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Insights from Small Businesses on COVID Recovery with The Harris Poll

The Harris Poll company is one of those companies most people have heard of, but most small businesses probably think they could never afford to do business with them. As you’ll hear in my conversation with John Campbell with The Harris Poll company, not only can small and medium-sized businesses afford to work with them, they have people specifically looking out for small and medium-sized businesses.

Recently, John and his cohorts released a white paper called Onward and Upward: Insights from Small Businesses on the Road to Recovery. It covers a lot of ground, focusing mostly on how small and medium-sized businesses managed to deal with the pandemic and how the pandemic has changed how they’re going to do business going forward.

There are a number of surprises in this conversation and a number of helpful resources, including a way for listeners to have a direct line to The Harris Poll company, where they can suggest topics that they’d like to know more about and ask questions about this white paper or our future conversations. Talk to me a little bit about, you your background, and why should we be talking to you today?

John Campbell: My name is John Campbell, research director for The Harris Poll. Been with the company for about four years now. I’ve been in the research game for about 17 years now, have a specialty in B2B research, with a even finer specialty in SMB research.

Cale: Can I just ask, you released a white paper with all of this information, what drove you to do it?

John: We’ve had some really strong interest in the SMB community. We find that it’s a bit of an underserved community when it comes to white papers and research. We find that the SMB community struggles a little bit with research. A lot of times not necessarily knowing how to use it, how to make it actionable. We find that a lot of research companies, more so survey shops, really, they’ll approach SMBs, they’ll share some information, and then just wash their hands and walk away. We found that there’s definitely an appetite for this kind of information and just putting our feelers out there. We definitely found a need to conduct some research like this to be able to share with these folks.

Cale: I’ll tell you, that’s right up my alley. I’ve been pushing for stuff like this and every customer that I’ve ever worked with. In my background, just for your knowledge, I’ve worked with a lot of large companies in my career, I’ve worked with some of the smallest companies you could possibly imagine, a guy who sold handcrafted canes out of the trunk of his car. I’ve done all of that, and then multibillion-dollar [unintelligible 00:03:01] companies. I always want people to understand and know and maybe even have some empirical knowledge before they embark on a marketing venture.

What you just said is so true, most of them are afraid to do it, they think that they’re going to spend a bunch of money and they’re going to have a nice report sitting on their shelf collecting dust for a while. It’s awesome that because you guys have such power, you’re a great company and you have such power in the sense that you’re doing a lot of polling and research anyway. To do what you guys have done here has been fantastic. Talk to me specifically about this survey and white paper.

John: We went out and we heard from 250 small business owners, partners, really, the top level of the leadership there, and just wanted to get their pulse on a number of different things, a lot being COVID-related; how are they battling through that? How did they fare through the pandemic? Is there areas of innovation? Are they seeing changes? Just a number of different topics there.

Cale: It’s a great white paper, and we’ll talk at the end about how listeners can get this information and take a look at the survey. We’ll hopefully ask a bunch of questions today that they’ll be like, “I don’t even need to read that.” My guess is they’ll– I’ll probably leave them wanting something. At the end of the day, I’m not that bright. One of the things that I loved about the survey is I love innovation, I love marketing. One of the good things that came out of the pandemic was, there’s a lot of businesses that came out on the other side better than they were before the pandemic started.

If necessity is the mother of invention, we’ve seen a lot of that type of pivoting. I feel like, in a weird way, everyone’s better at that now. Even if they failed, they’re still better and they still know they might need to. It also seemed like at the same time, the sentiment was that we’re on the other side of this. Did the survey show anything that showed signs of, “I got nothing left in the tank. If I have to cross one more barrier am done,” or did it show that there might be a continued appetite and maybe, “I fared through this pretty well, let’s keep doing it”?

John: Yes. No you bring up a really good point. It’s hard enough to be a small business owner in the best of times and then you’re faced with this pandemic. What we found is just a really powerful stat. We found that 99% of these small business owners said that the pandemic was absolutely a challenge, but they’ve made strides in how their business operates that will make them stronger going forward. You can’t get much more of a strong message than that saying, “Hey, we faced a challenge, but we’re coming out the other side ready to go.”

Another stat that we saw, 96% said, if there was another pandemic that emerges, they’re going to be better prepared to deal with it. It’s definitely one of those things, okay, we’ve done it once, we survived, we’re stronger now. If it hits again, we’re ready for it.

Cale: Well, I wanted to say something somewhat funny, but I suppose there’s not always something funny to say about of things like this. I was going to say hopefully we’ll never see another pandemic again, or at least wait another 116 years before we see something of this nature, but the reality is it’s not always a pandemic, it could be the economy, it could be whatever the thing might be that really shifts your focus on how you operate your business.

