Optimism Rises as Business Owners Say They Are Less Concerned About an Upcoming Recession

Staff Report

Friday, October 11th, 2019

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of small business owners say current business conditions are good or excellent, while 43 percent say they are concerned that a recession will impact the success of their business in the next year, according to Capital One's latest Small Business Growth Index. The biannual survey of 500 small business owners found that in the six months since the last survey, small business optimism has increased five percentage points and recession concerns have decreased six points.

"We have been working with small business owners for a long time and know this population well. Even so, we continue to be struck by their resilience. While small business owners are expressing some real concerns over a potential recession, they aren't allowing this kind of speculation to dampen their efforts to grow or invest in their businesses," said Jenn Flynn, head of small business bank at Capital One. "Small business owners are cautiously optimistic - they are holding to their financial forecasts, still planning to hire and still investing."

Following are key themes uncovered by the Fall 2019 Small Business Growth Index:

While overall concerns about a recession have decreased since the last survey, an economic downturn would have a major impact on small business - especially women-owned businesses.

Eighty-five percent of SBOs say their business would be impacted if the economy entered a recession in the next six months, with impacts ranging from proactively being more conservative when it comes to inventory or supplies (65 percent), to the recession negatively impacting cash flow (61 percent), causing a decrease in sales (59 percent), or impacting ability to grow and expand (57 percent), among others.

When considering cash flow concerns, thirty-two percent say they feel fully prepared for a potential recession, while 42 percent feel slightly prepared, 24 percent feel either not very prepared or not prepared at all.

Forty-nine percent of women SBOs are concerned about a recession impacting the success of their business in the next 12 months, compared to 40 percent of men.

Business owners are keeping an eye on the 2020 presidential election as they plan for the future.

Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of SBOs feel the election will have an impact on their company, and fifty-five percent say policies that impact businesses are top of mind.

Heading into 2020, top concerns for SBOs include taxes (56 percent), keeping up with competition (41 percent), staying on top of technology (39 percent) and cash flow (38 percent).

Sixty-seven percent of male SBOs and 57 percent of female SBOs say the current presidential administration is on the right track as it relates to their business.

Despite increased optimism about overall economic conditions, only 36 percent of business owners think their business will be in a better financial position six months from now, down from 44 percent in Spring 2019.

Mission-driven initiatives are emerging as a way for businesses to attract and retain customers.

Thirty-six percent of business owners say they have a mission-driven or community impact initiative, which mostly consist of donating money (62 percent), volunteering (50 percent) or focusing on pro bono work (39 percent). Twenty-nine percent report they have green or recycling programs, and 27 percent enable customers or clients to donate as part of doing business with them.

Nearly all (92 percent) SBOs with a mission-driven initiative say it has a positive impact on the overall success of their business, with stated outcomes including boosting the public perception of their company (73 percent), attracting new customers (66 percent), keeping them motivated (65 percent), helping to retain existing customers (65 percent), and driving hiring and retention of employees (37 percent).

Hiring remains steady, with business owners relying on increased salaries to recruit new employees.

Thirty percent of SBOs plan to hire in the next six months, consistent with 29 percent who had plans to hire in Spring 2019. Millennial (50 percent), minority (40 percent) and women (35 percent) SBOs are more likely to have plans to hire than other SBO segments.

Sixty-four percent of SBOs with plans to hire in the next six months say they are competing for talent by providing industry-leading salaries. Additionally, 31 percent are marketing their business as a great place to work, 30 percent report they provide a flexible work environment, and 28 percent say they are providing more benefits to compete.

Business owners are mixed on the impact of company culture on business success, with one third (33 percent) noting it has a major impact, 25 percent reporting it has a moderate impact, and 18 percent feeling it has a minor impact.

"It is an interesting point in time, as the economy continues to be relatively strong and optimism remains steady, many still feel concerned about a potential recession and are uncertain about the impact of the 2020 presidential election," said Brad Jiulianti, head of small business card at Capital One. "We are confident that the small business community will continue to tackle the challenges that come their way by staying positive and courageous."