From the responses of small business owners in the latest American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor Survey, things seem to be looking up. While still closely watching the economy, many are planning to hire, and recent efforts to reign-in costs and focus on customers have better positioned them for growth. And, many more are discovering the benefits of social media.
Twenty-six percent of small businesses are planning to hire over the next six months, and more (10 percent, as opposed to 5 percent in the spring) are saying these employees will be full-timers. Of the business owners that said they plan to hire, more than 75 percent cited business growth as the reason. Basically, just because they’re not convinced the economy is on the upswing, they still have high hopes for their businesses. In fact, 39 percent believe sales will be higher in the next six months than in the same period last year.
Those who plan to hire are also the ones most likely to start investing in their business again. Sixty one percent with hiring plans intend to make capital investments in the near future, although 38 percent overall are still purchasing just what is needed. Cash flow has improved for more than half, after a particularly rough period.
The main goal for many is to find new customers while maintaining the highest level of customer service with current ones. Half say increased customer demand is the most important factor in driving business growth. To help boost demand, they’re focusing on two key strategies: deepening relationships and creating value. And many are leveraging social media to do just that. Four in ten indicated that they’ve discovered the benefits; 27 percent of relevant businesses are using Facebook.
This focus on service and value strikes a chord with consumers, who reported in American Express OPEN research that price, proximity and personalized service were the three biggest drivers in choosing where to shop. Given the challenges of competing with bigger companies on price – customer service is proving to be a differentiator. That’s why social media is so important. It provides a two-way street for business owners to connect with consumers and consumers to connect with business owners.
Among other insights drawn from this latest survey: Generation Y has the most positive outlook on the economy, and among industries, manufacturers do also. Among states, it’s California. For more data from the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor Survey, download the report.