When it comes to marketing, what I found interesting was companies that weren’t very good at marketing before anyway got a little bit better and some of them just had something to market suddenly. They had to say, “We deliver, we do carry-out, we do–” whatever the thing might be, “Come to our store, we’ll put it in your trunk for you.” There was a lot of things that they had to like, “Well, we got to let them know we’re open.” They didn’t even do that before.

Some of the conflicting things that I noticed in there were, and I’ll phrase this as a question rather than letting you try to figure out what my question is, but I saw some conflicting things. A lot of them said that they noticed that productivity was up during the pandemic. Then there was this crazy other side of that said, “But everybody’s going to be back in our office in about six months, we believe, because we’re on the other side of this thing.” I thought, “Well, if productivity’s up and that was working good for you, and it’s hard to get an employee right now and they would rather–” That just seemed to not jive with the realities of what’s going on right now. Would you define other things like that and what about that?

John: There was a couple of other things as well. There was a high percentage of folks that say the American Rescue Act, the small business relief, that that made a huge difference in them being able to keep their businesses open. On the flip side of that, we saw about 8 and 10 say that they wanted the government restrictions to go away. You’re saying, okay, the government helped you, but now you want the government to go away. I thought that was super interesting.

When you get down to it, these small businesses, they want to operate how they want to operate. I don’t think they want big brother coming in and saying, “Okay, the restriction for this month is you can only operate outside,” using restaurants as an example. “Okay. Now we’re going to change the restriction to be– Now you can only use 50% of your footprint.” These restaurants are already having a really rough time getting people to come in the door because of the pandemic. Then it’s going to be compounded by fact that now you can only have half as many people as you’re used to.

I think it’s one of those things where, yes, the government helped to keep the doors open, but now they’re ready for the government to head out that door so that they can get back to normal operations.

Cale: “Give me everything I need, but leave me alone after that.” I found that interesting as well. It’s quite a can of worms, really, because I’m one who used to be maybe too dialed into politics and then there just came a time when I’m like, “I’m done.” I don’t watch the news. If I watch the weather and the story before the weather or after the weather is politically-motivated, I’m like, “Ah, get it off, get it off, get it out, I don’t want to see it.” Really, otherwise, it’s sports and weather for me.

Not only did I notice that particular stat and the yin and yang of that, there was some things in there that I found striking as well, like this idea that — What was it? 90% of small businesses agreed that they’re now going to be more responsible. I thought, “I need somebody to clarify what that even means,” but that’s an interesting thing. That feels like a bit of a turn.

John: To clarify that a little bit, we didn’t specifically say, “Okay, you mister small business owner, are you going to be more responsible now because of the pandemic?” We phrased it more so generally, “As you know, the pandemic has compelled businesses to act more responsibly.” [unintelligible 00:10:29] so they could answer for everyone else, not particular to themselves.

Cale: Did you qualify responsibly at all? Because I wondered like, “Okay, now you’re going to pay your taxes?” I’m kidding when I say that, but at some level, we’re all trying to make our way, and by hook or by crook, you’re going to figure stuff out. Did you qualify what responsibly meant?

John: Not necessarily qualified responsibly, but some of the other findings that were in that same group of questions really drove it, I think what they define themselves as being responsible, and I think that had to do with being a hub of their community. They recognized the fact that, “We’re here in this community. The patrons have come in and helped us. What can we do to help them?” because everybody was hurting.

I think they took some onus there and realized, “Okay, everyone’s battling, what can we do?” We saw some really interesting findings. We saw about 7 in 10 said that they already have or plan to offer up some of their space for community assistance, so things like food and clothing drops, opportunities to reach out to the community in that way. We saw another three in four said they held our plan to hold fundraisers for those in need for the community, and another three in four provided or plan to provide free products or services to those in need. I think that the gist of acting more responsibly had to really drill down into the community, “How can we help the folks that have helped us?”

Cale: Got it. That’s an interesting thing too. When I was reading some of those stats, again, it was fascinating to watch that. Here are all of these things that they may not have ever marketed themselves as before, but now you can really go out and say– Like I said before, they were never even marketing, the fact that they did things like delivery or curbside drop off or whatever. Now they can also say, “We’re helping our community.” It’s not necessarily an overt sale, that, “Hey, come in, it’s 10% off,” this is like, “Hey, we’re in this with you.” You patronized our business in a time of need, we want to get back. I loved all of that.

