Bredin Report: What are SMBs’ Biggest Business Challenges?

We just surveyed over 800 SMBs in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand on global SMB business outlook and spending plans.

One of the early findings from this new research are the concerns that keep business owners up at night.

The biggest challenge? Finding new customers, regardless of business size. This is a perennial top priority, regardless of the state of the economy, and an ongoing opportunity for companies that provide marketing services to SMBs.

The second biggest challenge overall is coping with economic uncertainty, defined as “economic, political, public health, environmental or other ‘macro’ change outside of your control that can affect your business.” This concern speaks, of course, to the dramatic changes brought by the pandemic, which continue to affect so many businesses in so many ways. Providing advice to SMBs on managing through uncertainty can help you build engagement and trust.

Differences by business size

For very small businesses (VSBs, or companies with 1-19 employees), the next most pressing concerns are maintaining cash flow and retaining customers, followed by “keeping current on technology / keeping our technology current.” This last concern highlights the opportunity to provide technology education to these generally less technologically sophisticated business owners.

Small businesses (SBs, 20-99 employees) share the top two concerns with VSBs, but their third biggest challenge is “keeping our data secure,” making them an especially attractive segment for security solution providers. SBs’ fourth and fifth biggest challenges are managing costs and finding good employees.

The third and fourth biggest business challenges for mid-size businesses (MBs, 100-500 employees) are staffing-related: finding and retaining employees. This makes MBs an especially good target for job boards and benefits providers. The fifth-biggest MB business challenge is a tie: dealing with competition, complying with government and industry regulations, and cost or availability of supplies/materials.

It’s interesting that across the board, the bigger the company, the more challenging each business issue is rated. Larger SMBs are typically more resilient and optimistic than smaller ones, but MBs are clearly feeling a significant amount of business stress.

Top Ten SMB Challenges by Company Size

Top Ten SMB Challenges by Company Size

How challenging are these business issues or tasks? (percent responding “very” or “somewhat” challenging; ranked by top 10 VSB challenges) N=862

Business challenges by country

While differences between business sizes are more pronounced, there are also differences between SMBs by country. Finding new customers and coping with uncertainty are the top two challenges regardless of location. However for U.S. businesses, the next three biggest challenges are keeping current on technology, retaining customers and maintaining cash flow. Canadian SMBs are more challenged by dealing with competition, cash flow, and keeping current on customer preferences. U.K. SMBs are more challenged by cash flow, regulatory compliance, keeping current on tech and customer retention, while Australia/New Zealand SMBs are concerned with managing costs, cash flow, keeping current on tech and customer retention.

SMBs in Australia/New Zealand generally rate business concerns most challenging, while U.S. SMBs rate them least challenging.

Top Ten SMB Challenges by Country

Top Ten SMB Challenges by Country

How challenging are these business issues or tasks? (percent responding “very” or “somewhat” challenging; ranked by top 10 U.S. SMB challenges) N=862

Need help building your brand standing with SMBs? Bredin can keep you up to date on evolving SMB needs and challenges through quick-turn, actionable market research. We can also help you develop high-value content to boost SMB awareness, brand perception, leads, conversion and revenue.

About Bredin

Bredin was founded in 1991 by America's foremost small business expert, author and syndicated columnist Alice Bredin. From its beginning, Bredin was designed to be a breed apart: 50% research consultancy, 50% creative agency, 100% focused on SMB. Based in Somerville, Mass., Bredin helps Fortune 500 companies understand, reach and retain SMB customers through timely, targeted research and award-winning marketing programs.