Accounting firm Grant Thornton recently published its fifth semi-annual survey of middle-market business owners with the intent of shedding light on the issues that affect growth and profitability of companies with annual revenues between $5 million and $500 million.
The firm surveyed 404 business owners and senior executives from the technology, community banks (banks surveyed had revenues in the $100 million to $2 billion range), and consumer and industrial products sectors.
Survey results indicate a positive outlook for growth and expansion among the middle market businesses as well as an expectation of economic improvement. According to the survey, the three most pressing issues to middle market business owners are (1) being able to adapt quickly to market changes, (2) creating intimate customer relationships, and (3) differentiating unique value in the marketplace.
Specific survey results include the following:
- 87% of middle market business owners are optimistic about business growth in the next six months
- 92% are optimistic about business growth in the next 12 months
- 46% expect to increase their staff in the next six months
- 80% expect the economy to improve in the next six months
With regard to leadership, 86% believe that honesty is the most important trait for a strong leader; followed by listening to customers (74%), the ability to make difficult decisions in a timely manner (69%), and consistency in words and actions (64%).
Most executives surveyed have plans to meet with key customers within the next six months (80%), streamline their business processes (78%), identify niche opportunities (75%), develop strategic alliances (73%), and teach managers to be leaders (72%).
Members of the technology sector are most optimistic about various aspects of business growth, followed by community bank executives, and finally consumer and industrial products companies.
Ted Martin, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Martin Partners, was not surprised by the fact that nearly half of the companies surveyed expect to increase their staffs within the next six months. "The mid market is the first to come back in a bad economy," he said. "Big companies are still doing layoffs and small companies can't afford to bring on new people yet."