Some people are a little hesitant to put themselves out there that way, like, “Hey, look at me, I donated money. Look at me, I did a fundraiser,” but at the end of the day, it is of value and there is– As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, it is something that you should toot your own horn about. I found a lot of that, the diversity. Talk to us a little bit about– Do we have any benchmarks that say that these are rises in these areas or this is just what we know right now?

John: This is just a snapshot in time. We haven’t really been tracking this. This was just something that came up specifically for this particular survey, but no, I think that you’re right, it’s just planting seeds of goodwill. Like you said, “Everyone was struggling, everyone’s trying to figure out, “How can we help one another out to just get through this, get on the other side?”

Cale: With the diversity findings, because there was two or three stats in there specific to diversity that I found quite shocking, and again, I don’t know if this is a rise, a new thing, but talk to us a little bit about their feelings on diversity and innovation, because I found that almost jaw-dropping. In my opinion, I think their thoughts are exactly right, but I found it weird that it was stated so strongly. Talk to us about that a little bit.

John: I’ll start on the innovation front. I was actually pretty surprised by these findings too. We saw that 9 in 10 said, “The pandemic created enthusiasm for innovation.” I think that really goes back to that will to survive, “Okay, this isn’t working. We can’t do this anymore by government order. What are we going to do? We have to innovate or die here.” The good news was, 96% of these SMB leaders said that they had adequate resources to capitalize on that innovation.

Cale: [unintelligible 00:14:56]

John: Yes. While times were tight, they figured out, “Okay, we have to find these resources to be able to survive. How are we going to do this?” which is fantastic. Even in the grip of the pandemic, we saw 36% of these leaders say that they were already creating or plan to create new products and services during the pandemic. Then on the backside, as recovery proceeds, we saw that 56% planned to develop new products and services.

I think the appetite is absolutely there. We see that the funds or the resources are there, and they have plans to continue innovating. I think that’s just great news that this great determination is really going to pay off.

Cale: Thank you, COVID.

John: That’s right. The silver lining.

Cale: There is a silver lining to everything, but there was a stat and there specifically about how they viewed diversity and innovation together, which was also like, why would you ever even think of that? Why do you believe that that’s true. Talk to us about that, because that was really exciting.

John: Yes. I actually had to sit down and think about the diversity finding for a minute too, I was like, “Okay, let’s put on our SMB goggles here and see how this plays out.” What I think was really driving that is it’s more so than just the race conversation. I think it’s absolutely taking a look at different backgrounds, different perspectives on how to do business, different perspectives on how to approach problem solving, just different ways of looking at things.

The more you can get different people into that same conversation, I think the more different angles and different lenses you have to look at some of the ways to innovate or problems that need to be overcome. I think that’s really what was driving that diversity finding.

Cale: Yes, and the diversity finding, just for those who haven’t read it and you probably haven’t, 31% of small and medium-sized businesses said that they found diversity to be crucial to their innovation going forward. The term crucial, it was like, “Whoa.” In the face of what we’ve been through over the last year or two, that just seemed like wow. That almost seems like it must be a turn or maybe it was bigger before, maybe there’s some other frame of reference there, but that’s a 31%. A full third practically is pretty impressive, and that they see diversity as their way forward with innovation. Great. How did you guys formulate which questions you were going to ask? How did you come up with that?

John: That was a tough one. The team here put our heads together. It was a fairly short list that we had them select from, not necessarily guiding their responses, but knowing the things that are really crucial to innovation and important. We felt like that was an important one to include.

Cale: It was interesting. Harris Poll, when you guys do these things, there’s always a little, “Hey, look at this crazy thing we just learned over here.” Were there any crazy findings that you were a little out in left field yet you found out, “Wow, this is a little nugget that we wouldn’t have known otherwise”?

John: I think just reiterating that innovation piece, I was super surprised. A lot of times when you go into a pandemic or something, people are going to pull back and retract and just go into that survival mode, but not these SMBs, they were ready to go. Great and determination just continued to pop in my mind as I read through these results and put them together. I think it was just fantastic that not only were they going to not retract and go hide in a hole, they were figuring out ways to grow business. We’ve seen some businesses come out the other side, like you said, even stronger, even better, seeing increases in sales throughout the pandemic period.

Cale: Quick two little stories. One, there’s a restaurant right down the road that we had never frequented before. It’s not far away from here, but during the pandemic, they were like, “Well what do you want to try tonight?” You would go drive and have it brought out to your car, whatever.

There was a place here that we called one Friday night and ordered, I don’t know, whatever it was. The order went through fine. Everything was in. They said, “You just wait out in the parking lot and we’ll come out and bring it to you.” Everything went great. The next Friday we couldn’t get through. It was just busy, busy, busy. We actually ended up going somewhere else, but we enjoyed our food so much that night from this place we were like, “Ah, let’s do it again. They got to have something else.”

