Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Small Business Economic Sentiment Survey: A Potential Tool for Commercial District Practitioners

John Lieber, Chief Economist at Thumbtack, forwarded us an interesting press release regarding Thumbtack's collaborative work with Bloomberg.  The Small Business Sentiment Survey is a "first-of-its-kind" monthly survey of small business economic sentiment across the United States of more than 10,000 small businesses.

Anyone can access the results and view the data at the national and state levels or by major city. The graphics translate the data in a clear and user-friendly manner. The results are updated monthly and can be filtered by industry and demographics, making it a very useful tool to examine business trends within and across distinct geographies. Additionally, each state and city has its own dedicated webpage showing detailed survey results for that area.

Image via Thumbtack.com
Thumbtack's survey reflects the specific demographic of small businesses with five or fewer employees, which according to the U.S. Economic Census comprises over 90% of small businesses in America.   According to the press release, no other comparative study or index has the same level of responses from businesses of this size, and Thumbtack is able to collect a large volume of responses via its network of more than 150,000 active service professionals.  As Jon Lieber noted, "We hope to offer new insights and a better understanding into what’s happening in this critical segment of the nation’s workforce and the American economy.”

At the national level, the major trends in the inaugural version of the survey include:
  • A 25 percent reduction in businesses citing “uncertain economic conditions” as their number one concern for the future.
  • Overwhelming optimism among small business owners about the future, as the vast majority of them (80 percent) predicted a revenue increase and better financial conditions in the next 3 months.
  • A national comparison reveals that businesses in Southern states are feeling the most positive about the economy, and that businesses in the far West and Northeast were the most hesitant in their positive views.
Despite greater optimism, the survey also reveals the top problems experienced by small businesses: from uncertain economic conditions and competition from big companies, to access to credit, poor sales and government regulations.

For commercial district practitioners seeking to better understand their business environment, this survey may provide more than a panorama of their cities small businesses: it provides points of comparison to understand whether business health in their districts (exemplified by current financial situation and outlook, among others) may be part of a larger trend (i.e. improvement in the regional economy, or advancement of particular business sectors)  and whether local challenges are exclusive to their districts or not. This knowledge can help practitioners to develop a broader view of local problems and to think more strategically about how to address them.

One important shortcoming of the Survey is that retailers are underrepresented in the sample, which makes its use for studying commercial corridors somewhat limited. This shortcoming does not invalidate the results, it just makes them more reflective of particular economic sectors that are better represented in the sample (such as professional and technical services, or arts and entertainment). Still, the Survey provides useful information, but its data should be used with caution when considering retail businesses.

For more information, you can check the following links:
Infusionsoft Small Business Market Surveys
National Federation of Independent Business - April 2015 report
Inc.com - "How Small-Business Owners Really Feel About the Future"
About Thumbtack 
About Bloomberg
Thumbtack's Small Business Friendliness Survey

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