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NEW YORK -- Despite stumbling blocks in the economy, a new study reveals that small business owners are cautiously optimistic.
According to the Spring 2012 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, 56 percent of small business owners have a positive outlook on business prospects over the next six months, up from 48 percent in the fall. The semi-annual survey also shows optimism on the employment front: 35 percent plan to hire full- or part-time employees (up from 31 percent in the fall), and far fewer said they will freeze hiring or cut back (44 percent, down from 61 percent in the fall).
However, they are treading lightly when it comes to expectations of growth. When asked about their priorities over the next six months, 31 percent of the small business owners reported that maintaining their current business and sources of revenue, followed closely by growing their business (29 percent, down from 37 percent last spring), were top of mind.
"The research clearly shows that we cannot look at any one economic indicator in a vacuum to predict small business investment behavior," said Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN. "While small business owners are more optimistic about the economic recovery, they are not turning a blind eye to the uncertainty that lingers. They are waiting for more proof that the recovery is real and sustainable before investing heavily in growth initiatives."
Despite their claims that growth is not currently a top priority, 46 percent said increased customer demand would help them grow. To set their businesses apart from the competition, 80 percent of entrepreneurs said they will place a heightened focus on better servicing their customers, the study added. To that end, 57 percent responded that they train their employees themselves; 26 percent have a senior member of staff train them; and 10 percent pay for formal training.
And as the economy continues to struggle, many of the small business owners have turned to tools to attract new customers. Of the social media platforms, 38 percent use Facebook, 14 percent use Google+, 13 percent use LinkedIn and 11 percent use Twitter.
Other growth generators cited by the business owners surveyed include tax cuts (20 percent), access to capital (13 percent) and the ability to hire more staff (7 percent).