The third Friday, I’m like, “I’m calling at 3:00. Nobody’s going to be all busy on me.” We called there at 3:00 and I’m like, “Hey, we ordered two weeks ago.” She goes, “Yes.” She goes we’re doing– I think it was 800 fish fries in the parking lot on Friday night.

John: Wow.

Cale: She goes, “We’ve had to hire people to bring food out to cars. We’ve had to hire people to answer the phones.” It was just at this moment when we’re all like, “You know what? I don’t have to only eat what I buy at the grocery store, I can go and get this food.” We were starting to loosen up a little bit with the carry-out and what have you. I just looked at that, I’m like, “I bet you’ve never served 800 fish fries on a Friday night before.” Just kudos to them. They figured it out and word got out and good for them.

The other one that I really like is more of a national trend, these ghost kitchens. The idea that they only deliver, they only do curbside pickup, and you can only carry out. There’s no actual front end of the restaurant, there’s no tables, there’s no nothing. I’m like, “Wow, that’s fantastic. That is brilliant.” We went to a restaurant in Boston. This is long before– [chuckles] What an attitude adjustment. This is long before COVID. There’s this place called Pizzeria Regina, maybe the first or second-best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. Everybody says, “Go to the one on the North End. If you’re listening and you’re in Boston, go ahead and give this a whirl.” It’s been there since 1920-something and it’s awesome.

When we were there, I’m like, “What do you mean they don’t have any tables in there? How do you not have any tables in a restaurant? How do you survive like that? How can you not have tables?” We were a little disgruntled because we were in Boston and staying at a hotel, so we had to take pizza out and go back to our hotel and eat the pizza, and look at them go. Now it’s like everybody’s doing that. This is the way it goes now. I just love it. The overhead reduction. Were you looking for that type of information? Because a lot of this did center around innovation?

John: No, that’s right. It was definitely trying to figure out, “How did you do this? How did you survive? What did you do? How did you pool resources? What kind of actions did you take to be able to, like you said, lower that overhead? What are the things that are being done to make this possible?” We found a number of areas that seemed to be working really well. About 6 in 10 said that they already have or plan to share office space, workspace, retail space, a 7 in 10 participated in group buys to get better deals on supplies and materials, all those things to keep them in operation.

Then about 6 in 10 said that they were going to barter trade products or services with other businesses. If they don’t have the cash to pay for something, “Let’s figure out how we can trade another business.” Pretty incredible lengths that these folks went to to be able to keep the door open and keep operations going.

Cale: A lot of kumbaya stuff in this report, at least it felt that way. It felt like, “Hey, you made the point before with the community that we’re in this together.” There was that whole section in there on businesses connecting with other businesses, maybe even competitors, to do things like sharing office space and sharing resources as far as supply chain. Did you learn more about supply chain? Not just issues, but people that are trying to solve the supply chain issue? Have you learned anything about that?

John: Not necessarily about the supply chain, but some of the stuff that we did find, investments in technology. Obviously, when offices shut down, how are you going to run a business if you can’t go into the office? We found there was a high level of investment in technology around things, cloud storage and cloud applications, like I’m saying, being able to operate from anywhere, be that work from home, work from the hotel that you’re at, that kind of thing.

Also saw big investments and other things that make a lot of sense to facilitate that work from anywhere notion, investments in laptops, and cell phones, video and teleconferencing, those kinds of things.

Cale: Did [unintelligible 00:24:07] venture into any other areas like the increased need for disinfection and health and environmental-type things to keep their employees safe? I’ve seen this firsthand, that there are businesses out there that are doing– Let’s say, they have a vendor that they are working with that supplies them with a thing, and they’re actually going back to that vendor and saying, “If we’re going to continue to do business together, your salespeople, the people that we come in contact with must be vaccinated.”

I got to be honest with you, that’s shocking to me, but okay if that’s the way you want to do it. Were there other things that you found such as the health and safety of employees or contractors or anything of that nature? Did you look into that at all?

John: Yes, we had a couple of findings. The survey was held a little bit before all of the vaccine mandates started being talked about, so there wasn’t a whole lot around that. We did find there was pretty good support for masks, there was some mention of encouraging vaccination, but when we asked about some talent-specific investments, we had a whole section around technology and talent and the investments that they’re putting towards.

