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PlanBeyond research: How small business owners feel about performance in 2019

PlanBeyond research: How small business owners feel about performance in 2019

This is a contributed guest post from SurveyMonkey Audience customer, PlanBeyond founder Laura Troyani (@LauraTroyani). Interested in a contributed post based on your own Audience research? Send a blog pitch to coletted@surveymonkey.com.

When you consider research showing that organizations of 100 or fewer employees represent 98% of all employers in the United States, you could say we are a country of small-to-mid sized businesses (SMBs). Factor in that companies of 20 or fewer employees make up 89% of all employers and you could call the U.S. a country of mostly small businesses.  

As a marketing agency that’s focused on this vital sector, we wanted to know exactly how our clients, and prospective clients, were feeling as they juggled all the challenges that come with trying to manage and scale a business. 

Using the SurveyMonkey Audience research panel, we set out to find out. Surveying over 350 SMB business owners, we asked about how they were feeling about their business’s performance in the new year, what was going to make them succeed, and what was going to keep them from hitting their professional goals. 

SMB owners see the glass as half full

Overall, SMB owners are optimistic about how their businesses will perform, with 80% saying they were very or somewhat optimistic about how their businesses would do in the coming year. 

a small business

What’s behind this rush of exuberance? 62% of respondents have strong confidence in their core product or service, 51% point to the strength of their existing customer base, and 47% attribute success to their employees or team members. 

Funding is a major sore spot for SMB owners

No matter how optimistic they may be, SMB owners are regularly thinking about issues that could put a damper on their business growth. When we asked SMB owners what could hurt their business performance over the course of the next year, 32% pointed to limited access to money and funding. A close second was marketing plan weaknesses, cited by 29% of all respondents with concerns. 

Notably, SMB owners take responsibility into their own hands. Only 8% noted political or economic issues as possible factors impeding their business performance. 

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Marketing and sales experience wanted

One typical challenge faced by nearly all SMB owners we work with is making do without the people or resources they wish they had. This led us to ask SMB owners what expertise they felt was most missing within their organizations. Marketing was the-most mentioned missing skill, cited by 36% of all respondents. Coming in second was sales, cited by 27% of respondents.

While we were at first surprised by the prevalence of marketing and sales concerns, we realized they are fairly universal needs. Whether a business sells products or services, or whether they sell directly to customers or other organizations, just about every business needs marketing or sales to actually drive interest in what they do. 

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When business owners are ready to hire, they are equally challenged by finding people with the right skills (56%) and finding people with the right motivation and drive (56%).

Finding great team members has never been easy. But, it looks like our nation’s 4% unemployment rate is only making this harder. 

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What does this mean for small businesses?

Hire smart, hire slowly. SMB owners are confident about their product and service quality, but they are clearly struggling with bringing talent and expertise in-house with the limited funds they have on hand. Rather than bringing in full-time employees and hoping it works out, now perhaps more than ever is a great time to leverage subject-matter experts on a limited basis. 

Whether that means signing on agencies, independent freelancers, or part-time talent, taking a “try before you buy” approach to bringing skills in-house is a great way to get much-needed resources while minimizing expenses. It’s low risk, and affords SMB owners the time they need to evaluate the best long-term decisions for their businesses. 


Respondents were recruited between Thursday, November 29, 2018 and Friday, November 30, 2018 using Survey Monkey’s DIY research panel, SurveyMonkey Audience. Individuals were screened prior to survey entry to ensure that they were at least 18 years of age and self-identified as owning a small-to-mid-sized business in the United States. A total of 369 respondents were recruited and asked a series of questions around future business performance, and reasons for optimism/pessimism about business performance.

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