How confident are small businesses about 2011?

As the year comes to end, something that’s on everyone’s mind is how will small businesses do in 2011? Well, when you have a question like this, it’s best to go straight to the source for you answers, and that’s exactly what Small Business Trends did.

Small Business Trends did a survey of over 1,000 small business decision-makers (owners, partners and general managers) and found them to be overwhelmingly positive about both their own companies, and the economy as a whole. You can see the entire results here.

Nearly three-quarters of small businesses (72 percent) say the overall economy will improve (30 percent) or hold steady (42 percent) in 2011. And when it comes to their own companies, 34 percent expect their sales to rise in 2011, while 50 percent expect them to stay the same. Only 16 percent think their sales will decrease.

This confidence is of course most important in regards to job creation. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed plan to hire employees next year, 64 percent say they will maintain their current staff levels and just 11 percent plan to cut jobs.

So while it appears that we’re still a long way away from completely getting the economy back to where it once was, small business owners generally believe the economy is headed in the right direction. Let’s hope small businesses have the chance to capitalize on this enthusiasm in 2011.

[Small Business Trends]

One plumber’s offbeat (but highly successful) ways of marketing himself

One of the blogs that we fully very closely here at Buyful is Construction Marekting Ideas. The blog, started by Mark Buckshon is a true leader in terms of construction marketing. And today, he has a story that is well worth your time.

Mark introduced us to plumber Mike Johnson from Wisconsin. Mike’s been posting on the Contractortalk.com forums and a related blog, under the name “Mike’s Plumbing”, with some rather incredibly creative marketing ideas – including bringing kids along on door-to-canvassing.

Mike’s lessons that he’s sharing on Contractor Talk may sound kooky, but he has quite a record of success. Mark had the chance to speak with Mike and found out the ways that Mike works to get himself attached to the local community that he does work for. And here’s the most interesting thing. Mike’s primary way of marketing himself comes without any actual cost to his business. Instead, he works to get himself well connected in the community, where word-of-mouth referral is king.

It’s a great blog post, and well worth your time. And it may even give you and you small business some great ideas. There’s no direct link to the post, unfortunately, but it’s currently the first post on Construction Marketing Ideas.

Small Businesses Seem To Be Pleased By The Recent Election Results

With the recent election cycle completed, it’s time to take a look at how small businesses feel about the political landscape.

For the past several months, it has appeared that small businesses were beginning to become more and more optimistic about the economy. There were multiple studies suggesting this to be the case, but one had to wonder if the election would change that outlook.

Apparently it hasn’t. While it’s still very early, and no one knows what exactly Congress will do, according to a survey by Manta, the Web’s largest free source of information on small businesses, small businesses are now even more optimistic.

62% of those surveyed believe the new Republican controlled House will have a favorable impact on small businesses overall. 58% believe their own businesses will improve because of the election results.

In the company’s most recent “Pulse of Small Business” user survey conducted Wednesday of 1,189 small business owners and employees (the majority of them owners), 69% said the Obama Administration has hurt small business. Moreover, 58% of the respondents said they are more confident now that they will be able to grow their business than they were two years ago when the Democrats and President Barack Obama triumphed in the elections.

Admittedly this optimism seems a bit strange. To anyone who’s familiar with politics, we’re now in a situation where Congress will be ground to a halt, since neither Democrats or Republicans seem to want to move an inch. Partly for ideological reasons and partly just to make the other guys look bad heading into the 2012 election cycle.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think this is a particularly good scenario, and I don’t understand the optimism. But we’ll see how things progress in the coming year.

Small Business owners are getting more optimistic about the economy

I wouldn’t exactly say this is a cause to celebrate, but any increased optimism in this economy is good. And that’s precisely what small businesses are experiencing right now.

Small-business owners showed more confidence in the economy this month as a Discover Financial Service survey posted its biggest one-month gain since April.

The four-year-old monthly index rose to 84.2 in October, up 10.4 points from September. In August, it fell to 73, the lowest point in 1 1/2 years.

In the latest poll, 28% of small-business owners surveyed said they expect economic conditions for their businesses to improve in the next six months, up from 20% last month. That figure reached 30% earlier this year before sliding. The portion who said conditions will worsen was 43% this month, down from 55% in August and September.

This month, 31% of respondents said the overall economy is getting better, up from 26% in September and the highest level since May. The portion who said the economy is getting worse, 48%, was the smallest reading since February.

