Today’s robust economy is generating terrific revenues for all types of businesses, with small business optimism at a near record high as of May 2018. But seizing upon opportunities in a booming economy means facing the struggles and challenges that are part of small business growth.
As business picks up, existing resources become stretched. Equipment that was adequate last month might barely meet demand today. Employees may feel increasing pressure to accomplish more within the same time constraints or the need to work longer hours to make ends meet, often without immediate compensation. Roles might shift during growth mode, with tasks and projects shuffled off to others, causing even more tension for employees who feel invested in their work. Without careful planning and management, it’s possible for valued employees to feel pushed to the point they no longer care.
General economic prosperity motivates business owners to grow and accept new risk, but they also stand to reap the highest rewards from the collective efforts of their employees. Therefore, it’s the owner’s responsibility to make the process as painless as possible for everyone involved. Let’s look at ways to make sure you’re prepared for measured growth during this economic high tide.
Set Goals and Create a Growth Plan
First things first – set realistic goals and create a plan for growth. A growth plan is a road map that helps you understand how to get “there” from “here.” It doesn’t have to be a highly formal document, but the more details the better. You’ll want to address several strategic questions, such as:
- What are your current strengths and weaknesses?
- In what specific way(s) do you want to improve or expand your business?
- What financial and operational goals do you want to achieve within a year, two years and five years?
- What types of capital are available for growth?
- What resources – people, equipment and so on – will you need to reach your goals?
Armed with a growth plan, meet with your local banker to discuss your goals, assess your finances, review your line of credit and explore potential investment opportunities. (Yes, some small businesses have funds left over after operating expenses!) If you need a loan and your current lender isn’t ready or willing to extend credit, check around. Community banks and credit unions often have special funds earmarked for new business endeavors and entrepreneurs.
Collaborate with Other Small Businesses
Look to other successful small businesses, either in your same industry or operating on a similar business model, to find out how they grew. Making these contacts can spawn new ideas, prevent you from making costly mistakes and generate leads for funding and other resources. They might even be willing to partner with you on specific projects or initiatives.
If you aren’t sure where to start, check out small business networking websites like Alignable and Townsquared, as well as your local Chamber of Commerce, all of which are dedicated to business growth and sharing advice. LinkedIn has a bunch of groups for small businesses – just type “small business” into the LinkedIn search engine and see which ones look like a match for you.
Engage with Existing Clients
You might have several clients that come back to you repeatedly for products or services, but how well do you understand their needs? Just as you want to grow your business, they probably do too, and their needs are likely changing. Leverage your relationship with those clients to find out which direction they’re heading and to determine how your company could help them meet their goals, buoying your bottom line along the way.
Add or Line Up Resources
It’s never too soon to begin lining up resources. Your growth plan should include a description of staff and technology you’ll need once the plan begins rolling out.
If you know you’ll need additional full-time or part-time staff, write a job description for each position to be posted when the time is right. If you need innovators who aren’t afraid to apply their skill sets creatively (and which small business doesn’t?), state that upfront in the description, as well as the need for employees who are flexible enough to juggle multiple responsibilities. Will you need contract workers or freelancers? Find those sources now and begin forming relationships so you can on board them quickly in the future.
This is also a good time to revise your employee handbook, or create one if needed. And make sure your website is clear on your company’s culture, spelling out what you expect from employees and what employees can expect from you.
Search your trusted providers’ websites to see the types of computers, software, Internet plans and phone services that are available and their current costs, and keep track of model numbers, software versions and so on. Some companies will work with you to create a pre-order that can be pushed through quickly once you’re ready to move forward.
Growing your small business will be a challenge, but you’ll have a great shot at success by creating and sticking to a solid plan.