It feels as though 2017 is likely to go down in history as the year that lasted about a decade in our collective minds. With a new presidential administration, there’s been a groundswell of interest and engagement around policies that impact the country, and more directly, the entrepreneurs looking to build businesses within it.
But even with engagement at an all-time high, headlines are seemingly focused on just a few areas:
- We’ve seen heavy-handed immigration policies struck down in court, twice.
- We’ve seen the last of a healthcare debate that raged through two houses of Congress, went through half a dozen Congressional Budget Office scores and a multitude of variations, only to get knocked down in the dead of night.
- We’ve heard a lot about trade, and by extension bringing back jobs like manufacturing and coal mining.
- We’ve heard even more about building walls.
There have been good fights to fight across many of these issues, but it’s been difficult to determine how American entrepreneurs have been affected, or what matters most to them. To address this, Fiverr wanted to get a better understanding of our entrepreneurial community’s attitudes towards some larger policy issues. What we found was that while some topics like trade and tax reform may have driven the national conversation through the end of 2016 and into much of this year, they aren’t the issues keeping entrepreneurs up at night.
The full report is available here, but some basic demographic characteristics of the community illustrate how emblematic they are of today’s modern American entrepreneur:
- Geographically, respondents were spread across the country, with a regional breakdown that’s representative of the population breakdown, and even slightly more rural than the general population.
- They’re very small businesses. Think 1 to 5 people. This is a group that’s been growing in the U.S. as more and more people have the ability to launch and stabilize a business quickly.
- They identify as entrepreneurs and small business owners. Over 80 percent characterized themselves as one or the other.
- They’re heavy internet users. 45 percent of them are doing business through social media networks, a full 12 percent more than those doing it face to face.
In pointing out their biggest priorities, entrepreneurs and small businesses say they are driven by the issues that were local and “present” in their daily lives. “Cost of Living” was extremely important, with nearly 40 percent of respondents considering the issue their biggest priority, compared to issues like “Trade” (7 percent) or “Tax Reform” (13 percent). An issue like “Reliable Broadband” was far more important, with nearly 20 percent of respondent considering it their top big economic issue.
When it came to startup roadblocks and challenges, capital requirements to start or grow a business were far and away the biggest priorities for entrepreneurs, collectively accounting for over 50 percent of respondents’ top priorities. This may not come as a shock, but it’s significant compared to something like regulatory requirements (a mere 10 percent of respondents considered it a top priority), which often dominate discussions about policies impacting startups or small businesses.
So what does it mean?
From an issue-specific standpoint, issues like tax reform and trade undoubtedly have an impact on the way businesses are built, but their effect is less direct. Alternatively, issues like capital access, the costs of living, and reliable broadband have a clear and tangible effect on the everyday lives of entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country.
Broadly speaking, one of the biggest takeaways is that much of the national conversation isn’t focused on the issues that matter most to the broader entrepreneurial community. There are over 28 million small businesses in the U.S., with 23 million of those being non-employer shops. Policymakers need to take the time to speak to these people, spend time with them and hear them out, and then move forward with agendas that benefit the little guys in the same way they do the big ones.
Aside from speaking with entrepreneurs more regularly, there are some additional specific steps we’d recommend to spur entrepreneurship in the U.S., including:
Create more avenues to access capital, regardless of location.
Business and government entities that can create new or more streamlined ways to responsibly access capital will result in new businesses, while allowing existing ones to effectively scale.
Increase educational opportunities for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Nearly 40 percent of respondents pointed to education and training as making it “easier” or “much easier” to build a business. Bringing more educational opportunities for entrepreneurs directly to areas where they reside, while also expanding awareness of digital channels, stands to benefit them greatly.
Expand reliable broadband access to empower more businesses to compete, no matter where they are located.
Not only will it increase opportunity, it can dramatically lower the cost of running a business to put more money back into the pockets of entrepreneurs.
Evolve the safety net to encompass the way people work in 2017 and the future.
Tying benefits to jobs hurts entrepreneurship by keeping employees tethered to traditional employment models. The current structure puts pressure on small businesses, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs to decide between their well-being and their passion, a decision that curbs innovation and economic growth in the long term.
Different policy issues and topics affect different regions and businesses in a variety of ways, but by taking a look at the attitudes and opinions present across the country, we’re hoping to start a dialogue and discussion around what so many doers are facing each and every day.
Brent Messenger serves as global head of community for Fiverr, a worldwide marketplace for digital services. Messenger previously worked as a battleground state field director for Obama for America in 2008. He then joined other Obama campaign leaders at community engagement consultancy 270 Strategies, where he worked as senior vice president with such brands as Airbnb, Lyft and SolarCity.