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Small business success: How do small business owners define it, and how do they achieve it?

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What does success look like for small businesses in America today? This is the big question we sought to answer in our latest Small Business Insights surveys, commissioned by Intuit QuickBooks in March and April 2022.

The pandemic put small businesses in the spotlight like never before. Downtown lunch spots were left deserted, but other small businesses thrived. Out of concern for the former and a newfound reliance on the latter, did people rediscover their love for local small businesses? The data suggests they did.

More than ever, people want small businesses to succeed

From a recent QuickBooks-commissioned survey of more than 8,000 people throughout the U.S.1, it’s clear how important small businesses are to local communities across the country. Two-thirds of the respondents (66%) say small businesses are the lifeblood of their community. More than three in five (64%) describe small business owners as “community heroes.” Seven out of ten (70%) want them to get more recognition.

To help small businesses, people are choosing to buy local. Nine out of ten (90%) say it’s important to support local businesses this way. More than one in two (57%) do so on a weekly basis.

Small businesses go above and beyond

The number one benefit of buying from a small business, according to the survey respondents, is the customer service. More than 99% agree small businesses go above and beyond for their customers. From remembering regular orders to returning lost phones, almost all could remember a time when a small business went the extra mile for them.

What’s the secret to small business success?

Do small business owners agree customer service is important to success? According to an April 2022 QuickBooks-commissioned survey of more than 1,100 small business owners, they do.2

They reveal the three most important ingredients for a successful business are great customer service, good financial management, and support from the local community—in that order.

But success never comes without challenges. Inflation is the greatest financial barrier small business owners currently face. On the operational side, it’s finding affordable benefits for employees—vital in today’s tight labor market.

How do small business owners define success?

The business achievements small business owners are most proud of include seeing the business grow, creating jobs, and making customers happy. But success isn’t just about the business. At the top of the list, sharing first place, they define success as “providing for my family” and “having a good reputation.”

Successful businesses build better communities

It’s clear from the data1 the American public agrees: Small businesses do have a great reputation. Almost three-quarters (73%) say small businesses make their community a better place to live—by bringing people together, for example, and helping to build a stronger sense of community. More than half (51%) agree that job creation is the top economic benefit small businesses bring.

People want more government help for small businesses

While the immediate economic effects of the pandemic may be behind us, others loom. Inflation is a big concern for small businesses, and customers agree: almost nine out of ten (89%) worry about the impact inflation is having on small businesses in their community. More than two-thirds (69%) want the federal government to offer more help. But what kind of help do small businesses need?

Small businesses want help with loans and inflation

Small business owners say they need help with two things, above all: money in and money out. They want the government to make it easier for them to get loans (money in) and, at the same time, ease the pressure of rising costs (money out) by tackling inflation.

Many small businesses already use government programs. More than eight out of ten (82%) are familiar with the Small Business Administration (SBA)—the federal agency for small businesses—and a similar proportion (80%) report using at least one SBA program.

Did the government’s pandemic programs help small businesses?

According to small business owners, the evidence is clear: 99% say the emergency assistance they received from the federal government during the pandemic—such as the Paycheck Protection Program—helped their business to survive.

Overall, 79% of small business owners surveyed report using at least one emergency program during the pandemic. Of these, 64% say it was “critically important” to their survival.

Federal stimulus checks boosted new business growth

The impact of emergency government funding during the pandemic didn’t just help existing businesses. It helped the next generation, too.

Another remarkable statistic from our survey of small business owners is that more than three-quarters (78%) of those who started a business during the pandemic say they used some or all of their personal stimulus payment from the federal government to help fund their new business.

This may help explain, as QuickBooks has previously reported, why so many new businesses were started during the pandemic.


1: Workforce Survey, March 2022

QuickBooks-commissioned survey of 8,002 people throughout the U.S. ages 18+ who are employed, self-employed, business owners, or have mixed incomes, with a 50:50 split between male and female respondents. Responses were collected in March 2022 via Pollfish audience pools and partner network using double opt-ins and random device engagement sampling methodology to ensure accurate targeting. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest decimal place. Respondents received remuneration.

2: Small Business Owners Survey, April 2022

QuickBooks-commissioned survey of 1,143 small business owners throughout the U.S. ages 18+. Respondents’ businesses have up to 100 employees and more than $5,000 in annual revenue. Roughly one in four (26%) are brick-and-mortar businesses. The remainder describe themselves as omnichannel, multichannel, or primarily online businesses. More than a third (39%) are product-based, more than two in four (29%) are service-based, and the remainder sell a mix of products and services. More than one in two (57%) are located in urban areas, while the remainder are in rural or suburban locations. Responses were collected in April 2022 via Pollfish audience pools and partner network using double opt-ins and random device engagement sampling methodology to ensure accurate targeting. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest decimal place. Respondents received remuneration.


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