The United States is a country of small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs), with organizations of 100 or fewer employees making up just over 98% of all employers. In fact, you might say it’s really a country of small businesses given that organizations with 20 or fewer employees comprise 89% of all employers across the nation.

With SMB owners impacting such a huge expanse of the country’s workforce, we wanted to know just how they were thinking about their businesses at the dawn of the new year. So we set out and asked them. Surveying SMB owners across the US, from industries as diverse as construction and retail to social services and manufacturing, netted out one clear result: business owners are looking forward to solid performance in 2019!


  • 80% of SMB owners are optimistic about how their businesses will perform in 2019.
  • SMB owners are equally likely to rank the strength of their employees and team as they are the quality of their products and services as the #1 reason for success in 2019.
  • A measly 1% of all SMB owners said that political or economic conditions would be behind their businesses’ future success.
  • Limited access to funding and weak marketing plans are the top reasons SMB owners are concerned about how their businesses will perform.
  • 36% of owners mentioned marketing skills as missing from their organization, making it the most-frequently reported skill area missing from SMB environments.
  • 56% of SMB owners said finding employees with the right drive or motivation was a major hiring challenge.

Key Findings

What’s behind these high levels of business optimism? It turns out there are a variety of factors. Nearly two-thirds of all SMB owners say the quality of their products or services are behind their future business success. Meanwhile, 51% point to their strong existing customer bases while 47% point to the strength of their employees and team members.

What is remarkable is how few point to factors outside of their control. A measly 1% of all SMB owners said that political or economic conditions would be behind their business’s future success.

However, when push comes to shove, SMB business owners are tied between two key factors that will drive their business success in the new year. 28% rank their product and service quality as the #1 reason for future positive performance, which is neck-to-neck with the 26% who say it’s their teams and employees that will be the critical key to business success.

Meanwhile, when asked about what might drag down their businesses in the new year, SMB owners were far more varied in their concerns. 32% were concerned about their limited access to money and funding, nearly tied with the 29% pointing out that weaknesses in their marketing plans could harm their business performance. Additional factors were weaknesses in sales plans (21%), not having enough or the right employees (20%), and the limited strength of their customer base (19%).

However, when forced to make a decision about the #1 factor that causes them to be concerned about their businesses in the new year, 20% pointed to limited access to funding and money. This was closely followed by those selecting weak marketing plans (16%) and not having enough or the right mix of employees (15%) as the top factor behind less-than-stellar business performance.

Given these results, we weren’t too surprised to see how SMB owners ranked certain functional areas over others as missing from their organizations. Respondents were significantly more likely to pick “marketing” versus any other functional area as the place they had the greatest skills or expertise gap. The next biggest areas of where SMB owners wished they or their teams were stronger were Sales (27%) and Finance/Accounting (24%).

Further, with the hiring market so tight, we wanted to know what the biggest challenges SMB owners faced in finding great employees. To our surprise, they were as likely to say finding employees with the right skills was as challenging as finding employees with the drive or motivation. Clearly, SMB owners understand it’s not enough to just find people with certain skills or experience. You also have to find team members with the personality to tackle all the issues that come up in frequently under-resourced environments.


It’s exciting to see SMB owners feeling so optimistic about their businesses in the new year. Between the caliber of their team and employees, along with the quality of products and services they offer, these small business leaders are primed for a great 2019.

And yet, there are clearly areas where SMB owners know they have weaknesses and want to be better! Marketing is certainly a major opportunity area for SMBs, with Sales and Accounting/Finance not too far behind. What does this mean for owners looking to spruce up their chops in the new year?

It means being focused about what to focus on in the new year. Yes, we did mean to say “focus” twice! That’s because it can be all too easy to try and tackle so many things that nothing gets tackled well. Instead, SMB owners would be better served selecting a few key areas to brush up on. That could be leveraging free courses from the Small Business Association in their region, digital resources offered from business-oriented non-profits, or services from specialty agencies.

Regardless of which area they want to improve, or the resources they turn to to get better, SMB owners are primed to make 2019 a solid year. But with a little extra support, they could make it a great business year!


Respondents were recruited between Thursday, November 29, 2018 and Friday, November 30, 2018 via Survey Monkey’s Contribute and Rewards panel. The panel is comprised of individuals who voluntarily join to earn credits that can be redeemed for rewards or charity donations, and the panel is balanced according to age and gender census data. Individuals were screened prior to survey entry to ensure that they were at least 18 years of age and self-identified as owning a small-to-mid-sized business in the United States. A total of 369 respondents were recruited and asked a series of questions around future business performance, and reasons for optimism/pessimism about business performance.


Ready to go from brand-first to customer-first?