Feature

4 trends enticing Americans to start their first business

Part of our series on the future of Main Street

There's never really an "ideal" time to start a small business. It's time-consuming, pressure-filled, and risky. No one wants to see a pet project fail for any reason, but especially not because the economic conditions just weren't right. And for years, they certainly haven't been.

But potential small business owners with solid ideas on the back burner might be wise to jump in now, for a whole host of reasons. Here are four promising trends that are encouraging Americans to jump in and start a business of their own.

1. Small business optimism is at an eight-year high. The National Federation of Independent Business reported that its optimism index jumped to 100.4 in December, an increase of 2.3 points. It's the highest reported reading since October 2006, which also means the index has crept back up to its pre-recession average.

Small business owners are feeling so good about the economy that many even reported to NFIB that it's a good time to consider expanding their staffs.

(More on the future of Main Street: The booming future of collaborative work environments)

2. Small businesses are leading the economic recovery, adding 1 million employees in 2014. That's an average of 90,000 per month, an increase of 10,000 per month from the 2013 rate.

It's easy to see why optimism is up. Not only are small businesses participating in the recovery, they're leading it. Granted, small businesses we sometimes don't consider truly "small" are at the forefront of that trend, with companies of 20 to 50 employees faring better, on average. But, keeping in mind that the smallest of small businesses won't ever hire the most workers, the statistic looks good for everyone.

(More on the future of Main Street: The amazing promise of electronic payments)

3. Small business owners gained representation in the 114th Congress. The economic factors working in favor of small businesses are important, but they're not everything. Business owners must also have their voices heard in Washington, something that has potential this year. More than a dozen new legislators with experience running their own businesses were sworn into Congress for this session.

However, the NFIB report does caution that true political change isn't guaranteed to follow Main Street's Election Day success:

Any election euphoria that persists will soon be snuffed out if Congress cannot lay out a positive plan and make some progress on the top problems facing small business owners including: health insurance costs, uncertainty about economic policy, energy costs, the cost of regulations and red tape and the tax code which is too confiscatory, too complex, and changed too often. [NFIB]

Already, we've seen the potential legislators' impact when it comes to ObamaCare. The House wasted no time in passing two modifications to the law that stand to help small businesses.

The first would except veterans hired by small businesses from the 50+ rule: Businesses with more than 50 employees must either provide health insurance to them or pay a penalty. A Senate committee then unanimously approved it with no amendments.

The second, which President Obama is unlikely to sign should it pass the Senate, is meant to up the number of hours a week an employee must work to receive health insurance, from 30 to 40. The bill would allow small business owners to increase manpower without having to provide insurance, a costly benefit.

Even if neither bill becomes law, the measures still show lawmakers are looking out for small businesses owners.

(More on the future of Main Street: How mom-and-pop businesses can thrive in the 21st century)

4. Pop culture is making small businesses look sexy. In recent years, we've seen an abundance of reality shows featuring small businesses and glorifying entrepreneurs. Shark Tank features all sorts of ideas, ranging from the amazing to the awful. There also seems to be a show dedicated to renovation and revitalization for just about every type of business out there: Bar Rescue, Restaurant Impossible, Tabatha Takes Over, you name it.

TV acclaim isn't limited to reality shows. Take Portlandia, where the feminist bookstore In Other Words has enjoyed national attention. It's literally helped them stay in business. That's an extreme example, but a whole host of real businesses — with senses of humor — have benefited from air time on the show.

Of course, pop culture attention most helps the select few businesses lucky enough to find their way onscreen. But inherently, that focus comes with a certain degree of praise thrust on the industry as a whole. Patronizing a local business seems approachable and fun.

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