Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Growing Clout of Small Business

There are encouraging signs that entrepreneurship is on the march again.

In good times, everyone gets excited about working on Bay Street or going to work for big companies. But when shocks appear – and this summer’s oil price spike was an 8.8 on the Richter scale of business confidence – people get nervous about the prospects for big, dumb corporations, and they look again to the opportunity and security afforded by small business.

A few weeks ago, RBC Financial produced a survey that found more than a million Canadians are thinking of starting up a new business.

At the same time, a Scotiabank survey found 90% of Canadian entrepreneurs believe their business will perform as well or better one year from now than it does today. "It's encouraging to the business community on the whole that small business owners are generally enthusiastic about the potential for increased earnings," noted Diane Giard, Scotia’s VP of small business banking.

A CIBC World Markets study estimates 80,000 Canadians will become small business owners this year, swelling the national total to 2.5 million. Even better, says CIBC, "nearly one in four Canadians say they will be self-employed at some point in the next five years."

And today, I got an e-newsletter from VISA promoting discounts for small business (itself an indicator of the market’s clout) – and several articles geared to entrepreneurs (altho’ they’re a bit dull). In one story, writer Chuck Davies quotes CFIB economist Ted Mallett musing about the positive forces behind today's startups.

"We know that two thirds to three quarters of people who enter self-employment do so for positive reasons, they go in with their eyes wide open. It's part of their plan,” says Mallett. “The rest do it because they're forced into it, either because they haven't been able to find paid employment opportunities or because they've been laid off or downsized."

Mallett also notes suppliers’ growing interest in the small-business market. "Banks and financial institutions have realized that small business owners are a very profitable segment for them. A startup may not have much to go on, but the fact that the person starting it up is 45 years old, has finished a mid-level career, has a nice amount of equity in their home, is driven and has a good credit record – this person is going to be very profitable for a bank if treated right."

Mallett sees other suppliers joining the trend. In particular, providers of information technology are starting to realize “they've got to target a class of business that's considerably smaller than the ones they've been used to dealing with," he says. "That means their solutions and their pricing models have to be different."

In fact, yesterday the Globe ran an article saying more telecom firms are viewing small business as a market segment worthy of its own products and dedicated strategies. This isn’t new (anyone remember BellZinc.com?) – but it seems a broader initiative than we’ve seen before.

So the next time you buy from a supplier, make sure they speak your language. Demand service levels and pricing structures that make sense for you, not just for IBM.

If entrepreneurs are to be truly recognized as the backbone of this country, we should show more backbone.

1 comment:

Rick Spence said...

January Update:
On Jan. 16 The Globe and Mail ran a story on how the major parties were borrowing many of their policy promises from the lobbyists at the CFIB.
They called their story "The Emerging Clout of Small Business."

Which fits incredibly well with the theme of this post.