Sage Small Business Survey 2017: Four key learnings

Published · 3 min read

Businesses of all sizes are under constant pressure to keep ahead of change. From a mid-sized cast-iron manufacturer to a woodworking shop, from a large cosmetics maker to a chemical manufacturer, countless external factors can impact business success.

To truly champion our customers – the world’s business builders – our goal at Sage is to understand their pain points and issues impacting business growth now and in the future. This past month, we surveyed nearly 700 small business customers to gauge sentiment and understand how local and federal policies, regulations and economic changes will impact company performance.

Here are four things we learned:

Businesses are more confident about their prospects in 2017, compared to 2016.

In last year’s survey, conducted November 2016, we found that businesses were more optimistic than ever about the future. In fact, 62% of small businesses reported that they were more confident about the prospects of their business in the next six months.

Our most recent survey is consistent in sentiment. Conducted in May (with a slightly larger survey size), it shows 47% of U.S. customers are more confident about their business prospects this year than in 2016 – with more than half reporting business is on track to grow in 2017. Confidence in the global economy is just as promising. In 2016, just over 33% reported being confident in the stability of the global economy, and 37% confident in the U.S. economy. Our newest survey reveals improvement there as well: 54% of small businesses are much more positive or slightly more positive about the economic outlook since the presidential inauguration.

Changing taxes and healthcare costs remain key concerns.

In our survey last year, more than 40% of small businesses reported that making improvements in the tax environment was the most important step governments could take to support small businesses.

Our recent survey indicates a similar line of thinking. Most U.S. small businesses revealed that the most important regulatory issues facing small business owners are taxes (32%) and the cost of healthcare (43%). Looking closer, tax policy changes and changing interest rates are the top two economic factors that will have the greatest impact on their business.

Here’s a full view of the top 5 challenges small businesses will face in the rest of 2017:

Finding the right talent is a concern.

Small businesses are on track to grow their teams this year and feel optimistic about the future of their business. Still, hiring the right skilled employees in today’s digital world continues to be a concern.

From last year’s survey, we realized our customers are concerned with hiring the right skilled workers. 62% said that access to digital skills would have the most impact on their business in the new year. In our 2017 survey, nearly 60% of respondents plan to hire 2-5 people this year and the biggest challenge for will be hiring the right people.

Small businesses welcome an ‘admin free’ world, yet they’re cautious of artificial intelligence (AI).

Last year, more than 50% of small businesses felt that artificial intelligence would be a big trend in 2017 and 46% felt comfortable with them running their business or professional life.

Surprisingly enough, our 2017 survey tells us that 41% of small businesses would NOT trust it to help with their administrative tasks, despite that the majority spend two or more hours per day on administrative work. Small businesses are keenly aware of the time they spend on these tasks, as well as the availability of new solutions to reduce this time. Yet, most have not embraced how new technologies such as AI and chatbots can solve these pain points.

Solving challenges: a look into 2018

In our 2017 survey, we learned a lot about the issues facing our small business customers and how we can fight in their corner. Seeking to influence issues such as tax policy or accessing a skilled workforce are key ways we can support. Most of all, understanding the real pain points customers face month over month drives our efforts at Sage to create the tools to solve these challenges! For example, helping reduce time spent on administrative tasks, creating a more digitally savvy workforce through policy and community influence, or creating more opportunities for businesses to experiment with artificial intelligence and chatbots to run their business.

We’re just as optimistic about the rest of 2017 as our customers and look forward to being your champion and helping your business grow!

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