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SMB’s Optimistic But Still Struggle With Economy and Marketing

SMB’s are an interesting group. Many of these people are just regular folks. Most are not true business people in the sense that they went to business school and have applied rigid business principles to their business. Many don’t have marketing teams, on staff PR people or any of the niceties that make talking about Internet marketing and social media marketing much easier if the audience is a Fortune 500 that has employees that aren’t spending their own money on services.

As a result they rely a lot on relationships, street smarts, networking savvy and a sometimes oversized portion of optimism. I say oversized only because they have to keep hoping that things will get better or else they can lose the will and, quite plainly, not have the resources to keep the doors open.

One of the companies that is tied to these folks, MerchantCircle, has produced its fifth Merchant Confidence Index for Q1 2011 and the results paint a picture that is typical SMB: cold harsh reality living right next store to hope and optimism. Here are some of the results from the survey.

How would you rate today’s economy compared to the past twelve months?

About 62% of those surveyed said the economy is the same or weaker today then it has been over the past 12 months. Enter the SMB Optimist’s Club!

How do you expect sales revenue to change over the next 3 months?

57% feel that their sales will improve somewhat or significantly in the coming months. This is where you have to love the SMB because in one breath they say that conditions in the overall economy are not so hot but they feel that it will break in the coming months.

When it comes to marketing it looks like it won’t be the thing that helps that sales increase happen!

75% of the respondents said that their current level of marketing spend will either remain the same or decline. If you work with SMB’s on a regular basis the ‘news’ that their marketing spend will remain the same is not a good thing. SMB’s tend to spend money on marketing when they have it rather than actually having a budget for it. In this economy, many don’t have it so remaining the same in their spend could be a euphemism for “we aren’t spending much this year either”.

The hope for this group comes in the form of social media which is still perceived as a near no cost option for them to get the word out. That perception holds until the realization that the cost of time, people resources and knowledge are indeed ‘expenses’ can be a bit of a buzz kill but it sure beats spending cold hard cash on Yellow Page ads.

What are the ways that these folks are promoting their businesses? The following list is the percentage of SMB’s who said they will be using these particular outlets to promote their business

Facebook – 70.3%
Google – 66.2%
LinkedIn – 58.2%
Google Places – 51.4%
Yahoo – 49.2%
Yahoo Local – 45%
Twitter – 39.8%
Citysearch – 39.7%
Yellowbook – 39.3%
Superpages.com – 33.3%
Bing – 33.2%
Yelp – 32.2%
Facebook Places – 32.2%
YouTube – 26.8%
YP.com – 25.6%
Ask.com – 19.9%
MySpace – 19.2%
Foursquare – 8.7%
Groupon – 6.6%
LivingSocial – 5%
Gowalla – 3.4%
Bizzy – 2.5%

Aside from the largest players it’s pretty interesting to see that the cooler the service is perceived to be by the Silicon Valley technorati the less it is used by the common man. Is there an Internet reality divide developing where the hip and cool come up with toys for the hip and cool while the masses just look for things that might actually work to help them?

So how do you react to these findings? Do you see it differently? Where are we on the mass adoption scale for location-based services and the like? Is that kind of talk just for the VC crowd to get all hyped up about? Are findings like this something to be concerned about regarding a bubble in the Internet space?

Let’s hear your thoughts and opinions. It’s good because it gives us something to do during a slow news day!