Small business outlook for next year: C+

For small businesses, 2011 may look a lot like 2010, which may not be a bad thing.

According to a more-or-less annual survey of business owners who read my Business Owners' Blog e-newsletter, the current year's results will wind up with a 3.5 rating on a scale of one (awful) to five (great).

Looking ahead and using the same one-to-five rating scale, the outlook for next year came in at 3.7. That's a C-plus on a traditional report card.

For this year, 36 percent of survey respondents checked “The year went surprisingly well, better than expected.” Another 43 percent said 2010 was “Not too bad, better than last year.” The remaining 21 percent marked “Another bummer” when asked to mark how their business did this year.

There's nothing scientific about the survey, but it does provide an interesting snapshot of what business owners are thinking.

Their comments, condensed and edited here, are the most interesting part of the survey.

Q: What was the most important step you took to survive the recession?

“We made a conscious effort to grab a larger market share by being a bit more aggressive in our marketing and promotional activity. Many of our competitors have been backing off. We chose to do the opposite and increased marketing.” Andy Hortatsos, president,, Glendale Heights

“Engaged the staff in business-making decisions.” Tom Walter, Tasty Catering, Elk Grove Village

“We formed a capital corporation to facilitate our own deal-making ability. This allowed us to ‘manufacture' deals that otherwise would not have closed.” Joe McCaul, Joseph Associates International, Inc., Chicago

“Branded the business and myself as the Facebook/social media expert. There are dozens of social media experts, but only a handful who (can) show measurable success.” Brian Basilico, B2b Interactive Marketing, Inc., Aurora

“Kept plugging away. The business is there, but it takes a whole lot of effort to unearth it.” No name, please

“Stuck to the knitting. Doing the basics. Delivering on promises.” Sharon Joseph, Spectrum Consulting Services, Hoffman Estates

Q: What are the biggest hurdles your business faces next year?

“Debt reduction and cash flow. We are basically back in Boot Strap mode. That's not entirely bad, but it does limit our potential response to quickly developing opportunities.” No name, please

“Getting clients to understand that our services should be viewed as an investment in securing their own projects, and determining the most effective way to market our business.” Ron Schatz, Image Grille Architectural Illustration, Elgin

“Convincing business owners that buyers are buying companies for multiples (close to) those paid in the last year. ” Linda Purcell, Purcell Associates, LLC, Palatine

“Taxes and new sales.” Kevin O'Brien, O'Brien Document Solutions, Inc., Bartlett

Ÿ Contact Jim Kendall at JKendall@121Marketing

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