Bredin Report: What Are the Top SMB Business Concerns?

Our clients often ask us what is top of mind with small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). To find out, we recently fielded an SMB Pulse survey of 500 principals of U.S. companies with up to 500 employees.

Specifically, we asked SMBs to rate the importance of 18 business issues or tasks, ranging from staying in business to creating a diverse workforce.

Two of the most interesting ways of assessing the responses are by company size and industry group, where there are significant differences between segments. For example, almost three in five companies with 100 to 500 employees (mid-sized businesses, or MBs) rate creating a diverse workforce very important – almost twice as many as companies with one to 19 employees (very small businesses, or VSBs).

For VSBs, the most important business concerns are staying in business, retaining customers and maintaining cash flow. These microbusinesses often struggle with precarious finances, with the challenges of day-to-day business management often precluding business development.

For companies with 20 to 99 employees (small businesses, or SBs), the biggest challenge is employee retention, followed by staying in business and data security. Like SBs, the biggest challenge for MBs is retaining good employees, followed by keeping current on custom preferences, finding new customers and keeping current on technology.

It’s critical to understand your audience, so you can optimize your messaging. For example, describing how you can help with employee retention or data security will resonate much more strongly with SBs and MBs than VSBs, while emphasizing how you can help with customer retention or cash flow will be more compelling to VSBs than MBs.

SMB Business Concerns by Size

How important are each of these business issues or tasks?

Important business issues or tasks by company size (% Very important)

% very important (500n)

There are also interesting differences in business concerns by industry group, which we define as follows:

  • Professional Services (PS): Advertising/Consulting/Design/Marketing Services, Architect/Engineering, Banking/Insurance/Mortgage, Computer Services/Consulting, Computer Software/Internet, Financial Services/Accounting/Bookkeeping, Legal, Medical/Dental, Publishing/Printing/Media
  • Retail/Wholesale (RW): Entertainment/Recreation, Food/Beverage/Restaurants, Real Estate, Retail, Travel/Hotel/Hospitality, Wholesale
  • Manufacuring (M): Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing/Mining, Automotive, Computer Hardware/Electronic Equipment, Construction/Contracting/Electrical/ Landscape/Plumbing/etc., Energy/Utilities, Manufacturing, Pharmaceutical/Medical Devices/Biotechnology, Telecommunications, Transportation and Warehousing
  • Personal Services/Education (PE): Personal Services, Education/Training

Interestingly, staying in business is a top concern regardless of industry; it is either the first- or second-rated challenge across the board. From there, though, the industry groups diverge. For Professional Services, like VSBs, the second biggest challenge is finding new customers, followed by maintaining cash flow. For Retail/Wholesale businesses, maintaining cash flow is second, followed by customer retention. Manufacturers are similar to Retail/Wholesale businesses, with their first and second challenges flipped. Personal Services/Education firms, however, are most challenged by customer retention, followed by staying in business and managing costs.

SMB Business Concerns by Industry Group

How important are each of these business issues or tasks?

Important business issues or tasks by company industry group (% Very important)

% very important (500n)

While the differences between industry groups are not as pronounced as between size groups, there are still striking disparities. For example, three in four Manufacturers are concerned with cost or availability of inputs, versus only one in three Professional Services firms. Likewise, three in for Manufacturers are concerned with employee productivity, versus two in five Personal Services/Education firms. Again, understanding your audience lets you tailor your message and as a result boost your relevance – and sales and marketing program effectiveness.

Need help understanding and/or engaging 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 and social posts 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.