I think these small business owners realized it’s difficult time for their employees being isolated at home. They were trying to figure out ways to make it more tolerable. We saw about 7 in 10 said that they made their working hours more flexible, understanding not only are you trying to work, but you’re also trying to be daycare and school teacher at the same time. It’s that recognition of, “Okay, these employees just got saddled with a lot of stuff that they didn’t sign up for. How can us as a business make it a little bit easier on them?”

Cale: What a great point too. I don’t think we ever look at it really that way. I think that we have because of our experience now. We’ve seen this idea that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that comes with working from home. We, in full disclosure, just got a new puppy. We’ve only had boy dogs, I’m getting used to this whole she thing, but she loves to play during the day and how I think disruptive it’s been for meetings and interviews and things of that nature, where you just Marvel at. I never had to deal with that before. Compound that by two kids and a spouse and juggling schedules and what have you.

I think it’s interesting that we probably looked at it in the beginning like, “Well, now you get to work from home, so what do you have to complain about?” “Whoa, this might not be as easy is working from the office was.” You had that whole schedule and the whole routine. Talk to me a little bit about– Just in full disclosure to the listener, we intend to do another episode down the road on recruitment and the struggles in today’s world with recruitment and especially as it’s changed here really into the employees hand, if you will, and how small businesses will handle that.

This survey did talk about that a little bit. We’re going to dive deeper into it at a future date, but talk to us just a little bit about the struggles that have come from COVID and all of this work from home and all of these new things that we were faced with and the recruitment problem.

John: That’s right. One of the things that we saw that some of these small businesses are facing, especially when they’re trying to go up against larger businesses is the sum of their salaries, financial compensations that are being offered by these larger businesses. The smaller businesses are struggling a bit to be able to keep up with that. They’re needing to offer signing bonuses, they’re needing to promote and really strongly offer wellness programs, recognition programs. There’s a lot of these things that– Are they a good idea to have anyways? Yes, absolutely, but it’s coming at a time where some of these SMEs are financially strapped and, like I said, it’s proving harder for them to attract some of that really top talent.

Cale: It is. We were at a grocery store just the other day, and on the door, it said, “Now hiring at–” I want to say $18 an hour, and if you work the weekend shift, it’s $24 an hour. It’s interesting to hear that. We had a struggle for a $15 an hour national minimum wage. I’m not sure that that’s really an issue anymore. Quite frankly, I’m perplexed, and this is what I hope we find out with Harris Poll in the future, I’m perplexed at how this is all coming about. I don’t understand how there isn’t enough people for jobs that existed before. There were people out of work not long ago, that couldn’t find a job long ago, and now employers can’t find employees. I find this–

I know that the unemployment stuff and the of benefits that were handed out during the pandemic had a lot to do with that, but most of those have started to go by the wayside and they are not a thing and there’s still this thing. There is no better place to be right now than in recruitment marketing, I don’t think. I know you did a little bit in this study which we touched on, but do you guys have plans to look into that further, and what does that look like?

John: I think that is absolutely a topic area that we’d like to spend some time in. Like you’re saying, it’s a problem that it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away anytime soon. Finding more information, like you’re saying, some of the drivers behind that, I think that will be a very interesting area to do some research on.

Cale: I do too. I’m really excited about our future conversations and one of the questions I had about all of your research. We find some of these discrepancies, like in this particular survey, the discrepancy between the way these SMBs are looking at, “We might be on the other end of this pandemic,” and I think it was 70-something percent of them said everybody’s going to be back at the office in six months, but then you have this complete opposite end of the spectrum view of the employee.

There’s a lot of studies out there that say that, “At best hybrid for me,” a lot of them still want to work remotely, but then even beyond that, if productivity was up before– I just want to know, will there be studies that show the other side of this that you guys might do? Will you look at the employee and where their sentiment is to see where the gap is to really help the small business say, “Hey, I might be looking at this wrong and I might need to adjust the way I look at this in order for me to market myself to the top talent and to do these types of things”? Any plans on that end of the equation?

John: Again, I think that would be a fantastic area to explore. One of the things that we found, improving that flexibility from the small business owners, I think that’s where we saw some of those productivity gains. Some of that perception around, “I feel more productive because during the day then, instead of being at the office all day then having to come home and do laundry and get dinner prepared and walk the dog, I can take short breaks throughout the day to go walk the dog, clear my head a minute in between the two big projects that I’m working on. I can quick do a load of laundry, get dinner started,” that kind of thing so it doesn’t feel like a huge stress when you walk in the door from the office.

I think that might have a little bit of background into seeing some of those productivity gains. They’re able to step away and clear their mind a bit and just focus really heavily while they’re doing the work that they are doing.

