There probably hasn’t been a year that, when it came to an end, we all looked back and said, Whew! Did all that just happen this year? Well, time flies, as they say, memory blurs and even though the year was just 12 quick months long, it can be tough to remember it all.
Prognosticators are still polishing their predictions for 2014. So we’re taking a quick look back at some of the events that stand out—and especially those that had an impact on small business.
The recovering, albeit sputtering, economy seemed to have mixed effects on small and mid-sized businesses (and owners) over the past year. On one hand, 2013 saw growing optimism, a belief that the worst is behind us and that we’ve definitely entered an era of better times. On the other hand, though, a certain amount of uncertainty regarding federal policies and possible future action (or inaction, as the case may be) has kept many business owners on the cautious side in terms of expansion or hiring. Likewise, consumer optimism appeared to rise and fall throughout the year, as a sluggish recovery kept many from being able to spend on anything other than the necessities.
Yet there have been some bright spots that many feel have been key determinants in strengthening the economic landscape. Housing is one, even though there have been some rough spots. The resurgence of the housing market has been a boost for small businesses, in particular, because such a large number of them are housing related.
In 2013, manufacturing seemed to be emerging as another economic beacon. Even though manufacturing in the U.S. was declared all but dead not that long ago, it’s come back with a vengeance and has continued to pick up steam in small manufacturing companies, as well as some larger ones.
We don’t have to tell you that the number one policy concern throughout 2013 was the Affordable Care Act, with all kinds of unanswered questions about how it would play out and the impact it would have on business. Business owners ultimately got a reprieve for 2014, which took the heat off needing to meet all the requirements of the law before the end of this year. But many still had to scramble to put stop-gap health insurance in place—for now.
Gridlock vs. Action
While many expected (or hoped) to see the beginnings of immigration reform or tax reform in 2013, it just didn’t happen, and these and other issues remain on the table. Unfortunately, it looked like businesses would lose some important tax breaks at the end of the year, including some having to do with deductions for buying capital equipment or expanding and tax credits for R&D expenditures.
Like the majority of U.S. citizens, business owners expressed dismay at Congress’s inability to get nearly anything done thanks to gridlock. In fact, this lack of confidence in government efficacy reinforces a lot of business owners’ feelings of unease regarding how next year—and the next—will unfold.
Throughout 2013, largely because U.S. economic growth stayed so slow, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low through an unconventional policy called quantitative easing. This is positive for businesses borrowing money and taking out business loans. On the other hand, the low interest rates haven’t seemed to stimulate consumer spending to the degree hoped—a must factor for businesses to feel that they’re on solid footing. Many think this will change in 2014.
Technology continued to level the playing field in many ways over the course of the past year, giving small businesses the ability to compete more effectively with their larger counterparts. Business owners took the cue, making sure they were providing customers with a seamless mobile experience.
Businesses are embracing all kinds of payment alternatives, too—again, in the name of meeting customer expectations for a streamlined experience.
And speaking of the customer experience, more and more small businesses have realized that finding new ways to dazzle and delight customers with unique experiences gives them a competitive edge over large chains and big-box stores.
In 2013, small and mid-sized businesses embraced social media in a big way—another area where they can differentiate themselves among competitors. Twitter and Facebook led the way, with Instagram and location-based services like Yelp also growing exponentially. Hands down, mobile has been and will continue to be the big game changer for small businesses.
Access to Credit
As the economy has bounced back, businesses stand poised for growth, which more often than not, will involve business financing. Perhaps more last year than in any other, small and medium businesses found that their access to capital was not with the traditional sources of years past (banks), but with so-called “alternative” lenders.
BFS is just one such lender. By helping businesses with the capital they need to expand and grow, we saw our business grow exponentially in 2013. We don’t see banks flocking back to this segment any time soon. So we’re looking forward to continuing to serve and support businesses’ capital needs in 2014 and beyond!