TriNet & The Harris Poll Reveal Pulse Survey Results on State of Small & Medium-Size Business During COVID-19

Staff Report

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

To better understand broad COVID-19 sentiment, beyond its own small and medium size business (SMB) customers, TriNet, a leading provider of comprehensive human resources, teamed with The Harris Poll on three industry-wide pulse surveys on the topic of cash flow and liquidity. Surveys were conducted April 3–12 and included more than 500 SMBs with an employee base between 5 – 249 employees.

Results of the surveys, which are the first in a series the companies will be doing together, were discussed on a webinar that was held earlier today and is available for replay on TriNet's website. Michael Mendenhall, senior vice president, chief marketing officer and chief communications officer TriNet, hosted the webinar and was joined by Paula Stratton, senior consultant, brand strategy and experience at The Harris Poll.

Highlights from The Harris Poll administered survey reveal that despite the current economic environment and the difficult decisions being made, SMB optimism was surprisingly resilient. In fact, nearly 80% of polled companies have made strategic investments to keep their businesses operational through the pandemic, and 76% of those who have made investments are confident these investments will pay off after COVID-19. Furthermore, 65% believe that the US economy will recover in a year.

"The resilience of this population is evident in their willingness to counter cost-cutting measures with investments in infrastructure, their employees and their communities," said Stratton.

According to the survey, SMBs are confident that they can weather the storm in the near future. 96% of respondents were confident that under current circumstances, their business will survive one month, while 92% were confident that they could last three months. However, confidence levels begin to slip at the 6 and 12 month time frame.

The survey highlights that revenue is down for 78% of SMBs responding – and they're looking for liquidity. When asked how much cash for operating expenses they have on hand and how long can it last:

4 in 10 don't have the cash reserves to last longer than three months without help

31% can last more than six months

However, SMBs being the entrepreneurs they are, are taking necessary steps to control their costs:

67% have reduced payroll costs (including 40% taking a reduced salary for themselves)

54% have made changes to their business model or product / service offerings since the crisis began

48% have applied for financial support through the CARES Act

While awareness of government programs to help SMBs like the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is high among surveyed participants, many don't know what it does – or doesn't – provide. Half of respondents say aspects of the program are confusing, especially the tax implications.

95% aware of the CARES Act overall (either by its official name or as the $2 trillion stimulus bill for COVID-19 relief)

83% aware of the Paycheck Protection Program

54% plan to take advantage of funding

27% aren't sure if they are eligible, or don't yet know enough about the program to say if they plan to apply

For the PPP loans, 61% had no idea that they have a term of two years, 58% had no idea that they have a set interest rate of 0.5%, and 45% had no idea that they may not be offered by all banks

To help, TriNet is diligently providing ongoing and timely information, resources and offerings to SMBs and its customers that helps them navigate the rapidly changing and complicated COVID-19 business landscape. These resources include a webinar series outlining legislative updates, COVID-19 blog series, and various offerings and benefits for customers. All of this information is also housed in the COVID-19: TriNet Business Resiliency & Preparedness Center.

SMB optimism at implementation of the PPP fell upon initial confusion, but quickly rebounded:

By April 6, 4 in 10 had tried to apply for funding, and 1 in 5 of those were unable to complete the process

6 in 10 feel that the loans are 'difficult to access'

In the April 3-6 survey, 58% felt that the government is doing enough to support 'businesses like yours,' which dropped to 46% during the April 8-10 survey, and jumped to 51% during the April 10-12 survey

In order to adapt to the current situation, SMBs are making strategic operational choices, including cutting costs, in order to invest in the long-term success of their business. They're spending less on:

46% have reduced employee hours

40% of business leaders have taken a lower salary for themselves

34% have reduced marketing/advertising spend

32% have worked with creditors to reduce obligations

29% have cancelled services

26% have laid off employees

19% have reduced inventory

13% have furloughed employees

SMBs are strategically investing in infrastructure, employees, and customers and community.
Of the 78% of SMBs who have made strategic investments, they've focused on:

Infrastructure: 46% have invested in increased infrastructure to be more virtual, online, or contact-less

Employees: 37% are continuing to offer health insurance benefits to laid off or furloughed employees; 37% are offering pay to employees who are not currently working

Customers and community: 37% are donating to or sponsoring local causes for COVID-19 relief (15% are donating to national relief); 36% are offering assistance to customers (such as free services, discounts, delayed/forgiven payments, waiving fees, etc.); 14% increased marketing / advertising spend