I have some good news to share about small business. Those words feel as strange to type as they probably are to read, but it’s true!
Optimism was everywhere at this week’s SMBTech Summit, a virtual event from GGV Capital that gathered entrepreneurs and investors to discuss the platforms that power our modern economy. GGV Capital Managing Partner Jeff Richards moderated panels on everything from customer success strategy to fintech solutions for small business.
The only thing missing was the doom and gloom we’ve all grown so accustomed to in 2020.
“We’re in month seven of a global pandemic,” Richards told participants, “but if you look at the tools to start a company, there’s never been more available to the small business owner.”
Anyone with a product or service to sell now has access to free or low-cost tools that help them connect with their target audience without a significant learning curve. As Brent Bellim, CEO and chairman of BigCommerce, put it during the opening panel: “The Internet is the best thing to ever happen for small business owners.”
I assure you this all isn’t some hopeful spin from enterprise brass; a new impact report with data compiled by my company in partnership with GGV Capital reveals that 83 percent of small business owners from across industries and throughout the United States believe their firms will perform better in 2021 than in 2020. Three-quarters of founders told us they expect to spend more on technology in the next year. Most exciting of all, nearly every participant — 93 percent — said they plan to hire and grow their business over the same period.
There’s no denying that this year has been brutal, with everything from natural disasters, a viral pandemic, and racial tensions hammering Main Street’s bottom line. Not surprisingly, 64 percent of surveyed owners told us that their business performed worse in 2020 when compared to 2019. Any funds from the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal relief has long since dried up, and Congress has all but abandoned any effort to pass another round of stimulus before January. Yet a silver lining has emerged from this difficult business climate that’s forced owners to make adjustments they’ve been considering or putting off for years.
The mechanic shop on the corner might be going cashless, for example, and your favorite boutique might be finally dipping into the world of e-commerce to sell to anyone, anywhere. These distinct digital transformations are going to alter the way small business operates for years to come, and panelists almost universally noted that it’s small business owners, not the titanic enterprise players, who will be nimble enough to take advantage of new and innovative corners of our shifting market.
“We’re going to look back in three to six months and say of course that makes sense,” Richards said. “I’ve been doing this long enough that when times get tough, people innovate.”
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges ahead for our small business innovators. As I’ve documented in previous columns, the “New Majority,” including Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ owners, have faced disproportionate challenges in 2020 that require targeted solutions, including rent relief and additional loans and grants. We need to use our political voice in next week’s election to advocate for our individual and collective best interests. We must also continue to find creative solutions that provide capital to those without access to traditional lenders.
But the fact remains that the small business community retains its most valuable asset: hope for a better future. Come this New Year’s Eve, I’ll be toasting to that.