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Small Businesses Riding High: SMB Optimism Surging

Friday Sep 28th 2018 by Jeff Goldman

Despite hiring challenges, two recent surveys found that small businesses are reporting recording-setting levels of optimism.

Small business optimism is at its highest level in at least 45 years, according to the National Foundation of Independent Business (NFIB)'s recently-released Small Business Optimism Index.

The index reached 108.8 in August 2018, the highest in the survey's 45-year history, beating the previous record of 108 reached in July 1983.

Small business owners' job creation plans and unfilled job openings both set new records, inventory investment plans were the strongest since 2005, capital spending plans were the highest since 2007, and the percentage of small business owners saying it's a good time to expand tied the previous all-time high set in May of this year.

"Today's groundbreaking numbers are demonstrative of what I'm hearing every day from small business owners – that business is booming," NFIB president and CEO Juanita D. Duggan said in a statement.

Still, hiring is a key challenge. A record 25 percent of respondents said the challenge of finding qualified workers is their single most important business problem, up two points from last month.

Sixty percent of owners reported trying to hire new employees, with 89 percent of those saying they received few or no qualified applications for open positions.

Financial Strengths

Separately, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index recently reported an overall index score of 118, 12 percent higher than last quarter and the highest level in the survey's 15-year history.

Key drivers for the high score, according to Wells Fargo, include small business owners' overall financial situation, cash flow, and ability to obtain credit.

Seventy-eight percent of small business owners said their current financial situation is very or somewhat good, and 84 percent said they expect their financial situation will be very or somewhat good a year from now.

Similarly, 69 percent of respondents said their cash flow over the past 12 months was very or somewhat good, the highest reading in the history of the survey. Seventy-seven percent of respondents expect their cash flow to be very or somewhat good over the next year.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they expect it to be very or somewhat easy to obtain credit over the next 12 months, the highest reading since 2007.

About half of respondents said their revenues increased over the past 12 months, and 61 percent said they expect their revenues to increase over the next 12 months.

As in the NFIB survey, respondents cited hiring and retaining staff as their top challenge, followed by taxes and attracting new business.

Surprisingly, about two thirds of small business owners said the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online retailers hadn't impacted their business, and 80 percent said their business doesn't currently compete with large e-commerce companies and retailers.

Still, respondents said their digital presence is steadily increasing.

While just one quarter of respondents said they currently conduct 25 percent or more of their business online, 37 percent said they expect to do so within the next five years – and 54 percent said they're at least somewhat likely to increase their online and social media marketing efforts over the next 12 months.

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