In celebration of National Small Business Week, Constant Contact conducted a Small Business Then and Now Survey that offers a revealing look at how running a business now differs from five years ago.

The survey highlights the fact that many small businesses, 59 percent to be exact, think it’s getting harder to run a business with the economy topping the list of reasons why. 63 percent said their customers have higher expectations than they did five years ago (they expect more value and better customer service) and 49 percent said it’s harder to keep pace with emerging technology.

While we love data here at Constant Contact, we also love talking directly with our customers about the trends we’re seeing and how they’re affecting them. Our customers had some really good insights into how things are different, for better or worse, in how they run their businesses.

Here’s a peek at what some had to say:

Marketing consultant Debra Farrell of Diverse Resources agrees that customers have higher expectations today. “Customers are more demanding. They’re seeking fresh marketing formats and ideas, and they expect a fast turn-around. Like everyone really, customers want more to maximize their spend.”

Besides being harder, what else is different? Well, the biggest difference, according to those surveyed, is that they are using more online marketing tools. This is important because of the 30 percent who say it’s easier to find new customers today than five years ago, the majority credits more affordable and time-saving marketing tools.

Leveraging new technologies is essential, says Seth Tower of Gunn Design. “Business today can’t be scared by change. Sure, it can be frustrating sometimes, but businesses really need to embrace change and find out what’s new and where technology or best practices for using tools is going.”

While adopting new technologies for your business is important, it’s also critical to evaluate how you’re using existing technologies. Bryan Buser of the specialty beer store The Four Firkins says, “We’re using about the same amount of digital marketing tools as five years ago, we’re just using them differently. Five years ago we just had Facebook and Twitter accounts, but today we’re making a point to post every day.”

Another big change from five years ago?

40 percent of those surveyed said that there is more direct competition. This is not surprising in this age of daily deals and easy online comparison shopping that we live in.

Elaine Topper of Bella Soleil, an online importer of Italian pottery and ceramics, knows about this firsthand. “The biggest challenge we face today comes from the big online retailers. They are setting the rules in how other people perform in the marketplace. Free shipping, easy returns — they set it and we have to react.”

There’s so much more interesting data in this survey but, I want to end with one attribute that’s consistent among small business owners…optimism. When we asked small businesses where they see their business five years from now, 58 percent said “thriving.” How great is that?!

So, what do you think is different about how you’re running your business today versus five years ago? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Constant Contact team loves data and we’ll be sure to continue sharing our findings with you. In the meantime, check out more results from prior surveys. 

Celebrate Small Business Week 2013 by attending a live event. Find one in your area.