Women Business Owners Shed Light on Top Small Business Trends in 2014

More than 600 women business owners (WBOs) have shared what they think it takes to start or grow a small business, and it all comes down to optimism.

For the second consecutive year, teamed up with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) on the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report to get to the heart of how WBOs feel about their prospects for the year ahead. After surveying WBOs around the nation, two key themes emerged: WBOs are more optimistic for themselves and future entrepreneurs to succeed, and they are investing more in online marketing and customer service to get their business where they want it to be.

Here are the key trends driving small businesses in 2014, according to women entrepreneurs:

WBO optimism is pervasive and rising
While the state of the economy is the top concern for most WBOs (90 percent), they are more positive about the prospects for their business this year than last. Nearly nine out of 10 WBOs are optimistic about their business' economic outlook in 2014, a 12 percent increase over 2013. In addition, the majority of WBOs (89 percent) are also optimistic about their overall business performance this year.

WBOs are not just more confident about their own businesses; they're also more bullish about the prospects for female entrepreneurs who are just starting out. A vast majority of WBOs (92 percent) predict that more women will start their own business this year -- an 8 percentage point jump over 2013.

Passion, pluck and perspective are vital traits of successful entrepreneurs
What does it take for these aspiring entrepreneurs to thrive? According to the WBOs we surveyed, the top three traits a women needs to successfully run her own business are: a passion for the business idea; the willingness to fail before she succeeds and a long-term vision for the business.

It's all about the customer
Over the next six months, WBOs' top priority is gaining new customers, followed by generating positive cash flow and keeping their existing customers. Lower on a WBOs' priority list, but still remain top-of-mind, include: product/service innovation, hiring qualified employees and completing 2013 tax evaluations/changing rules in 2014 tax structure.

Online marketing investments are rising
To attract new customers and make a lasting personal connection with customers, WBOs are putting more of their money into customer service and marketing. Online and mobile marketing in particular have risen in importance this year over last, with more WBOs planning to invest in a mobile presence (up 13 percentage points), as well as in their business' social media presence (up 8 percentage points).

WBOs say social media is important but lack the confidence to realize its full potential
While 85 percent of WBOs say social media is important for building customer relationships, only 67 percent are currently using social media to connect with customers. What's more, just half of these women are confident in their own ability to build a social media presence for their business, and only a quarter of WBOs post on social media on a daily basis.

WBOs recognize the importance of the web, mobile and social media to engage, capture and nurture customer relationships, and they are increasing investments in these resources to drive growth. However, WBOs face unique challenges in social media, where they lack either the expertise or time to realize the full potential of this marketing channel. Women who prioritize the web and social media in their marketing mix - or find a partner to help them gain this expertise - will reap the benefits of increased customer engagement and satisfaction.

To view and share the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report infographic, please click here.