Cale: One of the things that– I was just talking to a client yesterday. We were in a conference room and two of the big cheeses were in the room with me. We were talking about this idea and the most immediate thing that came out of their mouth was, “Everybody is literally just more productive. With their hands down, we see clearly that this is the thing,” and you start to wonder– For me, for that particular client is a bit of a hike. It’s over an hour drive for me. I don’t have to go there every day, but at the same time it’s–

Literally, that period of time, two hours plus a day that I come out here, I would’ve literally been getting things done for you. [crosstalk] commute times and stuff like that. I would love– I wish Harris Poll would say, “Hey, Cale, what polling would you like to see?” That would be one. I’d love to see what gap there is between the employee. I’m sure that small businesses, at some level, they have to look at it in a certain way because they’re limited by resources and expertise within their environments and what have you, but at the same token, I wonder even larger-sized businesses, what gap there is between the way they’re pursuing things and the way the employees see them. I would love to see that.

I don’t know. Let’s talk a little bit about your services? Can your omnibus platform actually flesh out that if I’m polling 2,000 people, that these are employed people, and could you do a really fast turnaround on something like that with the omnibus platform? Talk to us a little bit about that platform too.

John: Sure. The omnibus platform, like you said, that’s our quick turn reach out to 2,000 people. If you need fast answers, that is absolutely the best option. It’s limited to more of a consumer focus. That being said, a lot of consumers are employees as well, so it wouldn’t be difficult to just reach out to those that are employed to try and nail down some of those different things.

Cale: Well, I don’t want to actually say what I’m about to say, but if you guys don’t do a dog on and out, I’m going to wind up doing one because it really does help the employer out right now. Right now everything that I see, one of the biggest struggles is for me to get good talent. Again, I’m super excited that we’re going to be doing some more of these going down the road and that recruitment may very well be our next topic. My intention is to have some HR professionals on board and at least some sentiment from my clients as to what’s going on with them and whatever findings you guys come back with. I think you might already be working on some stuff, but I love that.

At the end of the day, what can we do about these things is really what we need to get to. What can we do about all this information that we have that you and I have talked about today? As much as I want it to be about marketing, let’s just talk in general about what can people do with this information now that they have and they know that there’s this sentiment from small and medium businesses, what can they do with all of this information?

John: I think realizing and recognizing the fact that there’s that appetite for innovation. If you’re an employee, if you have good ideas, absolutely bring those to the forefront. If you’re sitting on something and you’re thinking, “No, I don’t think they’re going to like this. This might not be a good idea,” speak up. They’re looking for that innovation. They’re looking for that different perspective, like we said, the diversity finding, different backgrounds, different ideas, new, better thinking. I think that’s absolutely important.

In terms of if you’re a SMB owner and you’re trying to attract that talent, a couple of the things that we found that are being increasingly added, like I mentioned, make sure that your work schedule has flexibility in it now more than ever. Prior to the pandemic, that started being a hot topic of having increased work-life balance through a flexible schedule. I think if trying to be really rigid with your schedule right now, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, absolutely.

Another thing we saw, employee wellness programs and employee engagement programs, especially for some of these folks that are only working remote and don’t even have the option to get back in the office. Finding ways to keep them motivated as well as engaged, that is huge right now because it can be easy to go off in your own hole, in your own little world and get disconnected. Finding ways to keep them engaged and feeling motivated and rewarded, I think that’s super actionable right now.

Cale: Interestingly, it wasn’t long ago, not too many years, I want to say, man, 2015 maybe, where there was this other swing. People had some flexibility at big companies like Google and Yahoo! and what have you. They started all saying, “You know what? We’re noticing a lack of collaboration. We want people to start coming back into the workplace.” The employer had a bit of an upper hand at that moment. “We have jobs that you want,” and now it’s interesting to just see everything’s flipped. This is the pandemic. Now you’re faced with this. Now what are you going to do? Now what’s the innovation? What’s going to do?

I think that studies like this, if you’re the guy at Harris Poll that is doing a lot of the small and medium business research, this is the stuff, man. This is what helps them really guide their business in the right way. I think that as small business people, quite frankly, I see it at every level, multi-billion dollar company too, you’re just guessing. You’re just like, “I’m pretty sure, based on what I’m seeing, this is what we should be doing.” Empirical knowledge is when you actually have that information, “No, no, no, this is what they’re saying.” This is probably what you need to do.

Talk to us about what you guys are doing coming up here, what are some of the things that we can look forward to as far as small and medium-sized businesses, the owner side things, and if there is anything in the works for, “Here’s what your employees think. Maybe you should modify your thinking a little bit”?

