Business owner insights from small- to medium-sized businesses

Photo of a small business owner talking with employees about priorities.

Small businesses are an important part of communities and help strengthen the U.S. economy. We asked 1,020 business owners in the small- to medium-sized business (SMB) market to share how they’re prioritizing the financial conversation as they look for ways to protect their business, employees, and lifestyle. We also asked them what their pain points are when it comes to offering and purchasing employee benefits, something we know is critical for recruiting and retaining workers.

See what we heard from both studies. Taking control with proper planning can help ease the burden—both now, so you can stay focused, and later, so you can feel more confident as you transition into retirement or out of the business.

Business owner market study1—Priorities and realities

These insights give you an inside look at how your peers are ranking financial priorities for their business, employees and lifestyle, including some benchmarks to consider as you create your own priorities and action plan.

Key findings

Business protection

For the 5th survey in a row, business protection is rated the most important solution.

See the top 5 priorities (PDF) owners had and what keeps them from planning.


Cost considerations are common, with increasingly more saying benefits decisions are driven by cost.

Value of the financial professional

More owners (69%) are using a financial planner, with most seeking “expertise”.

Unique needs of family-owned businesses

Two-thirds own a family business, with most of these first generation.

Recruiting/retaining key employees

Offering key employee benefits is a way to recruit and retain top talent, with almost half of business owners saying they want to give them more.

Importance of business succession plan

Succession planning has increased significantly since 2008.

See the top 3 transition events (PDF) and how owners are starting the planning process.

Full view of business owner market study

Take a deeper dive on the findings. The report will help you benchmark your priorities against your peers and gain valuable insights that could impact your decisions.

Read the report (pdf)

SMB trends study2—Employee benefits challenges

These insights reveal that offering employee benefits to recruit and retain workers is full of challenges and that working with a financial professional can help no matter how small your business is.

Key findings

HR vs. no HR

One-third of respondents don’t have human resources (HR) help, and most of these have less than 50 employees and feel they’re too small.

Benefit offerings

8 in 10 say offering benefits is essential to attract and retain employees.

Employee benefit journey

When deciding to offer employee benefits, the biggest pain points are narrowing down the options and choosing a provider.

Benefit information sources

Owners of the smallest businesses use the internet as their primary source of benefit information.

Interest in buying online

Almost two-thirds expressed interest in buying benefits online direct from the provider.

Gig economy

Half use independent contractors, with one-quarter saying they make up at least half their staff.

Full view of SMB trends study

Learn more about the findings. The report will help you benchmark against your peers and gain valuable insights on what you can do to improve the process of purchasing benefits for your employees.

Read the report (pdf)

Do you have the right team helping you?

Working with a trusted financial professional, CPA, and attorney can provide the complete support you need to move your business forward. Their background and insights can work together to give you a more holistic perspective. Is your team complete? If not, ask one of them for a recommendation.

1 The 2019 Principal Financial Group® Business Owner Survey was conducted by The Harris Poll in January 2019 and included 1,020 online interviews.

2 The 2018 Principal Financial Group® SMB Trends Survey was conducted by The Harris Poll in October 2018 and included 1,020 online interviews.

For both surveys: Results were weighted based on the number of employees and annual sales. Potential respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in the Harris surveys. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Co. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal National and Principal Life are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.