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Some 59% of decision-makers at small businesses say it's harder to run a business today than it was five years ago, and more than half cite the economy as a major challenge, according to a recent survey by Constant Contact.

However, though only 17% said the economy is better today than it was five years ago, 72% percent expect 2013 revenues to outperform 2012 revenues.

The Small Businesses: Then and Now Survey, which polled 917 decision-makers on how operating today differs from five years ago, also found that marketing, payroll, and the importance of being local have changed significantly for small businesses.

Below, key findings from the study.

The Biggest Changes

When asked what the biggest changes are in how they do business today versus how they did business five years ago... · 

  • 84% said using, or using more, online marketing tools.
  • 59% said general economic uncertainty.
  • 27% said using, or using more, automated business solutions (payroll, inventory, etc.).

Although email marketing has been an important tool over the last five years for the small businesses surveyed (64% used email marketing five years ago; 98% use it today), their use of social media marketing has exploded, with 87% of small businesses today using social media marketing versus 10% five years ago.

What's Harder and What's Easier?

Of the 59% of survey respondents who said it’s harder to run a business today than five years ago...

  • 55% said the economy has hit their business hard.
  • 49% said it’s harder to keep pace with technology.
  • 40% said there’s more direct competition.

Only 12% said it's easier today to run a business than it was five years ago, and of that group of small businesses, 89% cited online marketing tools that make it easier and less expensive to market their business.

Local Matters

The survey also showed an uptick in the importance of the supporting local businesses with customers.

When asked whether they think being locally owned and operated is a major reason customers support their business today, 51% of respondents said yes, up from the 42% who thought so five years ago.

For more findings from the survey, check out the following infographic:

About the Research: The Small Businesses: Then and Now Survey was administered in May of 2013 to 917 small business participants in the Constant Contact Small Biz Council—a research panel of US small businesses and nonprofits recruited from the Constant Contact customer base.

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image of Ayaz Nanji

Ayaz Nanji is a digital strategist and a co-founder of ICW Media, a marketing agency specializing in content and social media services for tech firms. He is also a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, AOL, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji

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