Small business owners share their success, resiliency, purpose and challenges

September 26, 2023

By Tim Welsh, Sekou Kaalund, Dee O'Dell and Shruti Patel

Small businesses form the backbone of our economy and the hearts of our towns and cities. At U.S. Bank, we recognize how much small business owners take on to deliver for their customers, care for their families, and serve as a force for good in their communities. In today’s rapidly changing environment, it takes grit, ingenuity and a lot of hard work to start and manage a small business, whether it’s for a few years or over many generations

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Small business owners are known for their resilience. Their ability to adapt, pivot, and persevere in the face of challenges is a defining trait. At U.S. Bank, we wanted to understand more deeply the factors behind small business owners’ unique resilience as well as the challenges they are facing.

That is why we conducted a nationwide Small Business Owner research study: to pinpoint what motivates small business owners, how they’re feeling, where they’re experiencing challenges – and inform our role in supporting them through ongoing uncertainty and change. We surveyed 1,000 small business owners across the U.S. and 300 small business owners within California to shine a spotlight on the complexities they are facing today.

Here’s what we found.


For small business owners, success goes far beyond the financials. They are driven by purpose and serving others.

With 98% of small business owners citing autonomy as a key motivator for starting their business, it is no surprise that small business owners desire a greater purpose and flexibility in their work.

Small business owners say they started their businesses because they wanted to be their own boss (95%), make customers happy (94%), connect their passion to their work (93%), had an idea they wanted to pursue (93%), had a deep curiosity and constant desire to learn (93%) and wanted to contribute to their community (87%). For most small business owners, starting their business is a very meaningful decision – tied to purpose and serving others.

While 93% of business owners include being financially independent in their definition of success, it’s not the only metric they look to. Small business owners overwhelmingly take pride in providing an excellent customer experience and define success as having loyal customers (91%) and making their customers’ lives better (90%). Success is also deeply personal, with 91% of small business owners saying that they define success as supporting their dependents and 90% saying that it is about doing something they love.


With greater freedom comes greater responsibility, and small business owners feel short on time and resources.

Small business owners are committed to improving their business and creating a great experience for customers, and they wear many different hats to ensure everything runs smoothly. They are managing a variety of challenges in today’s complex environment, identifying their top stressors as obtaining enough funding to support their business (80%); supply chain issues (78%), needing to upskill their workforce (74%), staffing shortages (77%), and competitors in the marketplace (79%).

Although 88% of small business owners feel personally fulfilled by their work, 83% feel stressed by their workload and not having enough time to do everything they need to do. Additionally, 62% of small business owners say they are doing all they can for their business, but it’s never enough.

Putting so much time into their business means sacrifice in their personal life, with more than 70% having worked at least one weekend every month and more than 40% reporting missing a family gathering or event at least once every month. One in two small business owners have lost touch with close friends/family (52%) or have been a worse romantic partner (51%). Small business owners are keenly aware of this trade-off with 6 in 10 believing it is impossible to have a good work-life balance as a small business owner. 


Digital solutions and community connections can help small business owners find more time and success

Small business owners recognize the roles that both digital solutions and their personal network play in their success. In fact, 82% of small business owners say that investing in digital solutions would reduce stress in their day-to-day life and 42% say digital solutions free up time, allowing them to focus on more strategic responsibilities. There is an opportunity for financial institutions and other providers to help small business owners find innovative solutions through digital tools that can save them time and energy.

The importance of a strong network is also clear, with small business owners saying the top solutions driving the success of their business include support from their family and friends (78%) and listening to their employees and addressing their feedback (76%). As we’ve heard from many of our own clients, a banker can also serve as a valuable resource in a small business owner’s network, helping to connect them with advice and solutions that will help them manage their business finances and operations.

Although small business owners are interested in integrating these solutions for their businesses, 61% report being overwhelmed by all the solutions that exist and find it difficult to determine the best one for their business. Financial institutions must partner with small business owners to reduce barriers to adopting new tools and support them in finding a work-life balance that aligns with their goals.


How small business owners are staying optimistic, happy and resilient

Small business owners are remarkably resilient. Despite facing challenges and stressors, 87% are optimistic about the future of their business. When thinking about their business, small business owners say they feel happy (54%), grateful (53%), excited (49%) and joyful (40%). The top skills that small business owners credit for their success are their work ethic (52%), leadership (48%), confidence (45%), adaptability (41%), and organization and time management (39%).

Small business owners are relieving work-related stress by reminding themselves of their purpose, as well as being proactive in their strategies and work habits. Their top responses to stress are to try to make every day at their job fun or meaningful (81%), remind themselves of why they started their business to begin with (78%), regularly evaluate their business strategy (73%), establish boundaries with work (71%), and hire additional support or staff to relieve the workload (50%).

At U.S. Bank, it is a tremendous honor to power the potential of our small business clients and help them achieve their dreams, whether they are just starting a business, growing a business, or looking to transition. Our goal is to help small business owners manage their business finances and operations more easily every day so they can focus on their purpose and have more time at the end of the day for their families and personal lives.

Read a full copy of the report here.


About the contributors:

Tim Welsh, vice chair, consumer and business banking

Sekou Kaalund, head of branch banking and small business

Dee O’Dell, head of business banking sales

Shruti Patel, chief product officer, business banking segment

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