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2024 Business Leaders Outlook: A time for action

Confident in their own resilience, small businesses gear up for growth in 2024 despite labor and inflation challenges.

minute read


    As we head into 2024, businesses are bracing for a year that leaders expect to test their mettle. The Chase 2024 Business Leaders Outlook survey, which takes the pulse of over 1,000 decision-makers from businesses with revenues under $20 million, uncovers the anticipations and strategies for the year ahead.

    The findings? Among business leaders, the specter of recession looms, with 44% of survey respondents bracing for it in the year ahead, mirroring previous concerns. Despite this and other headwinds such as unyielding inflation and talent scarcity, a resounding 82% of those surveyed are actively seeking financing to fuel essential parts of their operations — including hiring, marketing and restocking inventory.

    Additionally, a significant slice of the business community is on the brink of expansion, signaling a robust determination not just to endure but to forge ahead in the face of uncertainty. This signals a year of intentional strategy and decisive action for small enterprises as they navigate an intricate economic landscape.


    Ready to weather the storm

    Progress in the face of potential recession hinges on the strength of a business's teams — a notion not lost on today's leaders. The latest figures from the survey show a strong belief among 71% of business owners that their teams and customer relationships are resilient enough to withstand any upheaval. Only 6% beg to differ, and a cautious 23% hold a neutral stance.

    Looking to 2024, there's also a palpable push among these business leaders to prevent employee attrition. A trend emerges: a pivot toward bolstering full-time staff, propelled by the dual engines of sales growth and service diversification. This strategic emphasis on full-time hires is a clear signal of commitment to steadying the ship amid choppy economic waters.

    "We have already weathered a few storms and persevered, so I have no doubt we can continue to do so."

    Survey respondent

    "Despite labor shortages, we have a strong core team that can tackle whatever comes our way, albeit at a slower speed than we would like."

    Survey respondent


    While optimism fluctuates, confidence is steady

    Although not much has changed over the past year, the survey results reveal a nuanced picture of optimism among leaders of small businesses and reflect a blend of steadfast confidence and fluctuating optimism in various areas.

    • Optimism about their own company: Business leaders remain largely optimistic about their company's performance with 69% expressing optimism, a slight increase from 67% in July 2023.
    • Optimism about their industry: Similarly, optimism about their industry stands at 63%, a slight increase from the 58% reported in July 2023.
    • Optimism about the local economy: The sentiment about the local economy shows a more moderate level of optimism, currently at 46%, up slightly from 45% in July 2023.
    • Optimism about the national economy: Regarding the national economy, optimism is at 43%, slightly lower than the 46% reported earlier in July 2023.
    • Optimism about the global economy: When it comes to the global economy, 43% of the respondents feel optimistic, which is nearly at par with the 44% reported in July 2023.

    These statistics suggest that while leaders' optimism on certain fronts has dipped since midyear, the overall confidence in their company's performance and their industry's outlook remains robust. Business leaders are clearly focusing on concrete actions and strategies to steer their companies successfully through these unpredictable times.


    Taking the reins with a focus on customers

    In these times of global conflicts and erratic markets, savvy business owners are taking the offensive. They're adopting forward-thinking strategies to secure their organizations' futures. The Business Leaders Outlook survey pinpoints the primary tactics they're leaning into as they steer through these stormy conditions:

    • Prioritizing new customer acquisition (50%): Growth is on the agenda for many, with half the leaders surveyed actively seeking new customers. This push is pivotal to widening their market presence and fueling revenue streams.
    • Retaining existing customers (45%): Almost half are dedicated to keeping their existing clients close. This focus on customer retention speaks volumes about the power of loyalty and underscores the value of repeat business for ongoing success.
    • Cutting down debt (33%): One-third are taking the offensive against debt as they brace for potential economic swings.

    The survey also brings to light a suite of additional strategic moves that business leaders are planning in 2024 as they keep their eyes on customers: 

    • Leveraging AI (32%): A sizable group is tapping into artificial intelligence, betting on technology to streamline operations and gain a competitive edge.
    • Enhancing employee benefits and engagement (31%): More than just a perk, improved benefits are being used to attract and keep top talent, as a quarter of owners focus on driving  retention and hiring through engagement  efforts.
    • Embracing diversity (21%): There's a concerted effort to broaden the workforce's makeup in a move that's not only ethical but also smart business.
    • Going green (20%): Cutting a company's carbon footprint is more than just a nod to sustainability — it's becoming a business imperative.

    This multifaceted game plan suggests a readiness not to just survive but to proactively thrive, even in challenging environments.


    Growing through inflation

    Inflation continues to be the towering hurdle, with 35% of respondents naming it the top challenge they'll face in the upcoming year, compared with 30% in July. As a result, more businesses are shifting their tactics — with moves such as cutting noncritical spending and bumping up prices — to meet the inflation challenge head-on.

    Interestingly, 41% of respondents are using inflation as motivation to kick their growth into high gear. The results underscore a truth about business leaders: They're a tenacious group, not content with just making it through tough times. They're laying groundwork for future prosperity, even when the economic compass tilts toward uncertainty.


    Addressing the mental load

    Stress and mental health are also taking center stage in the conversation. The survey reveals a growing concern among business owners about these critical issues and how they're beginning to tackle them.

    A significant 65% of business leaders now see managing stress and mental health as a key priority for their teams and for the viability of their businesses. This is a notable shift in attitude, signaling a deeper and growing understanding that the mental state of employees can make or break business success.


    Now look back

    See how business leaders' expectations have changed by exploring the Chase 2023 Midyear Business Leaders Outlook Survey.


    About the 2024 Business Leaders Outlook survey

    This survey was conducted by Chase Insights from November 9 through 20, 2023. It features data from 1,012 business leaders across the professional services, retail, technology, healthcare and other key industries. The results of this online survey are within statistical parameters for validity, and the error rate is plus or minus 3.1% for the findings, at the 95% confidence level.