Using a mail questionnaire, we measured small business owners' perceptions of their proficiency levels in each of 19 important business skill areas. Our results reveal that small business owners are most deficient in an array of skills required for growing and expanding their business. They were most proficient in strategic, operational, and financial skills required to manage their firms in existing markets. Our results provide educators and service providers with information that can be used to modify or expand training programs to help meet these skill needs.
MANAGEMENT SKILLS AND TRAINING NEEDS OF SMALL BUSINESS MANAGERS
As entrepreneurship and small businesses ownership continue to be major economic activities in the U.S., the success of small businesses is becoming increasingly important. Essential factors leading to the success or failure of small businesses are the skills, abilities and expertise of small businesses owners and managers. According to Peterson, Kozmetsky, and Ridgeway (1983), most small businesses fail because they lack vital management skills.
Entrepreneurship education and small business assistance programs attempt to aid small business managers in developing their skills and expertise. Some programs or methods of instruction have been more successful at attracting these business people than others. Peterson (1987) found that government sponsored programs were used the least (8.8%) by small business managers with 78.2% user satisfaction. Accountants or CPAs, on the other hand, were used by 75.4% of small businesses with 95.4% user satisfaction. University business courses were used by only 22.4% of small business managers and 90.8% reported satisfaction with the services provided.
Although small business owners might be satisfied with the services they receive from college courses and other training, they might not be getting all the skills that they need to succeed. As the U.S. economy expands and changes at a rapid rate, small business assistance providers might unknowingly provide training that fails to meet the needs of their target audience. Should this happen, there can be a significant variance between what small business managers and entrepreneurs need and what they are receiving in terms of skills training and development. Hess (1987) compared small business needs with what was being covered by small business curricula. He found that small business courses overemphasized finance and accounting while they underemphasized management, selling, and marketing skills.
In some cases, small business managers and entrepreneurs might be discouraged for seeking assistance if it fails to offer what they need. According to Abboushi (1989), public assistance programs had low rates of use due in part to the view that these programs were not providing services that were relevant to small business needs. Young, Wyman, and Brenner (1999) also found low (less than 35 %) usage rates for most public assistance organizations.
The literature on small business training needs is somewhat disparate and fragmented due to the complexity of the problem. The essential obstacle in comparing research results stems from the different research objectives and samples employed by researchers. Sexton, Upton, Wacholtz, and McDougall (1997), for example focused on the learning needs and styles of growth-oriented entrepreneurs while Young et al. (1999) examined the perceptions of assistance needs by owners of small manufacturing firms. Such studies have added richness and texture to our understanding of training needs by small business owners but they are not comparable.
Hess (1987) compared the training needs perceived to be important by small business owners and managers to the coverage of these topics in textbooks used in higher education. Perceptions were measured only in the areas of selling, marketing, production, finance, accounting, and management. …