the tax extenders for 2015. Next time someone asks why non-politicians are polling so high in the presidential campaigns, tell them this story.

Write this on a rock … Washington’s new Twitter hashtag should be: #WITHOUTANYSENSEOFSHAME.

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

The Out Basket

Harold Alexander, British field marshal during WWII, and 1st Earl of Tunis, had a habit at the end of the day of “tipping” the remaining work left in his In basket into his Out basket.  When asked why he did this he replied, “It saves time and you’d be surprised at how much doesn’t come back.”


For small business owners, the Earl’s management style could be dangerous; many of us don’t have anyone to come by and take the stuff from our Out basket.  If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. But I wonder about this method for dealing with worry.

What if, at the end of each day, you “tipped” all of your left over problems into your mind’s Out basket — the problem customers, the bank payment, the new competitor — go ahead, put all of those alligators right in there. Don’t worry. Those that need to be will be there in the morning.  But you might be surprised at the ones that just “don’t come back.”  And there you were worrying about them.  Pretty silly, huh?

In his book, Blue Highways, William “Least Heat Moon” Trogdon reported that his grandfather, who was full-blooded American Indian (Osage), once told him, “Some things don’t have to be remembered.  They remember themselves.”

So, there you have it.  If it’s important it, will be there in the morning.  If not, it will go away and wasn’t worth the worry.  And worry is one of the greatest inner demons small business owners have to slay.

Give that “tipping” thing a try. It just might save you some worry. Now where did I put that Out basket?

How vacations reveal American Dream may be in jeopardy

For several years we’ve polled our small business audience weekly about issues and conditions that impact them.

Whenever a question is seasonal or a recurring issue, besides serving that poll, the responses often produce a bonus. For example, the potential to identify year-over-year trends, or illuminate a current market trend.

In last week’s poll response, we scored both of these bonuses. The subject was a seasonal one that’s almost unique to small business ownership – “Will you take a vacation?” – with three response options: 1) “I’ll take an entire week off;” 2) “Only mini-vacations, like a long weekend;” and 3) “Vacation? I can’t even take a day off.”

This year everyone moved. Historically the real vacation group fluctuated close to 50%. I was happy to see our new poll had almost six of ten (59%) respondents allowing they were taking a week off, whether to go incommunicado, or expecting to check in. The long weekend responders in the middle thinned out compared to past years, while the sarcastic, “What’s a vacation?” bunch increased.

The classic evolution of time off for a business owner looks like the inverse of our response options. In the beginning it’s, “What’s a vacation?” then you graduate to long weekends as the business matures, and finally to a full week off, or more, at maturity. Maturity means having your organizational and capitalization stuff together.

This week’s response also supports two forecasts I made in 2009.

As the Great Recession technically ended, I predicted small businesses would increasingly diverge into two categories: they would either become stronger, or inevitably erode their equity and credit and go out of business. That’s what I’m seeing in the responses to our vacation poll this week. The sector that formerly could only take off a few days is diminishing because they’ve either joined the organizationally and financially stronger ranks, or gone the other way toward extinction.

Historically speaking, it would be intuitive and accurate to think that the no vacation group would include startups, rather than just declining businesses. But I also predicted in 2009 that there would be fewer startups in this economic recovery cycle. As you may have seen reported by real research organizations, my startup prediction, unfortunately, has come to pass. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a steady, 10-year decline in businesses less than one year old, and the category total is 10% fewer today than 20 years ago.

So our vacation responses indicate a barbell effect happening on Main Street. And it’s good news that so many small businesses have survived and become stronger. But since every business, large and small, begins as a startup, the overall decline of entrepreneurship in the U.S. does not bode well for the future robustness of the U.S. economy or the business ownership component of the American dream.

Write this on a rock …
If small businesses were a plant or animal species, it would currently be classified as threatened, on a path toward endangered.

RESULTS: How do you feel today about your decision to be a small business owner?

The Question:
How do you feel today about your decision to be a small business owner?

66% - I’ve never regretted my decision to be a small business owner.
13% - Things started off rocky, but I’m now happy with my decision.
21% - It seems my best days as a small business owner are behind me.
0% -  I wish I had never done this. What was I thinking?

Jim’s Comments:
As you know, in the intervening years since the financial meltdown of 2008, we’ve gone from where survival was seen as success to weathering a long and laborious recovery to maybe, just maybe, starting to get some expansion traction.  Any small business owner who’s come through all of that and still in business is the marketplace equivalent of a combat veteran.

As I’ve said many times, small business owners are pathological optimists, operating all in, against all odds, often feeling very much alone, and all for the possibility of just making a living. So after all we’ve been through, and with assorted headwinds still in our face, it’s great to see almost eight of ten of you are happy to be running a small business.

Goodonya, my friends.  Keep up the good work because the world depends on you.

Small business impact on November mid-term elections

Regardless of political party, history informs that the mid-term election in a second term has rarely been fun for any president. Consequently, President Obama’s party isn’t supposed to do well this November.

But with a Republicans House majority and Democrat control of the Senate now in jeopardy, this election cycle is producing a pitch battle with daggers drawn on every front. And not just because control of Congress is at stake for the next two years, but also six years of Democrat policies must be protected or reversed, depending upon to whom you talk.

In a recent online poll we asked our small business audience how they’re leaning in the November election. GOP responses came in at 63%, with Democrat allegiance at only 3%. The independent “I vote for the individual” got 29% and 5% said they “probably won’t vote.” Even if you give half the independents to the Dems, they still don’t rise to one-in-five among our group.

Republicans leading our sample tracks with other polls of the public. But besides the historic second term curse, there are other reasons small business sentiment skews heavily for the out-of-power party this year:

1.  Small business owners do something that’s at once special and difficult: they make between one and four payrolls every month. As a result, this group typically leans toward the GOP as a more business-friendly party. But it should be noted that the spread usually isn’t this great.

2.  Small business owners consider many Democrat policies anti-business. For example:

a.  Obama’s “America needs a raise” campaign to increase minimum wage is unpopular with small business owners.

b.  Recent tax increases have resulted in federal tax revenues at a 40-year record tax pace this year and next. Higher taxes depletes precious small business working capital.

c.  Essentially a stealth tax, regulatory compliance has increased significantly since 2009, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

d.  And the mother of all policy offenses: Obamacare. As a class, small business owners DO NOT like Obamacare.

There isn’t room to list all of the things troubling small business owners this year. But these leaders believe Washington policies have contributed to and prolonged the worst post-recession recovery since the Great Depression. And justified or not, President Obama is the face of the Democrat party, which right now is not good news for many incumbent Democrats needing support from their small business constituents.

Write this on a rock … Counting employees, Small Business USA is the largest voting bloc.




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