Small Business Confidence Was Higher Than Ever in 2017

2017 NFIB Small Business Optimism Index

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) says small business confidence hit a record high in 2017.

2017 NFIB Small Business Optimism Index

The NFIB recently released its Index of Small Business Optimism indicating how small business confidence blasted off after the 2016 election and remained in the stratosphere for all of 2017 because of “massive tax cuts and significant regulatory relief” as NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan puts it.

December’s 2017 optimism index was slightly lower than the near-record November report, coming in at 104.9, yet it was still a historically exceptional performance. According to NFIB, 2017 was a strong year in the history of its survey — one that has been conducted since the fourth quarter of 1973.

“We’ve been doing this research for nearly half a century, longer than anyone else, and I’ve never seen anything like 2017,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “The 2016 election was like a dam breaking. Small business owners were waiting for better policies from Washington, suddenly they got them, and the engine of the economy roared back to life.”

As a result of the increased confidence, the report states that many small business owners were bedeviled by labor shortage in 2017. According to the report, 31 percent of business owners currently have positions open they are unable to fill — and the problem will become more intense if the optimism continues to grow.

“There’s a critical shortage of qualified workers and it’s becoming a real cost driver for small businesses,” said Dunkelberg. As a counter measure, many small business owners have been raising compensation for workers as means to attract and keep good employees. However this is “a positive indicator for the overall economy, ” Dunkelberg said. And also overall, it is clear that better policies often lead to better economic results.

Image: NFIB

This article, “Small Business Confidence Was Higher Than Ever in 2017” was first published on Small Business Trends



Final 2017 Holiday Sales Figures Show Best Season in 4 Years

Final 2017 Holiday Sales Figures Show Best Season in 4 Years

After analyzing consumer spending at more than 1.3 million merchant locations in the U.S over the holiday shopping season, FirstData (NYSE: FDC) has revealed it was the strongest in four years.

Final 2017 Holiday Sales Figures

First Data’s SpendTrend Report shows the overall growth for the entire holiday season was up 6.2 percent from the previous year, which was at 4.7 percent. Spending in retail and ecommerce were also higher across categories and regions around the country.

The data collected in the SpendTrend Report is extensive, covering businesses of all sizes in both brick-and-mortar and ecommerce transactions. According to FirstData, this includes mom-and-pop type shops. The report reinforces similar positive conclusions drawn from other data coming out earlier in the season.

So what was responsible for this growth? Glenn Fodor, Senior Vice President and Head of Information and Analytics Solutions at First Data, attributed the positive results to several factors. In a press release, Fodor said everything from low unemployment, high consumer confidence, a soaring stock market and even good weather conditions during the shopping season were in part responsible.

He added, “Consumers were out in full force during the entire season, leading to impressive growth rates. Additionally, while ecommerce continues to grow rapidly, brick-and-mortar still remains a vital part of the holiday season.”

The Numbers From the Report

When you break down the overall growth, retail ecommerce was the big winner with 10.4 percent growth compared with 4.0 percent growth for brick-and-mortar outlets. Transactions were also higher for ecommerce coming in at 12.8 percent compared to just 2.0 percent for brick-and-mortar.

Final 2017 Holiday Sales Figures Show Best Season in 4 Years

Where brick-and-mortar fared better was in average ticket sales, going up by 1.9 percent while ecommerce was down by 2.1 percent.

As far as categories, electronics and appliances experienced the highest growth at 8.6 and 6.9 percent respectively. Sporting goods, hobby and book segments, on the other hand, were the only categories with a decline of 0.6 percent.

The numbers for the US were high in all regions, but the Southwest and New England regions showed the fastest growth at 5.7 percent and 5.5 percent respectively. The lowest growth rate came from the Mid-Atlantic region at 0.7 percent.

The First Data SpendTrend Report collects merchant processing data only from card-based payment. The 1.3 million U.S. merchants were serviced by FirstData for at least 13 months, which serves around six million business locations and 4,000 financial institutions in more than 100 countries around the world. These merchants were open for business between October 28, 2017, and January 1, 2018, the period FirstData identified as the whole holiday shopping season.

Images: FirstData

This article, “Final 2017 Holiday Sales Figures Show Best Season in 4 Years” was first published on Small Business Trends


2017 was the retail apocalypse. What does the future of retail hold for small town stores?

Interior of a retail store

You couldn’t get away from the headlines about the Retail Apocalypse last year. Is it really the end of all in-person retail stores?

