After a Trying Year, 82% of Small Businesses Aim for Financial Stability as Optimism Abounds for 2021

Feb 04, 2021

Survey findings from Square and Wakefield Research show that the majority of small business owners have a bright outlook for 2021, especially Millennial and minority-owned businesses

The ongoing pandemic and accompanying economic fallout has had a disproportionately adverse effect on America’s small businesses. From restaurants and bars, to retailers, salons, and service professionals, small business owners have spent the past eleven months navigating regional lockdowns, pivoting business and operating models, and finding creative ways to adapt and weather the financial challenges of an unprecedented year.

Square surveyed 1,000 small business owners between December and January to gain a deeper understanding of this group’s outlook for 2021 and learn about the financial levers they plan to pull in order to get back on their feet and navigate their ongoing recovery. We found that despite ongoing uncertainty and persisting pandemic challenges, the majority of small businesses are optimistic about the year ahead and already have concrete plans to get on better financial footing as they emerge from a grueling 2020.

“The suddenness with which COVID-19 turned the economy upside down was particularly devastating for small business owners, many of whom already faced regular challenges managing their cash flow,” said Christina Riechers, General Manager of Business Banking at Square. “However, we’ve learned time and again that small businesses are resilient and versatile, and this data illustrates that merchants are emerging from this crisis with optimism and a resolve to alter their financial habits in a way that will serve them well in the short and long term.”

“The lockdowns last March made us take a step back and realize we had always thought about our business and earnings in a day-to-day, or week-to-week perspective,” said Leyla Khanahmad, owner of The Black & Caspian. “The last year has really taught us as a small business that we need to think about our finances with a more long term outlook than we had previously.”

Here are some of the key findings from our survey on small businesses’ outlook for 2021, as well as insights into how they plan to approach their finances this year:

  • 61% of owners think their small business will do better in 2021, with nearly a quarter (24%) believing this year will be ‘much better’ for their business
    • Youth-owned and minority-owned businesses are the most optimistic, with a whopping 75% of millennial owners and 72% of non-white owners anticipating an improvement for their business this year
  • 82% of respondents are prioritizing financial stability over new business investments in 2021
    • However, of those who expect their business will be better this year, nearly a quarter (23%) plan to prioritize growth over stability

Despite Hope, Small Businesses Need a Lending Hand

While positivity is high, small business owners recognize that the year ahead won’t be without its difficulties, especially when it comes to their finances. To that end, many expect outside capital to play a pivotal role:

  • In 2020, 40% of business owners used outside financing (such as loans or credit) to help them with their operations
    • 23% of small business owners took financing for the first time ever last year
  • Of those who received outside financing in 2020, 80% expect they will need to do so again this year
    • More than a quarter of those (28%) believe that they will need more financing than they received last year
  • 50% of women-owned small businesses have never taken outside financing (in 2020 or prior to that)

Outside financing isn’t the only avenue small business owners believe will be critical to their success this year:

  • More than half of those surveyed (57%) expect they’ll need to tap into their personal finances to support their business in 2021
    • This expectation is particularly high among millennial business owners (74%)

Cash Flow Management is Top of Mind

To better prepare themselves for the twists and turns of recovery, small business owners want to steady their ships first and get a better grip on their finances:

  • An overwhelming 82% of respondents are prioritizing maintaining or achieving financial stability over investing in new business (18%)
  • Millennials have the most growth-oriented mindset, with roughly a quarter (24%) of this cohort planning to prioritize investing in new business

In order to get their finances under control, nearly three-fourths of respondents (74%) have plans to better manage their business’ cash flow, including:

  • Increasing the prices of their products or services (37%)
  • Investing in technologies that can help reduce business costs (32%)
  • Using fewer vendors (13%)

Small business owners are also looking to their banks for more help in the recovery process. Asked what they would find most valuable from their financial institutions this year, the three top responses were:

  • Reduced costs (54%)
  • More financing options (18%)
  • Faster access to their business earnings (17%)

Saving for a Better Tomorrow

With the pain of 2020 still fresh, the majority of small business owners are looking to start building better financial habits to help them in the future:

  • 67% of respondents plan to set some of their sales aside in a business savings account
    • Of this group, 20% are planning to open a new savings account to do so
  • Among those who aren’t planning to set aside any new savings, nearly half (46%) say they don’t expect their cash flow will allow it

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