John: Yes, that’s right. We continue to have our COVID tracker and now that it’s been going on for, I think, 70-plus weeks, we have branched out to other topics. Absolutely check that out on It deals with a number of different really topical areas that we find. We’re starting to get into holiday travel season, so we have questions around that. It’s really interesting, little tidbits of knowledge that are free. If you just go onto the website, you’ll find those.

In terms of SMB, we have an interesting angle looking at startups, coming up here pretty soon, that I think will be in discussion on how we can share some of that information with you and your listeners. That will be forthcoming. Like you’re saying, always open to discover different topic areas for us to explore. Like you said, it is absolutely– One of my favorite things about my position is being able to share some of this knowledge with SMBs. I absolutely have a soft spot for SMBs.

I have a family connection, my mother-in-law owns five restaurants, so I’ve got to see firsthand and hear firsthand some of the struggles that she’s had to go through and things that she’s had to do. Coupling that hard data that we found from the study with some of the family background, it’s [crosstalk]-

Cale: [unintelligible 00:40:58] data from the family, right?

John: [unintelligible 00:41:00] Yes, absolutely.


Cale: I’ll tell you, it’s funny that we use restaurants a lot as our overall case studies, because everybody gets it, everybody understands, everybody probably had some experience with it, but man, it went everywhere. For five years leading up to this last February, I worked with a company that made software for assisted living communities. For five years I worked with them. They were not only a great client, but they were right in the thick of– Whoa, there’s some stuff going on here and our close personal friends at communities that we were serving really in the thick of things and really seeing some heroic action and some heroic just sticktuitiveness.

Those jobs are really tough. You don’t get paid very much and they’re somewhat thankless and they’re not nice jobs and what have you, but at the end of the day, it really– I worked with a lot of car dealers over the years. They were impacted in a weird way. Right at first, nobody wanted to go and get in a car and visit with a salesperson. Then it was like you can’t get a car because the supply chain issues and suddenly all the used cars are now gone because you can’t get a new car. It just was such a weird ripple effect.

There are so many things that we have questions on and understanding whatever we can, so thank you to Harris Poll for everything you’ve brought to the table and everything you’ll bring to the table going forward. The next time we talk, I’m hoping we’ll touch on the recruitment thing, for sure, and then the other studies about the startups. I will say this about small businesses, there’s not one of them that I know that operates anything other than a startup, no matter how long they’ve been in business. It’s this, “Every day we got to figure out how to get a little bit better and every day we got to figure out how to survive.”

To your point, the grit and the determination, you always had that mindset and you always have to do that. Then there was the pandemic on top of that every day. Sometimes it’s a grind and I’m glad to see that there’s some excitement from them as far as, “We got this. We figured this out, we’re going to figure out the next thing too.” Hopefully it makes the day-to-day a little bit easier now. Hopefully, it’s now like, “You know what” I lived through that, I’ll get through- [crosstalk]

John: That’s right, yes, “If I can live through that, I can live through anything,” kind of mentality.

Cale: I’m sorry that your mother-in-law had to go through that and I’m sorry that that was that a relationship where it was right there for you, you’re watching people go through some trouble. That’s always tough. I’ve watched people lose jobs. Isn’t that funny too, in the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people losing their jobs and now everybody’s working? We’re not really even through this yet, really. Now everybody has a job, and the employers that I know that our family and friends are struggling with that. What a weird couple of years, man.

Talk to me a little bit– One more time, you talked about the COVID tracker. Is there now a renewed– I’m just meeting you for the first time, I’ve got a little bit of history with you guys, but by the same token, is there a renewed push for small and medium-sized business type of information?

John: There is, yes. Just really going back to everything that we said, we just really see a need for it. There’s a hunger for information and we are absolutely happy to be the company that’s out there talking to these folks and figuring out how to move forward, best practices, how to really be competitive and get after that top talent that’s needed.

Cale: One thing I would love to be able to do, if you guys would allow, and I know your email address, you can’t really stop me at this point, but I would like to open up– obviously, we can’t do it live right now, being a recorded podcast, but I would like to open up some line of communication between our listeners and you guys. Maybe even provide them a form that says, “Hey, what do you want to know? What’s on your mind as far as COVID or anything related to SMBs?” They’ll just post some questions, and maybe they get answered, maybe they don’t, and if they do get answered, we’ll make sure that we talk about it right here.

By the same token, I love the idea that they can maybe find out some information that they’re interested in rather than, “What does Harris poll have for me now?” You know what I would’ve liked to have known, because I always find that with– When we were setting this up, [unintelligible 00:45:48], “Oh, if I would’ve known you’re asking this question, I would’ve wanted you to ask this too.” Maybe we can do a little bit of that and find out some of the other sides of these things as we get to– There’s no way you can ask all of the questions.

