My energy level is soaring! I’ve just finished moderating the Intuit Money Matters Town Hall small business panel, with an array of fifteen amazing East Coast based small business owners. These individuals are dreamers, risk takers and survivors, proudly wearing badges of honor for making it through the downturn.
The goal of the panel was to get the pulse of what real small business owners are experiencing in this economy. You know, politicians and pundits always say they speak for small business, but this was a time for them to speak for themselves.
So what can we learn from these smart small business owners? And what do their experiences tell us about the economy?
OK, so according to Intuit’s Small Business Employment Index based on data from 55,000 businesses that use Intuit Online Payroll, small businesses are actually hiring and have been hiring slowly since mid-2009 (Check here tomorrow for the latest April numbers). So I wanted to find out if these folks were actually hiring. And yes, a couple of them were. Maria Luisa Whittingham hired someone just last week for her boutiques and she’s hiring more. August Cardona is hiring for his restaurants, which are expanding. It appears no one is laying anyone off. So they’re part of the recovery. (As am I, I realized. My company uses Intuit Online Payroll, and we’re adding people, so I’m part of the Index…woo hoo!)
Everybody’s trying it and some are having some real success. Jill Frechtman of Fretzels does a monthly contest to win free pretzels, but entrants have to be interactive. In fact, a number of small businesses are switching their marketing dollars, turning from traditional advertising and embracing social media, word of mouth, events and good old fashioned marketing on the sides of cars. As one panelist pointed out, there isn’t one silver bullet when it comes to social media.
This is still a troubling area. Marlo Scott of Sweet Revenge said that the only health care plan she could afford was “looking both ways before crossing the street.” As a new business, she can’t afford health care. On the flip side, two other new small businesses are fortunate enough to be covered by family members’ health care plans.
Pauline Lewis of Oovoo Designs imports her gorgeous handbags from Vietnam where they’re made by a woman’s collective. She says tools such as Skype make it easier than ever to do business internationally. Craig Levine of E-Sports Entertainment is looking globally and expanding his online gaming business to new countries.
Business opportunities are also thriving in the area of green. It’s not just limited to Felipe Zarate’s TrustElement, a green consulting business. Sarah Endline of Sweetriot sources her chocolate through free trade, sustainable vendors, while Alexis Wolfer of The Beauty Bean also sees a hunger for green beauty products and information.
I was inspired by what I had heard and ended the session by asking the panelists if they had to do it again, would they start a small business. The resounding answer was yes! And, like those who participated in Intuit’s Small Business survey, they’d recommend starting a business to their family and friends.
I’m proud of these fellow small business owners and optimistic about what the future holds.
If you missed any of today’s small business session, register here to watch the replay.