(BPT) - By John Simmons, Head of Middle Market Banking & Specialized Industries, JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking & Ben Walter, CEO, Chase Business Banking
No matter their size, location or industry, businesses across the country have been hit by inflation in the last year, forcing leaders to use a variety of creative strategies to combat rising costs. While these inflationary pressures show some signs of easing, business leaders' sentiment around recession expectations raises important questions for businesses on whether they're prepared for the next big economic challenge.
In the JPMorgan Chase 2023 Business Leaders Outlook survey, we uncovered just how widespread inflation's impact has been for business owners nationwide and how it and other pressures have contributed to a challenging business outlook. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of small (94%) and midsize (91%) businesses are experiencing pricing pressures that are affecting their bottom line, while the majority of small (61%) and midsize (65%) business leaders anticipate a recession some time in 2023.
The good news is that despite these expectations, most midsize (66%) and small business (72%) leaders remain upbeat about their own company's performance, and are focused on growth, hiring plans and other elements within their control. We are encouraged by the optimism and resilience of business leaders after a tough few years, and we know that time and again their mettle has delivered the economy through lean times to propel our economy and communities forward.
As we talk with business leaders about the challenges ahead, there are three main approaches they should consider this year in their preparations for the next economic cycle:
1. Consider Non-Traditional Strategies to Combat Inflation
Small and midsize businesses have had to find ways to meet challenges brought by inflation. Traditional responses, such as raising prices on products and services, have been augmented by some non-traditional strategies. For example, nearly half of midsize businesses have made changes to their purchasing habits, including strategic stockpiling, and more than one-third have turned to automation.
Among small businesses, more than half have said honest and transparent communication with customers is a top tactic for coping with inflation. Because consumers still demonstrate a willingness to shop local, honesty and transparency can help strike the right tone to balance price increases with customer loyalty.
2. Invest in Prospective and Current Employees
The tight U.S. job market presents a challenge for small and midsize businesses; however, economic data show the worst may be behind them. More than half of small business leaders (55%) anticipate hiring full- and part-time staff and 50% of midsize business leaders expect to increase headcount in the next 12 months.
Employee retention and development - always important priorities for business owners - are emerging as even more important in the current economic environment. In fact, more than half (55%) of small business leaders cited retaining top employees as a critical factor for business survival, especially because they operate with less slack from the start.
Likewise, nearly half (43%) of midsize businesses plan to invest in talent development by offering upskilling and training opportunities that increase productivity, improve the quality of work and enhance problem-solving abilities. These programs are hugely important for small and midsize businesses looking to improve retention, limit turnover, boost morale and attract new talent.
3. Optimize Working Capital
Working capital is a key indicator of small and midsize businesses' financial health, and maintaining it during times of economic volatility is important for long-term prospects. Despite a tough year, the majority of small (69%) and midsize (63%) businesses expect increased revenue and sales in the year ahead, making it important for them to have a corresponding capital plan.
Business leaders are optimizing working capital to finance inventory and accounts receivable through supply chain finance, which helps them move to extended payment terms with suppliers including the option to get paid earlier in their working capital cycle, and dynamic discounting, which enables owners to receive discounted prices in exchange for paying vendors early. They are also investing heavily in inventory management, reworking current debt and securing working capital financing to maintain and even grow their balance sheets.