Small business seen emerging from “foxhole”

March 8, 2011

An improved economic outlook has many small business owners looking to grow now to gain a leg up on their competition.

Nearly half (47 percent) of the owners polled in a recent survey by office equipment maker Brother International Corp said they were willing to spend rather than stockpile cash reserves – an increase of 11 percent over 2010, when they were still facing recessionary pressures.

“They know they can’t stand pat, they can’t stay in the foxhole,” said John Wandishin, vice president of marketing for Brother. “When the clouds start moving and the sun starts coming out, how are they going to be positioned?”

At the same time, small business owners are experiencing stress levels relatively unchanged from a year ago, with more than half indicating their worry is higher than usual, according to the survey, which included 501 interviews.

“There is still uncertainty out there,” said Wandishin, noting troubling headlines about unrest in the Middle East and higher gas prices.

Keeping up with policy changes in Washington appears to be contributing to business owners’ anxiety. Forty percent of respondents said following trends in state and federal policy is more difficult than bringing in new customers, according to the survey, which was conducted in late January by Wakefield Research.

“When they get mixed signals or no signals, that has a negative impact,” Wandishin said.

Tech downtime, or instances when work-related technology underperformed expectations, was also a concern for small business owners. Some 77 percent indicated they had experienced problems with office technology in the past year.

Nearly a third of those surveyed said they would rather have more time on their calendars than cash in their pockets, and three quarters said they expected to use their time more efficiently this year.

The majority of owners polled said they valued the agility small business ownership provides, with 83 percent citing the ability to quickly implement executive decisions about managing their business.

“They’re still very passionate,” said Wandishin. “That’s refreshing.”

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