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Small-Business Owners: Working Harder, But Optimistic

More than seven in 10 small-business owners say they expect to generate more revenue in 2013 than they did last year.
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If small-business owners had a collective mantra right now, it would be: "It’s tougher than it was five years ago, but I am going to succeed."

Nearly six in 10 small-business owners say that it’s harder to run their company now than it was five years ago, according to a survey of 917 small-business owners and primary decision makers released today from digital-marketing company Constant Contact. Respondents have been in a leadership role at their respective small businesses for at least five years and they are customers of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact. Despite their struggles, 72 percent of respondents say they expect to generate more sales this year than they did last year.

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Back in 2008, President Barack Obama was just being elected for his first term, the Great Recession was hitting the U.S., and Twitter was a relatively new social media platform. Here’s a look at what’s changed for small-business owners in the past five years, according to the survey.

  • Local matters more. Consumers have an increasing interest in and preference for supporting businesses in their backyard. More than five in 10 survey respondents say that being locally owned and operated is a primary reason customers support their business. Five years ago, only 42 percent of respondents considered local critical to their customer retention.
  • Marketing is faster and cheaper. Of the 12 percent of small-business owners who say that it’s easier to run their business today than it was five years ago, nearly nine in 10 say that’s because of the increased efficiency and lower cost of online marketing tools. Nine in 10 small-business owners are using social media marketing today, where only one in 10 was five years ago.
  • More business-management services are automatic. Business owners reported that they are using more digital payroll and inventory services than they were five years ago.
  • Consumers are savvier. In the wake of the Great Recession, consumers have largely become more fiscally conservative, with 71 percent of survey respondents saying that their customers expect more value than they did five years ago. With more customers hunting out discounts, businesses are having a harder time making a profit.

While the economic and technological landscape has changed over the past five years, what keeps business owners up at night has largely stayed the same, the survey finds. Identifying new customers, having enough time to take care of running their business and holding onto existing customers were -- and still are – the top worries of small-business owners.

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Looking forward, almost six in 10 survey respondents say they expect their business to be “thriving” in five years, including some combination of more customers or more employees. By 2018, 26 percent of respondents expect their business to still be largely where it is today and 8 percent say their business could potentially be closed down.