Entrepreneurs are more optimistic than they've been in years, but that doesn't mean you ought to rest easy.
Lingering questions regarding consumer spending weakness, government gridlock and worldwide economic uncertainty are surely weighing heavily on your mind these days. Plus, it's increasingly evident that cyber attacks are no longer just a problem for giant companies.
This was the general sentiment that emerges from the National Small Business Association’s year-end economic report for 2014, out on Thursday. NSBA is a centrist small business advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
“As we have seen in the last couple of years in our surveys, this one is pointing in a generally positive direction,” says Todd McCracken, president and chief executive of NSBA.
Forty-five percent of small business owners said the economy was better today than a year ago, a 10-percentage point increase compared to December 2013. Similarly, 41 percent said they expected economic expansion to continue in the next 12 months, an increase of 14 percentage points compared to the same period a year earlier. Just as telling, 72 percent expressed confidence about opportunities for their own businesses, compared to 66 percent compared a year ago. Fewer small business owners--28 percent compared to more than a third for the same time period a year ago--said they were less confident.
Meanwhile 45 percent of small business owns said sales had increased in the past year, compared to 37 percent a year ago. Sixty percent said they expect sales to increase in the coming year, a six-percentage point increase compared to December, 2013. (Nevertheless, nearly a third of respondents said a decline in consumer spending would rank as one of the biggest challenges to future growth and survival.)
And while hiring wasn’t as strong as it could be this year, that may change in the year ahead. Less than a quarter of respondents reported adding employees in the past year, flat from the same period a year ago. And while 19 percent reported laying off workers--a five-percentage decrease compared to the same period in 2013--60 percent reported adding no new workers, up six percentage points from December, 2013. For the year ahead, more than a third said they plan to hire more employees, an increase of five percentage points compared to a year ago.
Nevertheless, pain points exist. Chief among these is sufficient access to financing, which has plagued small business owners since the start of the recession more than five years ago. Sixty-one percent of businesses said they had been affected by the credit crunch, a decrease of four percentage points from a year ago. But 31 percent of small businesses said they were unable to access adequate financing in December, an increase of three percentage points compared to a six months ago.
One in five small businesses said they could not meet sales demand because of lack of credit.
And more than a third of entrepreneurs relied on credit cards for financing, or the earnings from their businesses to meet their capital needs. Less than a quarter used either a large bank loan or community bank loan for financing, and a scant four percent used a loan from a credit union.
And for all the excitement about crowfunding and online alternative financing, with small business lenders such as OnDeck Capital going public in the past few months, it still makes up a scant two percent of money tapped by small business owners, the survey reports.
One of the most surprising parts of the study had to do with cyber attacks. Half of small businesses reported experiencing a cyber attack in the last 24 months, up from 44 percent two years ago. And the cost of such attacks has skyrocketed, to $20,742 per attack, compared to $8,700 in 2013.
Targeted phishing attacks on small businesses are getting more sophisticated, McCracken says, and small business owners are increasingly worried about their own liability for loss of customer information.
The year-end survey of 675 business owners was conducted online, from the end of December, 2014 through January 15, 2015.