Despite the headlines, what we are witnessing is not the death of all retail. Retail is splitting in two. This time, small retailers are the big winners.

Future of Retail Webinar

Deb Brown and I are making this Future of Retail the subject of our next webinar at SaveYour.Town.

We’ll talk about the underlying consumer trend driving this split and how in-person retail will become more than just bricks and mortar.

We’ll share why small retailers are actually in a better position than big boxes and what specific steps retailers can take to thrive into the future. You’ll get beyond the basics to go Rural Omni Local, reaching your customers where they are and using some new tools–and some old ones–to get there.

For local organizations like chambers of commerce and downtown associations, we are going to apply the Idea Friendly Method to how you work with local merchants. You’ll learn the number one challenge local businesses say they face, and how that can help attract merchants to your group. You’ll also see how to pull down the barriers to entry for local retailers, generating lots more retail startups and activity in your community.

Why not have a watch party? Invite your crowd to view the recorded lesson, and learn some small steps you can use right away. Get all the details at The Future of Retail at SaveYour.Town.

How did we get here?

There are a lot of news stories that point to eCommerce as the cause of big retail’s decline and also as its replacement. Today, you can reorder all your regular items like paper towels or laundry soap just by telling your voice-controlled assistant to handle it. Even more automated, you can set up all regular items on recurring shipments that you don’t even think about. How long before your refrigerator and cupboards will notice you’re low on something and just reorder it? That means no chance for a big box store to capture an impulse purchase when you make a quick run to the store for those items.

Going by the stories you hear and how you shop, you’d think like 75% of sales are online sales. They aren’t. It’s 9% as of Q3 2017. (Check the historical charts here) While online sales are increasing quickly, this can’t be the only cause for big retail’s decline or the only replacement. We’re also purchasing less for a variety of societal and cultural reasons and big boxes have a serious debt problem. But that still leaves a lot of purchases being made that are not at big boxes and not online.

Where are the rest of sales going? Small retailers. 

While all boring retail purchases get automated, interesting retail purchases become small, sustainable, curated, handcrafted, local and integrated with technology. Items we care about, are interested in, and want to enjoy shopping for, will come from small local retailers.

Customers are already shifting their spending to smaller retailers. The MasterCard SpendingPulse for Small Business has reported on the “general consumer trend to shop small” for the past four years. Bloomberg finally picked it up in November with the memorable headline, Mom and Pop Shops Are Threatening the Mall This Holiday Season. (Sorry, not sorry!)

Big retailers are responding by downsizing their giant stores, but I think this misses the point of what customers really want: local small retailers.

What can local stores in small towns do today to capitalize on retail’s big split? 

  1. Offer items that can’t be bought online. Locally-produced items, personalization and special services give you an advantage.
  2. Be your best small retail self. Know your product better than anyone. Give outstanding service. Be open later hours when customers are available.
  3. Focus on experience, enjoyment and meaning. Customers want to know their purchases matter.
  4. Use online retail’s own tools against them. Try automatic orders, delivery, and better recommendations.
  5. Add more technology to be more human. Use tablets to improve your service. Teach customers how to buy from you through Alexa and Siri.

While everyone else is focused on what all this means for big boxes, I’m more interested in the effects on small independent stores.

Join Deb Brown and me to learn more about this small town retail future.


GovCon Incubator Wants to Connect Small Businesses with More Federal Contracts

GovCon Incubator Wants to Connect Small Businesses with More Federal Contracts

Small businesses looking to gain more government contracts could benefit from a new specialized incubator. The GovCon Incubator is a multi-layered program that provides curriculum to address every aspect of the federal government contracting process.

The Purpose Behind the GovCon Incubator

OST Global Solutions is the company behind the new GovCon incubator. OST CEO Olessia Smotrova said in an email to Small Business Trends, “We built our incubator for passionate small business owners who are searching for a smart way to build a government contracting company, and we are ready to give them the recipe and support to succeed. Our goal is to grow small businesses into a more capable government contractor force that will make a difference on projects that are vital to our nation.”

In addition to the educational aspect, the incubator also provides mentoring from in-house consultants who have collectively won more than $22 million in funded government contracts. So you can learn directly from those who have been through it already.

Federal government contracts can certainly provide a major boon to small businesses. The federal government is a potential customer with a lot of resources and money to spend. And spending on those contracts may actually increase this year, according to some early reports.

