small business owners

By Rieva Lesonsky

As 2018 gets underway in earnest, how are America’s small business owners feeling about their prospects for the coming year? According to Capital One’s latest Small Business Growth Index, the answer is both good and bad.

First, the good news: Overall, small business owners are feeling positive about their finances. Nearly half (47%) say their businesses’ sales increased in the past six months. That’s the highest percentage recorded by the survey since the second quarter of 2013. In addition, 37% say their financial position is better than it was one year ago.

Now, the bad: Although small business owners are feeling good about their finances, they’re not getting overly confident. There are still several concerns affecting small business owners, and two of the top three worries have to do with money.

Here’s a closer look at what’s keeping small business owners up at night — and what you can do about it if you’re tossing and turning, too.

Taxes: The biggest concern for small business owners is taxes. Almost half (45%) of small business owners in the survey say taxes are a major worry for 2018, and 30% say tax laws had a negative effect on their business last year. Of course, taxes typically rank high on the list of small business owners’ least favorite things, so these results aren’t exactly surprising. However, with the effects of tax reform still to be determined, small business owners have more reason than usual to feel uncertain about how taxes will affect them in the coming year.

If you’re worried about taxes: Put a good accountant or tax preparer on your side. If you normally prepare your own taxes, this may be the year you want to enlist professional help. A tax professional who specializes in helping small businesses in your industry can be invaluable to ensuring you get the tax breaks you deserve. It’s a good idea to talk to your tax preparer early, so you can get advice as to any changes you may want to make in 2018 to reduce your tax burden.

Cash flow: The second biggest concern of small business owners in the survey is managing their cash flow. More than four in 10 (42%) say this is a challenge for them — up by 11% from last year’s survey. In other words, although small business owners are currently managing their cash well, they’re not sure they can continue to do so.

If you’re worried about cash flow, there are several steps you can take. Start by keeping a close eye on your cash flow. Too many business owners don’t pay attention to their cash situation until it’s too late. If you are in an industry with thin margins or slow-paying customers, or run a seasonal business, it’s especially important to stay on top of your cash flow weekly or even daily. Take steps to accelerate payments from customers while delaying your own payables to keep more cash on hand.

Technology: Finally, almost one-third (32%) of entrepreneurs in the survey named “keeping up with technology” as a major challenge, up 7 percentage points from the same time in 2017. With new technologies such as artificial intelligence, voice-activated assistants and chat bots entering the small business realm, it’s no wonder small business owners feel a bit overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change. Since businesses of all sizes and in all industries are increasingly advertising, marketing and selling online, however, it’s more important than ever to be up-to-date on what technology can do for your business.

If you’re worried about technology: First, find a reliable industry publication/website that covers technology as it relates to your industry. Reading it regularly will help you be aware of technology trends. Not all of them will turn out to have a major effect on your business, but you’ll at least get a heads-up about changes that could impact your company. Depending on your industry and how long it’s been since you’ve upgraded your technology, it could also be worth hiring an IT consultant to assess your current situation and make recommendations.

Speaking of recommendations, I was shocked to see that more than one-third (36%) of business owners in the survey don’t have a website. If you’re one of them, get with the program!

A little bit of worry about the future is an inevitable part of being a business owner. Fortunately, there are plenty of smart moves you can make to be prepared and help you sleep better at night.