65 Percent of Atlanta Small Business Owners Are Still Recovering From the Great Recession

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The FINANCIAL — Seven years after the Great Recession, nearly two-thirds of Atlanta small business owners (65 percent) report their businesses are still recovering, according to the spring 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners in the Atlanta area and around the country.

Though many small business owners feel they have not completely recovered, they are far more optimistic about their business growth, revenue expectations and hiring plans than they were a year ago when comparing to previous survey results. Sixty-five percent of local entrepreneurs predict their revenue will increase over the next 12 months (compared to 58 percent one year ago), and 72 percent expect their business to grow over the next five years – an increase of 12 percent year-over-year. Additionally, 51 percent plan to hire more employees this year, compared to 41 percent based on survey results reported in spring 2014.

“We are encouraged to see the strong optimism among Atlanta entrepreneurs, and excited about the positive momentum in the local small business community,” said Dean Bird, Atlanta small business banker manager at Bank of America. “Small business owners are an important contributor to our local economy as well as our community, and we are proud to support them as they grow and evolve their businesses.”

Atlanta small business owners demonstrate self-sacrifice; prioritize employees and customers

Similar to their counterparts in other parts of the country, Atlanta small business owners are prioritizing the needs of customers and employees before their own. The 2015 survey reveals that 71 percent of local entrepreneurs would rather delay or reduce their own compensation than take other courses of action to make ends meet; this includes delaying or reducing compensation for their staff (6 percent) or scaling back on the services they offer customers (11 percent). In addition, more than half of Atlanta small business owners (55 percent) report that they have never given themselves a raise, or haven’t done so in more than two years.

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Atlanta small business owners are also more likely to demonstrate self-sacrifice than their counterparts in other parts of the country. Forty-three percent of local entrepreneurs have carried business costs on a personal credit card for the betterment of their businesses, compared to 35 percent nationally. Furthermore, 38 percent of Atlanta entrepreneurs have delayed or foregone compensation for up to two weeks (32 percent nationally), 35 percent have taken out a personal loan for business purposes (29 percent nationally) and 28 percent have put up personal property as collateral (22 percent nationally).

Almost all (97 percent) Atlanta small business owners have employee appreciation programs, including:

Dinners and outings (50 percent).
Office recognition (50 percent).
Spot bonuses (39 percent).

They also provide work-life balance benefits for employees, including:

Flexible hours (62 percent).
Office closure on major holidays (54 percent).
Paid vacation time (43 percent).

The majority of Atlanta small business owners (58 percent) cite that establishing relationships with customers and clients is the primary driver of repeat business, and they find many ways to show their appreciation, including:

Monetary rewards, such as discounts or free upgrades (35 percent).
Referral programs (35 percent nationally).
Free products or services on their first visit (34 percent).

Additionally, nearly three-fourths of Atlanta small business owners (73 percent) say a primary way in which they have adapted to customer demands is by becoming more technologically savvy, which is 11 percent higher than the national average and more than any other market surveyed. Furthermore, 41 percent have made a change in their business after receiving informative feedback via social media or reviews sites.

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Local Atlanta entrepreneurs appreciate the support of their community

Atlanta small business owners overwhelmingly support other small businesses in the community by shopping small. Sixty-seven percent of Atlanta small business owners gave themselves an “A” or “B” grade for shopping at other local small businesses. They also rate their local community high in shopping small, as 63 percent handed out an “A” or “B” grade when assessing how well Atlanta residents frequent small businesses.

While small business owners feel supported by their local community, only one in three Atlanta entrepreneurs (33 percent) believe that policymakers appreciate them. When asked about the impact of specific government policies, Atlanta small business owners say the greatest potential for a positive impact on their business could come from expanded tax breaks for automatically enrolling employees into retirement savings accounts (36 percent) and incentives to keep jobs on U.S. soil (31 percent). Conversely, the policies that would have the most negative impact on their business would be required health care plans (41 percent) and mandated sick leave for employees (30 percent).

Local small business owners express confidence in the economy, concern over health care costs

Based on survey results, Atlanta small business owners are more confident in the economy compared to a year ago. More than half (55 percent) expect the local economy to improve over the next 12 months, compared to 43 percent one year ago. Confidence in the national economy is up by 14 percent year-over-year (51 percent versus 37 percent).

Despite increased optimism, local businesses continue to express concern about specific issues. Nearly three out of four Atlanta entrepreneurs (74 percent) are concerned about health care costs, while 71 percent are concerned about the effectiveness of U.S. government leaders.


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