SurePayroll Takes the Pulse of Small Business

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted August 30, 2016

Healthcare reform, immigration, and minimum wage increases are often framed as major concerns for American small business owners. But are they really?

Every year SurePayroll, a small business payroll specialist and Paychex subsidiary, takes the pulse of small business. According to the results of the company's latest Small Business Scorecard, the top challenges this year are slow economic growth on the national level (22 percent) followed by headwinds in the local economy (18 percent). Staffing ranks as another major concern (17 percent) with small business owners reporting that they're having a hard time finding qualified workers.

[Small Business Tools: Top 10 Small Business Financial Applications]

"There's a lot of caution and concern about the economy," particularly in local economies, said Andy Roe, general manager of SurePayroll, in an interview with Small Business Computing. Sure, Wall Street has been on a tear lately, and many major cities are experiencing a noticeable resurgence, but that prosperity isn't necessarily trickling down to every corner of the U.S., he said.

"Cash flow is top of mind for business owners," added Roe. While many small firms are indeed profitable, economic uncertainty causes them to put the brakes on reinvesting those profits. "They don't know what's around the corner."

SurePayoll also discovered that money's tight (16 percent) for many companies, which hinders their hiring and expansion plans. Comparatively, healthcare reform (10 percent), minimum wage hikes (6 percent), and immigration (less than 1 percent) ranked low on the list of worries keeping entrepreneurs up at night.

SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard

Small Business Economic Optimism Remains High

In general, most small business owners don't let potential pitfalls dictate their outlook.

"More than 70 percent of small business owners remain optimistic about the economy," said Roe. The small business community in U.S. has weathered the past year in good spirits (73 percent), experiencing just a slight 3 percent loss of faith in the economy compared to last year.

Tellingly, 62 percent of small businesses reported a profit in the first half of 2016, while 87 percent expect to be profitable in the second half. Forty-seven percent expect to generate more sales this year than in 2015.

Tech Tools that Help Small Business Get the Job Done

SurePayroll also took a look at the technologies small business owners rely on to manage their companies and to drum up more sales. Ranking the top five tech tools in several categories, the company discovered that the consumerization of IT has a major influence on the software and services that entrepreneurs select for their own organizations.

"A lot of times our customers think like consumers," noticed Roe. Small business owners expect that the software and IT services they use at work are as intuitive as the ones they use in their personal lives. Gone are the days of poring through thick software manuals. Today's workers want to get up-and-running as easily as downloading an app on a smartphone. Plus, they want it all at a great price.

For example, Google Drive is the number one cloud storage service, knocking last year's champ, Dropbox, to second place. Google Drive offers the first 15 GB of storage for free, and it's innately familiar to Gmail users. If that's not enough space, business users can upgrade their accounts to 100GB of storage for just $1.99 a month; Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, and Box round out the top five cloud storage providers.

Google Drive also ranked as the favorite content organization and collaboration solution, followed by Evernote, Microsoft Outlook/OneNote, Trello, and Slack. Salesforce took the lead among customer relationship management platforms. Microsoft Dynamics took the number two spot, and Sugar CRM came in third. Zoho and Act ranked fourth and fifth, respectively.

On the social media front, Facebook is the social network to beat, followed by LinkedIn, a finding that reflects "the blending of business networks and social networks," said Roe.

For example, it's common for entrepreneurs to create Facebook business pages to build word-of-mouth and to draw attention to their new or established local businesses. And of course LinkedIn has grown into the premier professional and business-to-business (B2B) social network.

While you can get started on Facebook and other social networks inexpensively, Roe warns that "it can become costly on the marketing side." Business owners may need to devote a portion of their budgets to promoting their own posts, particularly in ultra-competitive local markets.

[Accounting technology for small business: Open Source Accounting Software for Small Business]

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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