Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Surprising SMB Trends

Service provider prospects in the small and medium-sized business market appear to be relatively immune from economic disruption, though it would be an obvious prediction that some enterprise communications needs have decreased because of reduced headcount. 

Despite the highly-publicized wave of enterprise layoffs in November and December 2008, generally unreported is another  trend: smaller businesses are not generally participating in the waves of highly-reported downsizings. In fact, there is new evidence that hiring actually increased throughout 2008, while 75 percent of small business CEOS plan to increase hiring in 2009. That, in turn, is important for service providers as much communications service demand is created by headcount. 

A survey conducted by online payroll service SurePayroll has found that nearly four out of 10 small business owners have not seen their business negatively impacted by the down economy, and an additional four percent indicated that their businesses are actually doing better. 

Still, 18 percent of surveyed SMB CEOs have seen a significant drop in revenues while 42 percent have seen small decreases. That is not especially helpful for anybody, but does not suggest communications services will be hit by reduced headcount. 

According to SurePayroll's monthly tracking surveys, small business hiring actually increased every month between January 2008 and November 2008 (December data are not available yet). What is significant is that the U.S. economy was in recession for that entire period. 

Separately, Entrex Inc, a Chicago firm that markets information on privately held companies, conducted a survey which found 72 percent of small and medium-sized business CEOs plan to increase the number of full time employees in 2009. Also, despite all the news regarding staff reductions, the remainder of the survey respondents indicated they would maintain the current number of full time employees. 

SurePayroll surveys show that,  year-to-date, small business hiring is up 3.3 percent nationwide.

One can argue there could be some weakening of business fixed line buying, but available evidence so far is that business lines in service have increased since 1996, not decreased, though propelled by increased buying of special access circuits more than voice lines. Still, increases in the number of small businesses over the last 10 years have increased SMB voice line buying. 

In 2002, for example, there were 23.3 million small business firms in operation. In 2004 there were 25.4 million small businesses in operation. In 1988 small businesses employed 87.8 million workers. In 2004 small businesses employed 115 million workers. That doesn't mean smaller businesses will fail to take measures to contain their operating costs. It is to suggest they do not seem to be any more willing to cut back on key communications capabilities than in past recessions.

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