As the end of the 1st quarter approaches, it’s time to use your small business outcomes to draw your benchmarks for the rest of your business year. Is your small business where you thought it would be? Where you want to be?

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a few statistics as a basis for further discussion. SMB Perspectives found the small business owners surveyed had settled nicely into a statistical curve. About 45% were worried about keeping their customers, 20% are worried about local competitors, and almost 30% are basically worried about staying in business. Most had hired employees in the past year, but few planned to hire this year, hoping to keep their employees in place. Starting 2012, 40% were optimistic, 30% were neutral, and 25+% were pessimistic about succeeding this year.

This sort of stodgy centered statistic tells me things are sluggish at best, but interestingly, it does not necessarily reflect my experience. For starters, this survey calls a business “small” if it has less than 500 employees and $25 million in revenues. These business execs say they are worried about meddling from Washington and uncertainty about the impact of election year politics and policies.

But, employers of this size are not the real job builders. The small business owner who works from home through sub-contractors, the construction company with 200 employees, the medial practice with 25 employees, and so on, are the ones who tell me they are committed to securing and building on their 2011 gains. They are going to spend time and money on customer retention and market building. They expect these moves to require more focus on product offering, tech needs, and staffing to make, sell, and delver.

This trust in the status quo restrains spending, and if small business creates jobs, it sparks the rest of the economy with its risk taking. If your forward motion is on hold this quarter, it is not a good sign. Now, there are some valid concerns. If your business depends on Department of Defense contracts or Defense or Military personnel spending in your neighborhood, you may have some real problems down the road. If you were expecting spending related to looming infrastructure improvements, you may want to wait. If your customers’ spending is related to expansion in your local school system, shift your focus.

However, the investment markets have recently returned to 2008 highs, and, while election year and international uncertainties are always a concern, it seems to me this is the depth and breadth of news we have been looking for. Home sales are picking up, apartment construction is soaring, and retail sales are steady. This brings customers out of doors, spending on home improvement, eating out, getting back to work.

So, what’s in your numbers? Review daily sales revenues and expenses. Extrapolate these “habits” over the rest of the year to chart some indication of where you trend. Adjust the roll out for known seasonal impacts, and mark each week to come. If what you see for the second quarter, based on what is fact in the first quarter, is what you want, stick to the plan. If it isn’t, do what you can now to make it happen. Debrief yourself, your team, and your advisors on what is not working and what can be done to fix October by changing April. Don’t let it sneak up on you!<


By Steven Schlagel