Lucas Group Report Surveys Data Of 2,800+ SMBs Over 3 Years

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Overall health and stability of U.S. small to mid-sized businesses is up from 2013; SMBs face several significant hiring and economic growth challenges

Lucas Group

The market overwhelmingly sees itself as a job generation force, yet there’s been a consistent and conspicuous difference between theoretical job creation optimism and actual hiring plans.

Shifts in the economic and employment outlooks of America’s small to mid-sized business sector have generated a mixed set of market trends, according to a recent report published by executive recruitment firm Lucas Group. Examining over three years of market data from more than 2,800 SMB executives, the Q4 2015 SMB Job Generation Outlook evaluates responses from top decision makers in the small to mid-sized business market.

On a positive trend, the Q4 2015 SMB Job Generation Outlook found that an average of 92% of SMB executives surveyed in 2015 reported their companies to be in market positions of growth or stability maintenance, up eight points from 2013. The Outlook report also shows steady year-over-year growth in SMB optimism related to economic and job prospects for the United States, and an overall small increase (from 43% in 2013 to 47% in 2015) in the percentage of SMB executives who report plans to hire in the coming quarter.

Despite the strengthening of SMB self-positioning from 2013 to 2015, however, executives did not report significant or consistent growth in optimism regarding economic and job prospects of their own companies. National job prospect optimism grew from an average of 43% in 2013 to 51% in 2015, while company-specific job optimism saw only a slight uptick, from 55% to 57%. In addition, while optimism around U.S. economic prospects increased from 50% in 2013 to 56% in 2015, SMB executive self-confidence on company-specific economic opportunities dropped a point over the three-year timeframe, to an average of 69% in 2015.

“We’ve been closely monitoring executive outlooks among SMBs for several years, and while the sector seemingly wants to express optimism about the economy and jobs market, their self-confidence noticeably waivers when we ask about specific company plans and projections,” said Lucas Group Chief Marketing Officer Scott Smith. “The market overwhelmingly sees itself as a job generation force, yet there’s been a consistent and conspicuous difference between theoretical job creation optimism and actual hiring plans.”

In addition to economic and employment prospects, the Outlook also examines key challenges faced by the SMB. While Health Care costs, Talent Availability and Competition have consistently topped the SMB’s challenge list, the Outlook’s Q4 2015 responses were representative of several trends Lucas Group has been following. Primarily, concerns about Health Care costs are slowly declining while Talent Availability and Competition worries are on the rise. For the first time in Outlook history, more respondents named Talent Availability over Health Care costs as their most pressing business challenge. In Q4 2015, four in 10 SMB execs placed Talent Availability in the top spot—a 20-point increase from Q4 2012. In addition, more survey respondents are now citing Competition as their chief business concern. While an average of 19% ranked Competition #1 during 2013, top ranking of Competition rose to an average of 24% in 2015.

“Talent availability challenges are creating real struggles for small to mid-sized companies,” said Smith. “Across industries and geographic markets, executives are sharing similar concerns. Every quarter, SMBs report that they’re increasingly challenged to find, hire and retain quality salespeople. Businesses may be poised for growth, but if they can’t staff their sales forces with high-quality talent, then the fuel they need to drive revenue growth simply isn’t there.”

Lucas Group has conducted the quarterly Outlook survey since late 2012. Focused intentionally on C-level execs and business owners from industries and markets across the country, the Outlook captures plans and opinions on an array of business, social and political issues, including minimum wage, take-home pay, immigration reform, governmental impact and more.

Additional findings from Lucas Group’s Q4 2015 survey:

  • In 2015, SMBs were particularly and consistently challenged to find and hire qualified professionals in the fields of Sales and Information Technology. In their efforts to attract and retain quality talent, 30% of SMB execs surveyed in 2015 reported reevaluating and increasing their compensation packages, salary bands, bonus plans and benefits.
  • Over three-fourths of SMB employees across America experienced take-home wage growth during 2015. The majority of SMBs (71%) saw collective and companywide wage increases between 1% and 5%, and another 6% of SMBs reported wage increases higher than 5%. One in five SMBs saw no net changes to wages last year and a handful of SMBs said overall take-home wages decreased in their company.
  • SMBs are increasingly reporting tangible impacts created by Baby Boomers departing the workforce. On average, 8% of SMB executives in 2013 predicted retirements would have a “large impact” on their business operations. In the following three years, that number more than doubled, and in 2015, an average of 18% of respondents reported retirements significantly affect their company.

The SMB Job Generation Outlook survey is conducted by Polaris Marketing Research on behalf of Lucas Group. For the full Q4 2015 SMB Job Generation Outlook, click here.

About the Survey
Conducted quarterly, the SMB Job Generation Outlook is a national survey of executive-level SMB leaders. The survey is conducted by Polaris Marketing Research on behalf of Lucas Group. Respondents include only CEOs, CFOs, COOs, chairmen, presidents, executive vice presidents and/or owners of their companies. Survey respondents represent a variety of geographic regions and industries, including manufacturing, finance/insurance/real estate, business services, IT and transportation. Eighty-five percent of Q4 2015 respondents are from companies with fewer than 1,500 employees and 82% projected 2015 business revenues under $300M.

About Lucas Group
Lucas Group is North America’s premier executive search firm. Since 1970, our culture and methodologies have driven superior results. We assist clients ranging in size from small to medium-sized businesses to Fortune 500 companies find transcendent, executive talent; candidates fully realize their ambitions; and associates find professional success. To learn more, please visit Lucas Group at and connect with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Kate Wilson
Lucas Group
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