Can You Guess Small Business Owners’ Main Concern?

What keeps small business owners up at night? It seems so obvious. It’s the first guess anybody dealing with them would make. But here’s a survey that — to the extent any survey does — proves it.

Thanks to Marketing Profs I found Constant Contact’s (the email marketing company) Small Business Pulse survey for 2012. And with the illustration below we see that what keeps small business owners up at night, their first and biggest concern, is getting more customers.

You can click on that link for a larger view of the original, or click here to download the full report.

Aside: I added “to the extent that any survey does” above because we should never forget that surveys are only as valid as the way survey respondents were chosen and how well they actually represent the group they stand for. Stay skeptical. For example, another portion of this survey shows that the group favors email marketing over all other marketing tools … but then the survey was taken by an email marketing company, of the opinions of its own customers. So wouldn’t that selection tend to value email marketing higher than the average small business owners?

In this case, however, the results sure do coincide with common knowledge and common wisdom. Are you surprised that small business owners are most concerned about attracting new customers? And their second concern is keeping the customers they already have?

Second question: For the entrepreneurs in the crowd, thinking of starting a business … what does this tell you about the business offerings that will or won’t work for small business owners?


  • L. S. says:

    I’ll skip the survey talk – definitely stay skeptical. However, I’m more surprised about the “order” of the concerns. Number 2 would be 1 with me. Too many business overlook or underestimate the power of the satisfied (presumed) customers they already have! Word of mouth is still the best advertising of all. If businesses focused more on nurturing and developing their already satisfied consumer base, many of them “by nature” would bring in additional customers and revenue via referrals, social networking and increased purchases etc.
    Moreover, it is NOT about how many customers you get, but how many you satisfy and retain, otherwise, it’s simply a matter of time before bad press and word of mouth take you down. Lastly, and if somehow (after all the above) one still believes getting more customers is number 1, I’d say that concern is more a reflection of not understanding the business’s “service value” in the market place, and/or improper planning regarding cash flow projections and ROI sustainability until such time the business grows and gains a huge consumer base to thwart such apprehension.

  • Nick Barron says:

    We’ve seen this in our customer feedback surveys, within a week of starting to solve what we perceived to be a problem.

    We wanted to help small businesses get services and products they need without a huge financial cost, but what we learned right away is that people viewed Swapel as a way to get more customers. This concerned me at first, because that wasn’t what I wanted to build.

    Then I realized if people join to get more customers, at least they’ve joined. That’s often the hardest battle. I also realized the desire to solve their biggest problem feeds nicely into our earliest revenue generator: Promoted listings.

    So what our feedback survey, and the survey above, tells us is that our assumption about the offering small businesses wanted was incorrect. And we’re adjusting accordingly.

  • Akira Hirai says:

    I agree, it is pretty obvious. Even companies that have products that “sell themselves” like Apple need crisp marketing strategies for attracting and retaining customers. The problem is that much harder for businesses that sell less differentiated products and services.

    I also agree that you need to be skeptical of survey results. In addition to being skewed by the survey population, surveys can be skewed by the choice of questions being asked and the specific wording of the questions. For example, I suspect quite a few business owners have concerns about running out of cash, hiring and retaining good employees, managing accounts receivable, managing innovation, and staying ahead of competitors – however, these questions were probably left off of the survey (rather than being lumped into “Other.”

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