Small Biz Hiring Levels Flat Over Early 2003

October 15, 2003 ( - Don't look for a dramatic increase in small-business hiring anytime this year, a new poll found.

The latest OPEN Small Business Network 2003 Semi-Annual Monitor found that a third (34%) said they would add staff during the next six months. While that was up from 26% in 2002, it was about flat compared to the previous version of the poll this spring (35%).

Small business hiring plans varied widely by region and by a company’s age. Businesses in the west are more likely to have hiring plans (42%) than those in the northeast and the south (both 33%), and those in the north central states (29%). In addition, startup enterprises, defined as companies in business for three or fewer years, are more likely to have hiring plans than more established companies (45% vs. 32%). Respondents who said they had hiring plans explained they would add staff to handle expanding business needs.

According to the poll, companies with hiring plans are also more likely than small businesses overall to offer employee benefits such as paid vacation (64% v. 53%), paid holidays (58% v. 48%), flexible work hours (53% v. 42%) and life insurance (23% v. 18%). Twice as many firms with hiring plans have profit sharing plans (21% v. 12%).

Overall, one in five small businesses offer employees a 401(k) retirement savings plan (19%) and the number of firms offering health-care benefits fell slightly compared to 2002 (58% vs. 61% in fall 2002). Among startups, 37% offer health care to employees. Interestingly, women-owned companies are more likely to offer flexible work hours than small business overall (53% v. 42%).

Boss Skills

The OPEN survey also asked small-business owners about their qualifications as corporate leaders. Most (82%) saw opportunities to beef up their own business skills. The top disciplines where owners reported plans to seek self-improvement are:

  • marketing (44%)
  • sales (33%)
  • business management and planning (30%)
  • financial analysis/planning (28%)
  • negotiation (21%).

Interestingly, respondents were frank about how well they did at managing people. According to the survey, nearly three-quarters (72%) saw room for improvement as bosses. The top improvement they could make to become a better top gun was to:

  • become better communicators (18%)
  • rewarding and motivating employees more (16%)
  • becoming a better listener (14%)
  • providing their employees more opportunities for skills development (13%)
  • providing more constructive feedback on employees’ work (12%).

The OPEN Small Business Network Semi-Annual Monitor, released each March and October, is based on a national sample of 787 small business owners/managers of companies with fewer than 100 employees. The survey was conducted via telephone by International Communications Research (ICR) from September 8 to September 19, 2003.