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Millennial small biz owners more optimistic than older generations

Young small business owners are far more optimistic than their older counterparts and more convinced that they are tech savvy, according to two recent surveys.

The findings show that Millennials are more likely to take risks and be more confident about their companies’ prospects. Older generations, perhaps a little wiser after years of hard knocks, are generally more conservative in their spending and in their outlook about the future.

As a result, small business owners tend to operate their companies quite differently based on their age. The studies also reveal the influence of experience in decision-making.

A Bank of America study last week found that Millennials (ages 18 to 34) expressed the most optimism out of the three generations included in the research. For instance, 82% of Millennial respondents said they were confident that their local economies would improve in the next year, but only half of Gen-Xers (ages 35 to 49) and 41% of Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 68) were similarly optimistic.

Moreover, the survey of 1,000 small business owners shows that 74% of Millennials are confident about the national economy improving in the next 12 months. Only 45% of Gen-Xers and 35% of Boomers felt the same way.

Robb Hilson, a Bank of America small business executive, explained that the study’s results make sense given the nature of the country’s economy over the last few years. Millennial business owners surveyed opened up shop a few years ago, missing the brunt of the infamous 2008 recession, he said.

“I guess you could argue that it’s been getting better than since they’ve gotten into business on average,” said Hilson. “They’ve only seen one cycle (of a struggling economy) and maybe most of what they’ve seen has been a positive thing.”

Another small business study last month by The Hartford, the insurance company, also showed higher optimism and confidence for Millennial business owners compared older generations. The study, which is based on interviews with just over 2,000 owners of companies with less than 100 full-time employees, found that 47% of Millennial respondents said that their business is operating very or extremely successfully. That’s compared to 38% for Gen X owners and just 32% of Baby Boomers.

Additionally, 82% of Millennials said they were optimistic that the national economy would strengthen in the next year versus just 55% of Gen-Xers and 45% of Baby Boomers.

Gene Marks, a small business owner of a management software company in Philadelphia and a spokesman for The Hartford’s small business efforts, believes the older generations’ less optimistic responses make sense. “The more you run a business, the more conservative you get,” said Marks, who is 49. “You’re less inclined to be optimistic.”

He continued: “When you run a business for a certain period of time, you experience the ups and downs. You get used to people making promises and keeping them and promises and not keeping them. Over time, that can tend to have an effect on overall optimism.”

Marks partially attributes Millennial business owners’ confidence with a greater grasp of technology, which Bank of America’s study found to be true, too. For instance, only 58% of Boomer small business owners graded themselves an “A” or “B” in tech savviness. Meanwhile, Millennials awarded themselves 85% and Gen-Xers reported 74%.

“Millennial small business owners are most welcoming of technological advancements than any other generation,” said Kelly Meeneghan Peters, a manager for 1&1 Internet, a company that specializes in helping companies digitize and get online. “They are implementing e-commerce functionality, applications, and cloud-based solutions to best position themselves against competitors, gain visibility and drive sales.”

But while Marks praised Millennials for their high hopes for the future and a “natural optimism” that he believes stems from youth, he added that some of it may just come from little more than “naiveté.”