New Bank of America Small Business Owner Report Finds Running a Small Business

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The FINANCIAL — Bank of America released its inaugural Small Business Owner Report1, a semi-annual study exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country.


According to the Bank of America, the survey uncovers a sense of optimism about their own business as they look toward the future 12 months. It also found managing the ongoing success of their business creates more stress for small business owners than any other aspect of their lives and more than four times as much as managing their own personal finances. In addition, small business owners regularly forego free time (57 percent), exercise (37 percent) and other important personal priorities in order to manage their business.

“We know how much small business owners give up to make their businesses successful, but despite their sacrifices, they are still optimistic about the future,” said Dean Athanasia, Preferred and Small Business executive at Bank of America. “Therefore, we believe that the financial services industry, the business community and the general public must continue to take steps to support the growth and success of our small business sector.”

Confidence in local economy and their own decisions fuel optimism — Small business owners have more confidence in their local economy than the national economy. When asked about the next 12 months, 42 percent expects their own local economic conditions to improve compared to 35 percent who expects the national economy will improve.

However, reservations about the state of the national economy did not dampen optimism among small business owners regarding their future business prospects. Nearly seven of 10 (69 percent) small business owners view their local economy as very important to their business’s success. Moreover, reflective of the independent character that typifies most small business owners, the majority of respondents (53 percent) stated that their own decisions, rather than the overall health of the economy, are more likely to influence business outcomes. This sentiment was particularly strong among young small business owners, those between the ages of 18 and 34 (66 percent).

Confidence was further evident in two key indicators of performance – hiring and revenue expectations. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of small business owners expect to expand their workforce in the next 12 months, while more than half (56 percent) plan to keep their staffing levels consistent year over year. Among those small businesses planning to hire, owners expect to increase the number of employees by 25 percent on average. Furthermore, 61 percent of all respondents forecast a revenue increase, and 32 percent projects that revenues will remain the same.

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But tellingly, when considering the potential impact of national economic issues, survey respondents listed the effectiveness of U.S. government leaders (75 percent) as their most pressing concern. Other concerns included commodities prices, such as oil and gas (73 percent), recovery of consumer spending (71 percent) and health care costs (70 percent). Credit availability (54 percent) ranked in the bottom three considerations along with the trade deficit and the global stock market unrest, as shown in the graph below.

Credit and cash management tools available but underutilized — Although 71 percent of small business owners believe they have enough capital to effectively run their business, survey findings suggest a good number of small business owners may not be leveraging readily available tools and resources to help make cash management easier. For example, even though 45 percent of small business owners cited not being paid on time as their biggest impediment to cash flow, less than one-third (31 percent) sought guidance from their bank on best practices for expediting collections while only 29 percent uses electronic invoicing.

When asked to describe their point of view on lending criteria and requirements to obtain a line of credit, a quarter (25 percent) of respondents said that today’s lending requirements are appropriate and should not change, while an additional 20 percent believes that further requirements should be put in place to obtain a loan in order to protect small business owners from defaulting. Moreover, while credit appears to be available – more than three-quarters (78 percent) of applicants who applied for a loan within the past two years were approved – small business owners may not be taking advantage of their lines of credit to further business objectives. Of the 64 percent of small business respondents holding an open line of credit, 50 percent earmark the money for emergency purposes only, rather than using it as day-to-day capital.

“One of the biggest ways we can help our small business clients be more successful is to help them maximize their cash flow,” said Robb Hilson, Small Business executive at Bank of America. “Helping a small business owner with a cash management strategy specific to their unique situation enables them to do more with the resources they have.”

Small business owners value professional financial advice — Only slightly more than a quarter (27 percent) of small business owners describe themselves as being very financially savvy when it comes to running their business. The remaining respondents admit to needing occasional or ongoing expert help. Small business owners rely on a wide range of resources for financial guidance, as shown in the graph below.

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In selecting their banking relationships, small business owners prioritize convenience (20 percent), relationship rewards (18 percent) and access to local expertise (17 percent). When asked what single aspect of their banking experience they would change, small business owners most frequently cited an enhanced level of expertise and more customized services while lowering costs associated with the financial services they receive (1 percent) and making it easier to get a loan (1 percent) ranked extremely low on their priority list.

“As the economic environment becomes more complex, Bank of America is committed to providing small business owners with dedicated resources to stay ahead of their financial needs,” said Athanasia. “Through our 1,500 associates who work with small businesses across the country and our 1,200 Merrill Edge financial solutions advisors, small business owners can benefit from highly specialized advice from local experts who intimately understand the full range of their business and personal financial needs.”

Marketing is key to growth — For nearly half of survey respondents (47 percent), increasing the marketing of their business to acquire new customers is the most important action they plan to take to generate additional revenue, surpassing a combination of increasing sales to existing customers (14 percent), better cash flow management (12 percent) and acquiring additional capital (8 percent). When asked about their marketing approach, three-quarters (74 percent) of small business owners say they are actively implementing one or a variety of initiatives and find the approaches shown in the chart below to be most effective.

Notably, despite the prevalence and growing influence of social media, survey findings indicate that small business owners may not be leveraging this marketing tool to its fullest potential. Only 38 percent of SBOs who use social media to market or promote their business engage in conversations with customers, while less than half (47 percent) utilizes social media to offer discounts and deals to their customer base. Conversely, nearly two-thirds of survey participants (64 percent) wish they took better advantage of technology innovations to help manage or market their business.



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