Small Businesses Continue to Face Challenges, but are Feeling Better about the Future

Capital One’s Spark Business Barometer Reveals Majority of Small Business Owners Expect Their Financial Position to Improve This Year

MCLEAN, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 12, 2014-- Small businesses are still feeling the effects of a challenging economic landscape, but are increasingly optimistic about the future of their business and the economy, particularly at the local level, according to Capital One’s latest Spark Business Barometer.

The quarterly nationwide survey measuring the economic perceptions and financial conditions of small business owners, as well as the most common trends and challenges facing small businesses today, found nearly half (49 percent) of business owners are optimistic about the national economy over the next 12 months, and more than two thirds (67 percent) feel good about the future of their local economies. Additionally, despite predominantly negative views of current business conditions (with more than half reporting current financial conditions as “fair” or “poor”), 48 percent believe their financial position will improve over the next six months.

“By engaging with small business owners in this quarter’s Barometer and on our ‘I Am Small Business Proud’ road trip across America, we’re seeing that small businesses are optimistic about the future and hungry for new, innovative ways to build and enhance their companies,” said Keri Gohman, head of small business banking at Capital One. “We know small business owners are looking for solutions that make it easier for them to grow and manage their businesses, and at Spark Business, we’re committed to delivering great products and tools to help them succeed.”

The Spark Business Barometer revealed the following key findings:

  • Economic sentiment is improving, particularly at the local level. More small business owners are optimistic about the economic outlook over the next 12 months, particularly for their local economies, which 67 percent said they feel “positive” about. Three out of five (61 percent) minority small business owners are confident about the trajectory of the national economy.
  • Financial outlook is up, particularly among women, despite continued challenges. Consistent with last quarter, approximately one third (34 percent) of business owners reported that their businesses’ finances are improved, while 20 percent say their finances are worse. The outlook for the future, however, has improved – with 48 percent believing their financial situation will improve over the next six months. Women are especially positive, with 57 percent of female business owners expecting improved financial performance in six months.
  • Small businesses are adopting mobile technology at a rapid pace, but security concerns remain. Last quarter’s Barometer showed 86 percent of business owners use mobile phones to communicate with customers and other third parties, and this quarter’s survey revealed more than a third (36 percent) use mobile apps on smart phones or tablets to help manage their business (with nearly a quarter using mobile apps every day). Concerns related to security remain, however, with 25 percent of business owners citing security as a primary issue with using mobile business applications.
  • Few small businesses use Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, and those who do find them “complex and confusing”. Though a majority (79 percent) of small business owners are aware of SBA loans, only nine percent have applied for one. Of those who have applied for an SBA loan, 73 percent classify the process as either very or somewhat complicated.

“It’s interesting to see how confidence in local economies is surpassing that of the national economy, demonstrating the importance of focusing on ‘local’ and ‘small’ and delivering products and tools that cater to their needs,” Gohman said. “At the same time, it’s clear that beyond delivering great products, we must educate small businesses on the best ways to adopt and leverage those products – and help demystify the more complex or technical resources out there, like SBA loans and mobile technologies.”

Results Highlights

Financial Performance


According to this quarter’s survey results, 38 percent of small businesses increased sales over the past six months (compared to 40 percent of small businesses reporting sales increases over the past six months last quarter). At the same time, the percentage of small businesses reporting declining sales has increased from 18 percent at the end of last year to 26 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Firms in the financial sector (48 percent) and those with primarily national and international customer bases (52 percent) were more likely to report improved sales results.

Capital One asked small business owners nationwide how their current financial situation compares to this time last year. More than one third (34 percent) reported that their firms’ finances are better, while one in five (20 percent) believe their finances are worse. More than four in ten (44 percent) small business owners reported their business finances have held steady over the last year, mirroring results in the previous quarter.

National sentiment about current business conditions remains negative, consistent with results in Q4 2013. The majority (53 percent) of small business owners describe current business conditions as only fair or poor, compared to 44 percent who describe conditions as excellent or good. Firms with a primarily local customer base are more likely to view the current business environment negatively, with 57 percent describing conditions as fair or poor.

Economic Outlook

After a decline in optimism between Q3 and Q4 of 2013, small business sentiment regarding the national economic outlook is improving. Nearly half (49 percent) of small business owners are optimistic about the national economy over the year, while 44 percent are pessimistic. Optimism is up three percentage points since the previous quarter, while pessimism is down five percentage points. More than two thirds (67 percent) of small business owners are optimistic about the 12-month outlook for the local economy. Since the previous quarter, optimism has increased by 11 percentage points and is particularly strong among minority small business owners (77 percent) and firms in the construction industry (77 percent).

Business Technology:

Twenty-four percent of small business owners nationwide leverage applications on smartphones and tablets to help manage their firms on a daily basis, while three out of five (61 percent) small business owners do not use mobile technology. Firms in the transport industry (57 percent) and services industry (28 percent) are more likely to rely on mobile technology to support business operations, while the majority of firms in the retail sector (71 percent) do not leverage mobile technology. One quarter (25 percent) of small business owners cite security concerns and the need to protect sensitive information as their primary issues with mobile business applications.

Given how vital small business success is to both the national and local economy, Capital One remains committed to understanding the challenges, trends and perceptions that affect overall performance and day-to-day operations. Capital One strives to understand the small business landscape, in an effort to better serve its clients and customers across the country. Follow along on Facebook at Capital One Small Business and on Twitter at @CapitalOneSpark. When sharing on social media, please use hashtag #SparkBizBarometer to follow the conversation.

Survey Methodology

The findings reported in this release are from a telephone survey conducted by the opinion research firm, APCO Insight, the global opinion research division of communications consultancy, APCO Worldwide. APCO Insight interviewed a nationally-representative random sample of 400 for-profit small businesses in the U.S., weighted to Dunn and Bradstreet counts of all businesses nationwide by SIC code, employee size, and geography. Small businesses are defined as those with less than $10 million in annual revenue. The interviews were conducted from March 21March 31, 2014. All interviews were conducted by telephone at their places of business. One respondent per business was contacted. The margin of error is ± 4.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Interviews were monitored at random. Sampling for this study was conducted using a national sample of businesses drawn from InfoUSA. All interviews were conducted using a computer assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) system. Statistical weights were designed from the United States Department of Commerce to ensure proper inclusion of all SIC codes.

About Capital One

Capital One Financial Corporation ( is a financial holding company whose subsidiaries, which include Capital One, N.A., and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., had $208.3 billion in deposits and $290.5 billion in total assets as of March 31, 2014. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, Capital One offers a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients through a variety of channels. Capital One, N.A. has more than 900 branch locations primarily in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. A Fortune 500 company, Capital One trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "COF" and is included in the S&P 100 index.

Source: Capital One Financial Corporation

Capital One Financial Corporation
Alison Cahill, 917-653-7592

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