As I travel to forums around the country, I’m often reminded that we don’t make it easy to grow a small business. It brings me back to the challenges I faced when I started my own firm years ago. There is just too much that stands in between a small business and its customers. From taxes and compliance with an alphabet soup of laws, to permits, regulation, hiring, and health care costs.
The fact is the small business sector is responsible for half our economic growth and more than three out of five of all jobs created.
We need to do more to help small businesses. And I’m proud to say Zenefits is working on many fronts to make that happen.
On Wednesday, I was part of a great conversation about this very topic at an event in Los Angeles that Zenefits convened with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s team to mark National Small Business Week. While we did talk about bigger changes that would help small businesses like cutting taxes and new policies, what was more interesting was the consensus that there’s lots of low-hanging fruit hanging that has the potential to transform small businesses’ ability to grow.
For one, technology. It’s obvious and yet it’s easy to overlook the power of technology. Unlike when I ran my business a few years ago, today for every business challenge there are dozens of cheap or even free solutions like ours that are available to take care of most any problem. But, there are millions of businesses that aren’t tapping technology because it’s not accessible, or an older owner is not comfortable with the Internet, or it’s just not seen as practical to adopt because it would take vast amounts of time to transition off of legacy systems (think: spreadsheets for an accounting firm or paper records for a medical practice).
This is why the U.S. Small Business Administration created the Small Business Technology Coalition, and as a founding member of the SBTC, Zenefits is working to expand the number of businesses which are leveraging technology to get smarter and more efficient.
Secondly, there are tons of resources available that are just underutilized. Things like training and education that can make a huge difference in a business’s capabilities, such as those offered by SBA’s Small Business Development Centers. Grow those and we can help expand their horizons. Companies like ours, chambers of commerce, and the government can do more. It’s not just about more resources, but also about making resources available to more businesses.
A third and critical need is for all of us to help small businesses become more aware of tools available to help them grow. For example, the City of Los Angeles has created a new online small business contracting portal. But so far, too few are using it. When city officials talk to their businesses, many say they didn’t know about the portal.
One business owner at the event told us that even when businesses know there are tools and technologies that could help, they often don’t have any sense of which resources are best for a small business. Which means they have to take time out of their busy schedules to research the options. That is a major hurdle, even when they believe there is an upside.
Building awareness is vital to our ability to help small businesses and their ability to lift up the economy. When you consider that 80% of the small businesses in the U.S. (20 million of 27 million) are individual owners and consultants, it’s clear that potential to grow this sector is enormous. There’s much to do. Let’s get (back) to work!