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Small businesses foresee less hiring in 2020, says Wells Fargo/Gallup survey

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Small-business confidence dipped at the beginning of this year, mainly because owners were more cautious about hiring, according to new results from pollster Gallup.

The latest quarterly Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, released Thursday, remained solidly in positive territory, at 132, Gallup reported Thursday. That’s down from 142 in the September-October survey, but in line with 136 in July and 129 recorded in April. The index measures owners' present and future optimism, with the outlook for the next 12 months declining slightly more than the current view in the Jan. 3-10 survey of 600 businesses.

Other than the outlook for needing more employees, owners saw the health of their finances to be on par with previous quarters, according to Gallup.

But in the latest survey proprietor respondents said they were increasingly worried about business technology, including upgrades, updates and cybersecurity. That concern tied with taxes as the second-most-mentioned business challenge, the pollster said.

Continuing to top the list of small-business challenges again in the latest poll was attracting new customers. The January survey looked into such business-development efforts: 36% said they were doing more marketing, 13% focusing on service to retain customers, 9% product development or expansion, and 6% financial strategies, mostly lowering prices or offering discounts. Of the remainder, 26% didn’t plan to make changes, and 6% were unsure.

On customer attraction and retention, nearly two-thirds (65%) plan more networking, just over half (52%) seeking customer feedback. About one-third to one-half said they would invest in digital marketing: increase prominence on social media (51%), update the website (49%) and spend more on online advertising (32%). But 38% plan to spend more on radio and print advertising.

“Over half of owners say their business receives online customer reviews and comments, and most of these owners say those reviews are important,” the pollster said in its announcement of survey results. “The majority of these owners report taking active steps to encourage positive online reviews, and a similar proportion say they respond to reviews online.”

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