A new report shows increasing optimism among small business owners nationwide as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

More than half the respondents—56%—in Bank of America’s 2021 Small Business Owner Report expect their local economy will grow.

Source: Bank of America 2021 Small Business Report.

That’s up from 37% in the fall of 2020.

Exactly half of small business owners surveyed expect improvements in the national economy, up from 37% last fall, and 60% expect their revenues to grow compared to 37% last fall.

One in five small business owners, or 21%, plan to hire, a significant increase from 13% in the fall of 2020.

“Economic confidence and business revenue expectations have bounced back significantly from levels seen last fall, with hiring plans on the rise as well,” said Sharon Miller, head of small business for Bank of America.

“Most also feel that a widely available vaccine in their local community will be helpful in bringing their business back to normal.”

Macro Factors

In fact, 79% of owners believe a vaccine or herd immunity locally will expedite a return to normal while 15% report that normal business has already returned.

Miller noted that while business and economic outlooks are on the rise, entrepreneurs are keeping a close eye on macro factors that may impact their day-to-day operations.

These include:

  • The country’s political climate, a concern for 71% of small business owners, down from 78% in the fall of 2020
  • Commodity prices, a concern for 59% of small businesses, up considerably from 42% last fall
  • Interest rates, a concern for 45% of owners, up from 35% in fall 2020

Hiring Issues, PPP Loans

Forty-three percent of small business owners say they tried to hire during the pandemic, and of them, nearly half (47%) reported difficulty finding qualified candidates.

One in four said the pandemic caused a shift in employee roles and skills that was necessary for success. 

“When seeking capital during the pandemic, more than two-thirds of business owners tapped into various funding sources to stay open and operating—including personal savings, business and/or personal credit cards, and Paycheck Protection Program loans,” Miller said.

Only 33% of small business owners said they received a PPP loan, while 48% dipped into personal savings.

Only 33% of surveyed small business owners said they received a PPP loan while 48% dipped into personal savings, and 34% relied on business or personal credit cards.

A vast majority of owners—85%— said the pandemic caused added stress. 

Nearly four in 10 (39%) said it impacted their mental health while 34% said it affected them physically.

Social Justice

The survey also found that 53% of small business owners are committed to advocating for social justice through their business, and 36% said their local community prioritizes shopping at businesses that demonstrate a commitment to social justice.

Many business owners surveyed expect operational changes they made in response to the pandemic will remain in place permanently, such as enhanced cleaning and more digital and online sales strategies.

The survey found that 53% of small businesses are committed to advocating for social justice.

Miller said the nation’s small business owners continue to amaze her.

“I am consistently inspired by business owners throughout our country who have remained resilient and determined—regardless of the challenges presented.”