Optimism Growing among Small Businesses

Most small-business owners have a positive economic outlook, but there appears to be a widening gap between healthy and struggling companies, according to the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor released on Thursday.
The report is based on a telephone survey in August of 763 small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

Although it was the first time since September 2007 that a majority of small-business owners (55 percent) voiced positive views about the economy, all businesses are cautious about the future. Nearly two-thirds still think the worst is yet to come.

More small firms are at risk of going out of business (17 percent) than six months ago (11 percent), due in part to personal funds being tapped out. Plans for capital investments are at an all-time low of 42 percent.

The number of entrepreneurs experiencing cash-flow issues this fall (60 percent) has risen from a year earlier (55 percent). Nearly half of entrepreneurs seek access to more capital.

Some results were mixed: Fewer firms (23 percent) have hiring plans than at any point in the eight-year history of the survey, but fewer business owners are laying people off (15 percent vs. 23 percent in the spring). And a quarter report more business opportunities, up from 15 percent in the spring.

For the time being, many small-business owners said they plan to follow a conservative management model in the next six months: About half aren’t willing to take on financial risk to grow their business (a survey high) and 41 percent said their top priority is maintaining current revenue sources and customers.