4 Key Strategies For Small Business Leaders Unlocking New Growth

April 4, 2022

By: Natalie Burg

Whoever said "leave well enough alone," was surely not a small business owner in growth mode. Change is not only a product of, but often a prerequisite to, breaking through to the next phase of business growth.

"That surprises some business owners," says Divya Demato, CEO and co-founder of GoodOps, a supply chain and sustainability consultancy that advises companies on their business strategy. "They think, 'We had success with this strategy, why change?' But what you realize is you may have to modify your products or services, or vendors or partners, to be able to scale."

Growing businesses—and all businesses in today's ever-evolving business environment—must embrace agility. Whether that means adapting to changing conditions, like a global pandemic, or making strategic adjustments to reach the next level, the key is knowing what to change. Read on for four ways small business leaders must evolve their companies to enable growth.

1. Reshape Your Team For Growth

"Many times, the core entrepreneurial team that got you to this point, some of them may not be able to go on that journey of scale with you," Demato says.

This can be a tough one—especially for close-knit companies. But it’s a matter of evolving roles and the skills needed for those roles. Small companies often require generalists rather than specialists and operations talent rather than managerial. Larger companies need more specialists and managers. And businesses in growth mode? They require a unique blend of both.

"You're looking for people who have both entrepreneurial and operational strengths, and it's a very potent combination," says Demato. "It's an interesting time in your business. You're not so big yet, but you're not a startup either."

Small business leaders looking to grow should evaluate their team's strengths and skill sets to ensure they have the right folks in the right roles and to determine what, if any, gaps in talent exist. This analysis will help leaders strategically recruit or retrain the talent needed to position their company for growth. While the talent market may be tight, offering recruits what they're looking for now—including flexible work options and diverse teams, according to a 2021 study—can help attract the right candidates.

2. Leverage Customer Data

To grow your business, you have to know your business. Nothing can tell you more about your company, products and—most importantly—your customers, than data.

"If you're not collecting customer data, you need to begin immediately," Demato says. "Your business data will tell you the health of your business, but the consumer data lets you know how your consumers behave." Understanding that behavior will allow you to adjust your sales, products, and marketing as needed to grow.

Many startups, and retailers in particular, choose the visibility and reach of third-party marketplaces to find and grow their customer base. The trade-off is often that the third party ends up owning the customer data.

In order to understand who is buying the product, what they're willing to pay, what other products they're interested in and where they're located, some businesses may need to refresh their ecommerce strategy. If they're selling through a third-party marketplace, based on the resources available, it may be time to move to their own retail site.

And, of course, they'll need to learn how to interpret and leverage that data, too.

"You have to have the right people on your team that can make sense of that data," says Demato. 

3. Diversify Your Supply Chain

Growing companies should learn from the struggle that businesses of all sizes grappled with in a pandemic-impacted world. Dealing with uncertainty has pushed businesses to adapt, allowing them to be more agile, adopting new strategies and processes based on what they've learned. Small businesses with an eye on growth should do the same by building out their supply chain networks with the potential for disruption in mind.

"Make sure that whenever unforeseen situations happen, you can pull the right levers that keep you in business," Demato says.

She recommends a two-pronged approach, beginning with a diversified supply base. Having multiple vendors allows businesses to keep operating, even when unexpected events disrupt one supplier's operations. She also emphasizes the importance of developing strong relationships with suppliers.

"They're truly your partners. You need them to buy into your vision. Think about their needs, and help them stabilize and be sustainable," she says. "You want them to grow with you."

4. Embrace Sustainability

Entrepreneurs have a breadth of options when it comes to sustainable sourcing. Though environmentally friendly suppliers and practices may have been a cost burden in the past, based on her experiences helping companies build sustainable supply chains, Demato has observed a change.

"There are great and very affordable options now," she says. "The assumption that sustainable operations are more expensive, it's just not the case anymore."

At the same time, the costs of not operating sustainably are going up. Consumers, talent and investors all have sustainability top of mind—70% of consumers in a 2021 survey said they buy from brands that share their values. This reveals a clear market opportunity for small businesses. In another 2021 study, 85% of consumers said they have become greener in their purchasing, and more than a third of Gen Z and Millennial buyers say they’re willing to pay a premium for sustainable products.

For many small business owners, maintaining sustainable operations and choosing environmentally conscious suppliers—like Office Depot, who has the Office Depot® GreenerOffice™ line, which offers products with environmental attributes and ecolabels like cleaning supplies made with less harsh chemicals and paper with recycled content—is an easy first step. Your existing resources and partners are an extension of your team. Tapping into their sustainability opportunities is an efficient way to begin your sustainability journey. 

Companies that can authentically communicate their environmental efforts to consumers have a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining customers. Establishing that rapport allows you to demonstrate that your brand has similar values as your customers and that you care about making a difference.

For small companies, growing does not mean running the same business on a larger scale. With the right people, processes and partners, small businesses can position themselves to reach their growth goals. 


Published in partnership with Forbes

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