Small business owners are planning to increase investments in business processes, technology, employee compensation and other areas, according to Capital One’s latest Spark Business Barometer, conducted in February and released today.* Yet the survey reveals wide differences in optimism and definitions of success among men, women and millennial-age (~20-34 years old) business owners.

Highlights:

  • 50% of small businesses’ current business conditions are “excellent” or “good” (up from 44% a year ago)
  • 63% of the owners are feeling optimistic about their local economies in the coming year
  • 40% reported increased sales over the past six months
  • 35% claim their firms’ financial position has improved compared to one year ago

As the economy improves, so do investments in the business and its employees.

  • Nearly 57% plan to invest more in improving business processes and technology
  • 55% are setting aside funds for unexpected emergencies
  • 35% plan to put cash aside for capital investments
  • 46% are setting funds aside to increase employee compensation
  • 55% are setting aside funds for retirement.

Women and millennial business owners are more optimistic that Baby Boomer males.

  • Believe business conditions are good
    • 73% of millennial business owners
    • 56% of women business owners
    • 46% of male business owners
  • Believe business conditions are “much” or “somewhat” better than a year earlier
    • 57% of millennial business owners
    • 42% of female owners
    • 31% of male owners

What is the best measure of success?

  • Customer satisfaction (94%)
  • Revenues (77%)
  • Profits (76%)
  • Achieving work-life balance: Women (69%), Men (58%)

Small businesses have not embraced e-commerce.

  • Only 25% of small business owners report having websites with e-commerce functionality
  • Of those,  58% earn less than 10% of their sales from online purchases
*Methodology: Findings are from a telephone survey conducted by the opinion research firm, APCO Insight. They interviewed a nationally-representative random sample of 400 for-profit small businesses in the U.S. Small businesses are defined as those with less than $10 million in annual revenue. The interviews were conducted from February 3February 17, 2015. All interviews were conducted by telephone at their places of business. One respondent per business was contacted. Statistical weights were designed from the United States Department of Commerce to ensure proper inclusion of all SIC codes, employee size, and geography.