I’m happy to do that and I’ll just keep that line open with you, but I’m excited. We had a conversation not long ago and I’m excited about some of the things we’re going to do together in the future. As you guys get a little closer on the recruitment and the startup piece, let’s make sure that we get that information out to people as well. Thank you so much for your time.

Any parting thoughts, anything you want anybody to know on their way out? By the way, shamelessly [unintelligible 00:46:29] you guys have services and things that they shouldn’t be afraid of but might be, so talk to us a little bit about what they could do.

John: Yes. Just going back to your previous point, we would absolutely welcome having an open line of communication. As much as we like to think we know everything, we absolutely do not. Hearing from people that are actually dealing with this stuff day in and day out, I think that’s a fantastic idea.

Cale: The fact that you guys actually ask the questions means that you don’t know. That’s why we ask questions and that’s all we do here at Harris poll. Absolutely, I’d love to do that. I know people right away that I’ll submit some questions. We’re happy to do that. Now talk to us a little bit about what people can do that they might be afraid to do as far as research is concerned. In this study alone, it talked about this need and this demand for market research and understanding the marketplace better.

John: Yes, that’s right. I alluded to it a little bit before, but a lot of research firms operate as survey shops. They go to the client, they say, “What do you want to know?” They ask the questions and then just dump the percentages on them and just wash their hands and walk away. We look at ourselves as much more of a consultative operation, we want to meet with these clients, we want to understand the business, get as much background as we can, understand the challenges that they’re facing, craft the questions in tandem.

We don’t come up with the questions and then just turn it over and walk away. We go through multiple iterations, making sure that we’re wording everything so that it lands the best with their customers.

Then moving into the reporting stage, it is an iterative process. We go through and share the initial results. Like you say, “Are there other angles that we should be looking at this data? Are there different sub-segments that we should cut this data by to make it as actionable as possible?” At the end of the day, we just make sure that the reports that we give are very action-oriented. We weave a story through the data rather than just dumping a bunch of percentages. We make sure that as this client walks away, they’re walking away, armed with information and know-how to use it, how to put it into action and make those changes.

Cale: I’ll tell you two things, this report alone called Onward and Upward, it is a woven story. It really is well put together. If you had something to do with that, nice work. In my work with Harris Poll specifically, they really hold your hand and they’ll make sure that, “Well, are you sure you want to ask it this way?” One of the other great things, and this is, in my opinion, one of the foundations of a good business, is that there’s always going to– nothing ever goes exactly as planned. I think you called it fielding, you fielded some questions for me. [chuckles] Is that the way you say it?

John: Nailed it.

Cale: You fielded some questions for me and one of them came back and one of your people said, “Because we asked it this way, we now don’t know–” why they would’ve asked.

They went and they re-fielded all the questions for me and asked that question in a different way. I have to say that’s the sign of a good business. Stuff’s not always going to go as planned, and what do you do about it? That’s the sign of a good business. Thank you, guys, for the work you’ve done with me in the past. I’m excited about what we’re about to do in the future. Anytime you guys have anything for us, let us know and we will absolutely drop everything and make sure that you have a format. The other thing is that we do have some things planned, and I’m super excited about that. I love the recruitment stuff that we’re going to do, the startup business stuff.

One of the things I’m super excited about that we laughed about in our meeting not long ago was the crazy things that you guys have learned over the years that might seem super in left field. I can’t wait to do that one whenever that might happen, but I’m super excited to hear the fun stories about what companies have actually sought out and maybe some of the things that you accidentally learned along the way that you didn’t intend to learn.

Some of the things that we learned here today you might have accidentally learned, but they were serious and there are things [unintelligible 00:50:57]. Some of the things that we’ve talked about in the past, I just love them. I love some of the studies that people have done and the things that they’ve learned. John, thank you again for your time, and in the future, we will absolutely be talking to you and your friends again over at Harris Poll.

John: Absolutely. Appreciate it, Cale.

Cale: We’ll have more conversations with The Harris Poll company in the near future. For more information on this episode, go to, where you can download the white paper and for quick and easy direct access to The Harris Poll company.



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Expert: John Campbell

John has 17+ years experience in directing both quantitative and qualitative research with a specialty in SMB audiences and larger organizations that serve SMBs.

Specialties: Conducting marketing and communications research through the use of quantitative and qualitative approaches. Transforming information goals into data-driven research objectives. Providing actionable insight that’s ready to be used in important decision-making situations.

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