How recessions affect small businesses

Live Well Diary Team

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Recessions affect small businesses - stocks

Small businesses are the backbone of a country’s economy. They create jobs and contribute to local economies.

Small businesses suffer quite a bit during recessions. These companies are more vulnerable to economic changes because their revenue is inherently tied to what’s happening with the rest of the country.

Here are reasons why recessions affect small businesses:

1) Most small businesses are not prepared for a recession.

It’s not surprising that many small business owners are unprepared since they haven’t yet dealt with one before.

They may not be ready for a recession because:

  • They don’t have an excellent operational or strategic plan if or when an economic downturn occurs.
  • Some small businesses don’t know how to handle cash flow problems.
  • They don’t understand how government policy impacts them.
  • Some aren’t aware of the economic downturn’s impact on their industry or niche market.

2) Higher level of risk for small businesses during the recession

This holds true in every economy, regardless of its strength or weakness. The rationale is that small businesses lack the degree of risk mitigation as corporations.

When times are good, big businesses earn big. They have high control over their earnings and see a profit year after year. During bad times, large corporations have financial reserves to rely on. They can weather the storm, pay their employees less (if needed), and take fewer risks that could bankrupt them if things don’t go well.

However, when the economy takes a downturn, small businesses often find themselves without cash reserves to navigate the times.

They’re fighting an uphill battle against increased competition and decreased spending from customers facing financial difficulties.

Consequently, owners of businesses find themselves faced with choices. They may have to make reductions in expenses, such as downsising their office space or implementing salary cuts for employees. Regrettably, they might even find compelled to shut down their business.

Recessions affect small businesses

3) Recession affects debt management

The vast majority of small business owners run their companies with debt. When the economy dips, it’s easy to assume that this makes small businesses vulnerable. After all, they have significant loans with fixed rates. If the economy is threatening to shrink enough to cause a recession, companies face a considerable risk of defaulting on those loans.

Most small businesses have high debt-to-income ratios; many assets are in real estate and inventory. Due to this situation, they lack funds to settle their debts in times of downturn.

4) Affects the balance sheets of the company.

It’s harder for small companies to find funding during a recession.

During a recession, banks will be the first to cut their lending. In times like these, it is more challenging for businesses to secure loans, banks and investors.

Banks lend money based on risk, and smaller companies have weaker balance sheets and are riskier to lend money to. Studies show that banks and investors tend to favour giant corporations with established reputations over smaller startups and riskier ventures, especially when financial trouble is on the horizon. [1]

However, large companies have deeper pockets and more stable finances than small businesses. Banks are more likely to lend money to larger companies during recessions because they can afford it. They’re less likely to default on loans or go out of business due to a lack of funds—unlike smaller companies who don’t have as much capital reserves but still need cash flow to pay employees or buy inventory (or whatever else).

Recessions affect small businesses - negative charts

5) Recessions affect small businesses as it can lead to high unemployment.

The overall unemployment rate is the most commonly cited statistic for measuring what’s going on with the economy. You might be surprised how much it can affect certain small business owners.

During downturns, small business owners may experience increased unemployment rates which vary depending on industry and location. A recession in specific sectors, like construction, can lead to remarkably high unemployment rates.

Additionally, in times of downturn, individuals may find themselves with reduced income. This means these businesses will have difficulty finding new leads, customers, and sales.

The lack of customers will also lead to employees being laid off. During times of downturn, small businesses tend to shut down quicker than larger corporations.

6) Recessions hurt consumer spending.

When individuals have concerns about their employment, they tend to delay making purchases. This can harm small businesses in particular because it cuts into their sales.

For example, people will not spend much on lifestyle products or services like eating at restaurants, buying new cars or taking vacations.

Recovery can be slower for small businesses.

Some small businesses that experience a recession do not recover quickly.

During the downturn, numerous businesses faced difficulties and had to shut down permanently. Small businesses face challenges to recover quickly as consumers tend to be cautious with spending and hesitate to invest in products or services.

Small businesses are often disadvantaged regarding having a cushion and the means to handle unexpected costs.

This can mean it’s harder for small businesses to rebound in a recession.


Small businesses need customers to make money and have fewer customers when the economy is terrible.

During periods startups often face limitations in their growth due to their reliance on banks and investors who may be hesitant to provide them with loans. This dependency on funding sources can restrict their ability to expand.

Small business owners should always keep an eye on the economy. Be ready to adapt to potential shifts or challenges that arise.

Watch the Video Summary


[1] Şahin, A., Kitao, S., Cororaton, A. and Laiu, S. (n.d.). Why Small Businesses Were Hit Harder by the Recent Recession – FEDERAL RESERVE BANK of NEW YORK. [online] Available at:

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