Additionally, the federal government has a goal of awarding 23 percent of prime contracts to small businesses. And there are also some set-asides for specific types of small businesses, like women and minority owned companies. The government doesn’t always meet these goals. And part of it is likely due to some small businesses being unprepared for the demands of government contracting.

So even though securing government contracts might seem like a lofty goal, it’s an attainable one as long as you have the knowledge and resources to put a plan in place.

If you’re interested in competing for those coveted contracts, any resources you can get your hands on to actually learn about the process can give you a leg up on the competition.

Image: OST Global Solutions

This article, “GovCon Incubator Wants to Connect Small Businesses with More Federal Contracts” was first published on Small Business Trends


All kinds of good news are welcome in the Brag Basket

All different kinds of good news are welcome in the Brag Basket.

The Brag Basket is open! This one is for Jan 12-14, 2018. Bring your good news, big or small, to share with everyone.

What can you share in the Brag Basket?

  • introduce yourself
  • share some great news from this week
  • celebrate progress, even baby steps
  • congratulate a friend
  • applaud for each other
  • confess your undying love for rural places

Want to see some past Brag Baskets and read some past contributions? Here’s the archive.

How do you join in?

Below this post is the comment section. Add your good news there.

Reading this in your email? Hit reply.

Don’t like to brag? Just share some good news for someone you’re happy for. It’s a conversation with friends. So jump in. And remember to cheer for each other.


Let’s Have a Meeting

busines owners meeting

Business meeting – Photo (CC) bjmccray, on Flickr

Think back to the last meeting in your small business? Does your memory make you cringe?

Or was your response that you only have a couple of meetings and you talk every day, so maybe you never bother with a meeting.

And how did the meeting go? Was most of the conversation off-track and non-business related? Maybe it was business related but focused on small details. A third option was the conversation was about items that have been discussed and discussed and discussed. Finally, your meeting may have been only to make plans for the day, resolve an issue or handle a problem.

Well-run businesses need effective meetings. Yes, they may be of the type that are only making plans for the day and they may last only 15 minutes while standing in the hall. But, you must have a time to get concerned folks such as employees, investors, families, etc. together to talk.

A key thing your meeting should address is a look forward, to make sure you are spending time working ON the business, and not just in the business.

To make your meetings effective, it’s important you do two things. First, you need to have an agenda. This helps you get ready for the meeting and also focuses your effort. It is an important key to stop your meetings from becoming a time to complain or to get caught up in the issues of today.

Second, you need to take minutes or notes. Capture the topics and key points discussed for each topic. Get down on paper your decisions and assignments. Make sure you establish some goals. List the responsible person and a deadline for each assignment and goal.

Often your meetings will start with a look back. Your look back will be examining past decisions made and accomplishment towards the planned goals. And yes, it is important that those accomplishments be supported, supported by qualitative or quantitative data.

Knowing you achieved or did not achieve a goal is nice, but knowing how quickly it happened and by what degree it happened is where you learn for the future. Get into the “weeds,” examine specifics of what worked and what didn’t.

So who will be at your meeting?

The list may change but you need a core group to maintain consistency. This group should include key staff and maybe some family members. Some business owners bring in outsiders such as the banker and accountant. You may be working with an adviser or mentor who should be included. And you may bring in others for specific purposes.

How often you have such meetings can vary? Although we think often in terms of yearly, you probably need at least two meetings a year. Quarterly or even monthly meetings may work. But don’t confuse these planning meetings with meetings you may have to plan and schedule short-term needs.

So move your business forward. Plan and hold regular meetings. Make them effective, and if you need help doing this, search out someone to help get you on the right track.

Meetings are an element of success. The resources spent in developing them offer substantial returns or can be like a boat anchor. Make them the former and not the latter.


New after-conference rule: the 2-to-1 rule

Yes it was fun to be part of that conference, but once you get home, it’s time to implement. Photo by Becky McCray.


As you plan out conferences you want to attend this year, here’s a new rule to consider for after the event:

The 2-to-1 rule: Schedule two days for implementation for every one day of the conference. 

(I heard that from Marc Pitman, who said he heard it from Elizabeth McCormick. )

Your implementation days don’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, all right after the event. Spread them out so you have a chance to keep up with other demands.

They don’t even have to be full days. You can schedule half days, hours or even 20 minute blocks, as long as they add up to the same amount of working time.

What will you do in those implementation sessions? Well, the first session can be to go over your notes from the conference and pick out action items to work on.

Read our whole series on getting your money’s worth from a conference.

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