Of those surveyed, 9% said they are hiring, up from 6% in the past two months and the highest percentage since June. About 15% said they are laying off workers, up from 12% last month but down from 20% in August.

Regarding plans to spend on business development, 22% plan to increase spending, up from 16% last month, while 46% plan to decrease spending, down from 57% in September.

Discover’s survey polled 750 owners of businesses employing fewer than five people.

So what does this all mean? That things are moving slowly, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.

[Wall Street Journal]

Good news down in LA. Nearly 170,000 construction jobs will be created over the next 10 years.

Robert Carlsen who does the blog Vertically Speaking over at California Construction has a recent post that is great news for the construction industry in the LA area.

Through the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), a loan of $546 million, along with a recent TIGER II grant of $20 million, will go towards the construction of the proposed $1.9-billion, 9-mi Crenshaw/LAX light-rail extension project. Considering how desperately LA needs to expand public transportation,

The construction is part of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 plan, which was unveiled earlier this year. The plan is to condense three decades worth of transit projects into 10 years with the help of federal government loans and taxes.

Overall, the plan is supposed to create nearly 170,000 construction jobs over the 10 years.

The federal investment is expected to create 5,000 jobs, according to a study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. The entire Crenshaw/LAX project will create more than 15,000 jobs, according to the mayor’s office.

I also highly advise you reading Carlsen’s blog Vertically Speaking, as it has great California specific construction news.

A reminder about the October 21st construction webinar

We did a post on this last week, but with it happening on October 21st (tomorrow) and construction being one of our focus areas, it seems like a good idea to remind everyone. If you’re in the construction industry, make some time on October 21st, because on that day – at 2pm EST – expert economists from Reed Construction Data (www.reedconstructiondata.com), the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America (www.agc.org) and the American Institute of Architects (www.aia.org) join forces to host After the Fall: When and Where Construction Will Rebound a webcast focused on key factors affecting the recovery of the construction industry. This is especially important with the industry currently sitting at a 17.2% unemployment rate.

The webcast will follow chief economists Jim Haughey, Ken Simonson and Kermit Baker as they discuss and analyze:

– In which geographic areas has the economy started to improve, and which areas will be next?

– What construction sectors are likely to see the most growth during the next upturn?

– When will the nonresidential building starts pipeline refill and lead to a pickup in jobsite activity?

– Will the November mid-term elections slow or speed the construction recovery?

– What has happened to Federal stimulus dollars and can contractors expect to see more?

Registration is complimentary for all participants; pre-registration is required. Moderators will accept questions during the presentation from the internet audience and the webcast will also be archived for later viewing. Registrants may also receive 1.5 AIA CEU credits for attending this webcast.

To reserve your space at the October 21st webcast, register at: http://www.reedconstructiondata.com/events/2010/10/after-the-fall-when-and-where-construction-will-rebound.

Can rebranding green upgrades for homes produce an actual impact?

Our friends over at Green Goddess have a very interesting article for those in the green construction industry. Recently a study was conducted by the Berkeley National Laboratory that found that the term “audits” or “retrofits” made people think negatively about improving residential energy efficiency. The results, they say, should serve as a guide to the more than 2,000 towns, cities, states and regions with stimulus funding to spend on clean energy programs and with minimal experience to draw from.

A key partner for these programs should be the contractor workforce, the authors of the study said, because contractors know the marketplace for residential construction work and will be the “face” that customers see when they interact with the program. Ensuring that contractors are well-trained, they added, can help to avoid problems and consumer backlash.

But while the suggestion is that offering “energy assessments” and “upgrades” sounds good, will this change in branding make any difference for businesses?

Well, Tanya Stock of Green Goddess has some very keen thoughts on this question, which I’d advise you reading on Green Goddess. Her basic synopsis is that while such changes sound good on paper, the challenges for a business to totally change their style of branding (and possibly even their name) may come at a very high cost. In other words, things are not always as simple as they look. Not to mention that a fair number of potential customers already see energy improvements as costly improvements, even if in the long run they benefit from them.

Which leaves us with the question of what can the government and businesses do to better streamline green upgrades? Is this study enough to change things? That’s harder to answer. But if you are a green business or a business looking into getting into that field, I recommend viewing the study here and then reading Green Goddess’s good critical take on it.

