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Small business owners (SBOs) report they are doing better than expected as the economy continues to gain steam amid the waning pandemic, according to the results of the 2021 Small Business Survey, released today by TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®. The survey polled more than 750 small businesses nationwide with less than $5 million in annual revenue, from sole proprietors with home-based businesses to professional services and retail. It showed that 41% of SBOs expect to grow their revenue in 2021 while only 9% anticipate a decline.

What’s more, 57% expect to expand hours and/or operations and 9% will add a business location in the next 12 months. Main Street may not see as many vacancies in 2021 as predicted: just 3% of SBOs anticipate closing permanently in the next year and only 2% plan to sell their business. Despite their cautious optimism, respondents identified the national economy (43%), COVID-19 and associated operational restrictions (41%) and a decrease in revenue or sales (39%) as their top challenges in the year ahead.

Eyeing Expansion Over Extinction
Most SBOs have not been deterred amid the pandemic, with 37% considering expanding product lines and services to grow business revenue or increase profits.

The future of jobs is also looking up, with nearly three-in-four (73%) respondents anticipating that their employee base will stay the same and 16% anticipating their number of employees will grow. This finding is aligned with national unemployment figures, which have recently dipped to 6%.

“COVID-19 required small businesses to adapt to new business operations and incorporate new revenue-generating strategies nearly overnight,” said Jay DesMarteau, Head of Commercial Distribution, TD Bank. “Entrepreneurs are incredibly resilient, though, and it is encouraging that they report a more positive outlook and do not anticipate losing their livelihood.”

Government Aid Helpful, But More Needed
When asked about the effectiveness of government programs like the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), two-thirds of SBOs (66%) stated that these programs provided necessary funding for small businesses or were helpful, but need more funding allocated to the programs to really make an impact.

Twenty-one percent of respondents took advantage of the PPP prior to March 2021, when the study was fielded, with nearly half of SBOs in Gen Z and younger millennials (ages 18 to 34) more likely to apply for these programs compared with just 11% of those 55 and older.

Cautious but Confident
The survey also highlighted some trends that provide a snapshot of how SBOs are running their businesses against the backdrop of the pandemic.

Although COVID-19 brought financial challenges, 78% of respondents are still most confident in handling the finances and accounting for their business. Other areas where business owners expressed confidence were:

  • Opting to use digital/online banking features (76%)
  • Managing their employees and human resources needs such as when to hire (74%)
  • Knowing when to seek additional credit or financing (66%)
  • Knowing how to grow their business (63%)

Despite the pandemic serving as a catalyst for the surge of contactless payment solutions and SBOs’ growing reliance on digital and online banking features, a surprising 66% of respondents still process payments by collecting checks and cash, making these physical transactions the most popular payment method. One-third of respondents use person-to-person payments like Zelle or Venmo, eCommerce/Online sites (28%) or electronic transfer such as ACH payments (28%.) Just 19% report using a traditional Point of Sale (POS) system.

The Facts on Future Finance Needs
When considering finances, 58% of respondents have no loan or line of credit needs, although one in three applied for a loan – including PPP – or line of credit in the past 12 months. This is higher than 2019, when just 20% of businesses had applied for a loan or line of credit and 62% had no credit needs, showing COVID-19’s impact on business owners’ need or desire to have access to capital when needed.

Looking ahead, only 14% said they would apply for a loan or line of credit in the next year. A majority of SBOs are saying “charge it,” however, with 60% reporting they have a credit card to cover business purchases and 42% use cash back or other credit card rewards to fund critical expenses.

“Although funding programs like PPP provided much-needed stimulus for small businesses, there is a sense of caution about taking on new debt this year. Business owners should speak with their banker to understand the benefits and risks related to various credit products and better understand how credit could potentially accelerate growth,” DesMarteau said.

Survey methodology
The study was conducted from March 12-19, 2021, among a representative group of 754 U.S. small business owners with less than $5 million in annual revenue. The survey was hosted by research company MARU/Matchbox.

About MARU/Matchbox
MARU/Matchbox is a professional services firm dedicated to improving its clients’ business outcomes. It delivers its services through teams of sector-specific research consultants specializing in the use of Insight Community and Voice of Market technology.

About TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®                                          
TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank, is one of the 10 largest banks in the U.S., providing more than 9.5 million customers with a full range of retail, small business and commercial banking products and services at more than 1,220 convenient locations throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Metro D.C., the Carolinas and Florida. In addition, TD Bank and its subsidiaries offer customized private banking and wealth management services through TD Wealth®, and vehicle financing and dealer commercial services through TD Auto Finance. TD Bank is headquartered in Cherry Hill, N.J. To learn more, visit www.td.com/us. Find TD Bank on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TDBank and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TDBank_US and www.twitter.com/TDNews_US.  

TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank, is a member of TD Bank Group and a subsidiary of The Toronto-Dominion Bank of Toronto, Canada, a top 10 financial services company in North America. The Toronto-Dominion Bank trades on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges under the ticker symbol “TD”. To learn more, visit www.td.com/us

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