Small Business Owners More Optimistic Than Ever, But One Problem Persists

Small business owners are feeling confident about their current financial situation, yet remain more likely to report that hiring qualified workers poses a greater challenge than any other single issue. Some 18% cited it as their top concern, according to findings from the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index released in August. Hiring was the only issue alluded to by at least 10% of owners.

The index findings covering the third quarter of 2018 are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 604 U.S. small-business owners in all 50 states. It was conducted July 11–18 this year. The latest quarterly survey measured small-business owners’ attitudes toward various factors affecting their businesses.

There was some good news. Twenty-six percent of owners said the number of jobs at their company rose over the past 12 months, up from 24% last quarter and the highest in the 15-year history of the index.

Plus, 35% of owners expect the number of jobs at their business will rise over the next year, the second-highest reading on this measure for the index ever. Interestingly, the optimistic outlook for new hires helps explain why many owners say that being able to find and hire good workers is still their top challenge.

When asked what is the most important challenge facing you as a small-business owner today, 24% of the respondents pointed to issues tied to government policies and regulations as the biggest among all groupings. The findings included mentions of taxes and the government in general.

Along with hiring, the other top concerns were economic issues (15%), including the challenge of attracting new customers. Some 15% surveyed also cited financial issues such as costs, bill paying and credit, while 13% listed marketplace issues like competition, marketing and, products

Another key finding showed that U.S. small-business owners are more optimistic now than at any time since the index started in August 2003. The biggest gains in this year’s third quarter from the second quarter of 2018 were found on the following items, most now at high points in their trends:

  • Current financial situation – 78% of small-business owners rate it as very or somewhat good, versus 73% in the second quarter of 2018.
  • Cash flow in the past 12 months – 69% rate it as very or somewhat good, versus 63% in the second quarter.
  • Cash flow expectations in the next 12 months – 77% very or somewhat good, compared with 72% last quarter.
  • Credit availability in the next 12 months – 49% say it will be very or somewhat easy to get credit, versus 44% in the second quarter.