Bank of America will be expanding services for small businesses

Bank of America has gotten some grief that it doesn’t help small businesses enough, so they’ve decided to do something. The bank said Thursday that it was hiring 1,000 small-business bankers to work in branches throughout the country.

These new bankers aren’t going to be simply loan officers, they’ll be doing a fair amount for small businesses. According to BofA, they’ll reach out to local businesses with a variety of financial products and services, including bank accounts, payroll systems, pension plans and credit cards, along with loans.

“We really are expanding our capabilities and enhancing the service to small businesses,” Kerrie Campbell, Bank of America’s top small-business executive, said. “These folks will be in our local communities, living and working in the communities that they serve.”

The move is one of several such initiatives announced by the bank recently, including promising to increase lending to small and medium-size companies, and choosing its own contractors more frequently from among the ranks of smaller businesses.

In hiring the new bankers and placing them in branches — rather than in the office buildings where its commercial banking operations are located — BofA will be competing with the regional banks that currently serve most small-business needs.

The BofA pilot small-business programs will roll out over the next few months in Los Angeles, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington.

Most of the 1,000 bankers will be new hires to be brought on board in the next several months. They will be targeting companies with revenue of $250,000 to $3 million.

[LA Times]

Great news for those in the construction industry: A webinar on when the industry will rebound

It’s not often you have the chance to hear economic experts of your industry speak, so if you’re in the construction industry, mark down October 21st on your calendar right now. On that day expert economists from Reed Construction Data (www.reedconstructiondata.com), the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America (www.agc.org) and the American Institute of Architects (www.aia.org) join forces to host After the Fall: When and Where Construction Will Rebound a webcast focused on key factors affecting the recovery of the construction industry. This is especially important with the industry currently sitting at a 17.2% unemployment rate.

The webcast will follow chief economists Jim Haughey, Ken Simonson and Kermit Baker as they discuss and analyze:

– In which geographic areas has the economy started to improve, and which areas will be next?

– What construction sectors are likely to see the most growth during the next upturn?

– When will the nonresidential building starts pipeline refill and lead to a pickup in jobsite activity?

– Will the November mid-term elections slow or speed the construction recovery?

– What has happened to Federal stimulus dollars and can contractors expect to see more?

The webcast will be broadcast live starting at 2 p.m. (EDT). Registration is complimentary for all participants; pre-registration is required. Moderators will accept questions during the presentation from the internet audience and the webcast will also be archived for later viewing. Registrants may also receive 1.5 AIA CEU credits for attending this webcast.

To reserve your space at the October 21st webcast, register at: http://www.reedconstructiondata.com/events/2010/10/after-the-fall-when-and-where-construction-will-rebound.

The recession is officially over, and has been for a while. But how are small businesses doing?

Research has come out recently from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that the recession ended in June 2009, which means we’re just over a year into the economic recovery of the United States. But how are small businesses doing? Well, that seems to be incredibly tough to answer. Scott Shane of Small Biz Trends, and Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University, looked into it over the weekend and the data he pulled was pretty scary when it comes to small businesses. Here is Shane’s quick summary about his study:

I’ve pulled together some statistics that show that:

  • Self-employment and new business creation are down
  • Fewer people are working at new and small businesses
  • Owner pessimism is up, with fewer business owners expanding sales and more experiencing cash flow problems
  • Fewer owners are making capital investments, hiring, or increasing compensation
  • More businesses are going under
  • Fewer businesses are having their borrowing needs met, and trade credit is down
  • Angels are financing fewer companies
  • Venture capitalists are investing less money in fewer deals
  • VC deals are smaller and valuations are rising at fewer companies
  • VC-backed companies are experiencing fewer exits and at lower valuations

His ultimate conclusion was pretty straightforward:

The story is very clear. Recovery or not, the economic situation for small businesses is still considerably worse than before the recession began.

Here’s Shane’s full PDF if you want to read the whole thing.

The problem is we’ve seen other studies that suggest pretty much the exact opposite thing. Intuit has a study saying there was modest growth in small businesses employment across most of the United States in September. Vistage, which is an organization of 14,000 small businesses CEOs, also had a study which said many small businesses are cautiously optimistic right now.

So who’s right? Every day we seem to get news that it’s one or the other. I think the problem is that it’s impossible to answer, but the good news is that the economy seems to be starting to move in the right direction. As that happens, the hope is that small businesses will follow suit. And with the increase in government loans, hopefully more and more small businesses will get jump started and back on track.

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