Boston entrepreneurs compete for talent as revenue growth fuels expansion

Local entrepreneurs are finishing 2018 on a high note, with most Boston-area small business owners reporting anticipated year-over-year revenue growth and indicating plans to hire and expand in the year ahead, according to the fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report. While the majority of business owners are pleased with the direction of the economy, Boston entrepreneurs are struggling to land qualified employees in a highly competitive local job market.

The report, based on a semiannual survey of 1,000 small business owners across the country and the greater Boston area, revealed that 91 percent of Boston entrepreneurs are confident their year-end revenue will exceed that of 2017. In addition, over the next 12 months:

  • Seventy percent of Boston business owners believe their revenue will increase (tying a four-year high in Boston, and up four percentage points year-over-year)
  • Seventy-five percent plan to expand (vs. 81 percent in fall 2017)
  • Thirty-eight percent plan to hire (up six percentage points year-over-year, and 11 percentage points above the national average)
  • Fifty-eight percent are confident the Boston economy will improve (vs. 49 percent in fall 2017)
  • Fifty percent express similar confidence in the national economy (vs. 40 percent in fall 2017)
  • Seventeen percent intend to apply for a loan, the highest level in more than two years

“Boston business owners are experiencing a sustained pattern of revenue growth and are looking to take advantage of a strong economy,” said Kevin Kelly, Northeast small business division executive at Bank of America. “We’re seeing multiyear highs in hiring and loan application plans, but rapid business growth in Boston is being tempered by a highly competitive talent market.”

Heightened competition for Boston talent as small business hiring ramps up

As Boston business owners make plans to hire in the year ahead, they acknowledge that identifying and retaining employees has become a significant challenge. In the last year, turnover affected 26 percent of Boston entrepreneurs. Among business owners who sought to hire new employees, 48 percent say they had difficulty finding qualified candidates, in large part due to the tightening job market.

To adjust to these challenges, entrepreneurs have modified their hiring strategies to find and recruit top talent by:

  • Shifting to a more flexible culture in terms of hours, location and extra time off (25 percent)
  • Using social media more actively (24 percent)
  • Offering higher salaries (15 percent)

When it comes to the top characteristics Boston business owners are looking for in their potential job candidates, entrepreneurs primarily value previous work experience (52 percent), passion for the work and mission of the business (48 percent) and the ability to learn new skills (47 percent).

Concern for most economic issues declines or holds; worry over taxes, stock market dips significantly

In correlation with positive business forecasts, the survey found a general trend of declining or unchanged concern over most economic factors that are tracked. Health care costs remain at the top of the list of economic concerns in Boston—and the highest nationwide—at 69 percent. Concern over corporate taxes decreased significantly, with only 41 percent still identifying this as a burdensome issue nearly a year after the enactment of U.S. tax reform, down from 53 percent in fall 2017.

Perhaps a result of recent changes to and uncertainty about trade policies, 48 percent of Boston business owners identify a more aggressive U.S. trade policy as an economic concern. Forty-three percent say the latest tariffs/U.S. trade policies have impacted their businesses, with 17 percent reporting a negative impact, 14 percent reporting a positive impact and 12 percent reporting both positive and negative effects.

Boston small business owners feel the holiday spirit; recommend entrepreneurship as a career path

On a positive note, Boston business owners are feeling the holiday spirit, as 90 percent plan to offer at least one holiday perk to their employees. The top holiday perks being offered are office closures (53 percent), salary bonuses (45 percent), holiday parties (41 percent) and flexible hours or vacation time (41 percent). Finally, despite unique challenges in managing a small business, Boston entrepreneurs love what they do. Ninety percent say the added stress of entrepreneurship has been worth it, and 84 percent would recommend that others follow in their footsteps.

For a complete, in-depth look at the insights of the nation’s small business owners, read the fall 2018 Bank of America Business Advantage Small Business Owner Report and for additional insights, download the Small Business Owner Report infographic.

12/13/18


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