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Schedulicity, a specialist in online appointment scheduling for small, appointment-dependent businesses, announced the results of its business and economic outlook study for 2012. Among survey respondents, fully 91 percent indicated they expect their business to perform better than it performed in 2011, while only 2 percent predict negative business results.

More than 47 percent expect much better results and 44 percent rated their expectations as somewhat better than last year. For comparative purposes, participants were asked to assess their 2011 business results. Just more than half (51 percent) rated last year’s business performance as better, or much better than expected, while 34 percent reported earnings were on point with expectations and a minimal 12 percent reported a worse-than-expected business performance in 2011.

When asked to rate the outlook on the economy in 2012, 66 percent of business owners expect a better economic environment. Conversely, only 8 percent believe the economy will be worse in the New Year, while 26 percent expect the economy to remain unchanged in 2012. Participants were asked to rank a list of potential business goals on a scale of one to five, with one being least important to their overall corporate goal attainment.

Respondents overwhelmingly ranked growing revenues and increasing profits as the highest priorities, while cutting expenses was a distant fifth in importance. Given participants’ bullish economic outlook, service-based businesses clearly favor customer and revenue growth strategies versus cutting headcount or other expenses to meet their 2012 financial goals, the report noted. When asked to share expected revenue growth for 2012, 39 percent of participants estimated a 10 to 25 percent increase, while 26 percent expect an astounding 25 to 50 percent increase.

As the job market continues to be a hot topic in 2012, survey results point to an expected uptick in hiring. More than 40 percent of responding business owners said they would hire 2.5 new employees this year, on average. For many participants, this means bolstering staffing numbers by almost 70 percent. When presented with a list of possible business tactics for achieving their 2012 corporate goals, expanding their customer base came in first with 45 percent of business owners, making it their most important growth objective. Filling open appointments in their schedules and improving customer satisfaction were rated the second and third most important tactics, respectively.

Survey results also indicated small business owners understand the importance of implementing cost-effective marketing tools to help achieve their business goals in 2012. Social media, SEO and email marketing were all ranked equally important, notably over tools such as direct mail, coupons/daily deals and traditional print advertising. "While 2011 was clearly still a rebuilding year for many small businesses, 2012 is poised to be a time of development," said Jerry Nettuno, CEO of Schedulicity. "Prosperity is right around the corner. Small businesses owners are signaling to us–both anecdotally and through formal communications–that the economic recovery is progressing."

To read the original eWeek article, click here: Social Media, SEO and Hiring Top Priorities for Small Businesses in 2012: Report