Doing More With Less: Growing Your Business in Uncertain Times

The outlook for SMBs is beginning to brighten and many business owners are thinking about how to grow in the coming year.

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Business growth can come through both savings and development

Here's what you need to know:

  • Many businesses added new services during the COVID-19 lockdown
  • It’s important to keep what worked and get rid of what didn’t
  • Businesses can be grown through savings and through extending reach

As the outlook for business begins to brighten, small and medium-sized businesses are wise to review lessons learned from the past year and consider how those lessons can be used to grow business for the future. Many of the operational changes thrust upon business leaders during the height of the pandemic offer new models for continuous growth. Examining what worked for your business and your customers during the difficult times can translate to new ways to develop your business during uncertain times.

The ability to adapt is central to an organization’s ability to overcome challenges. For many SMBs during the COVID-19 pandemic, that meant pivoting to services and practices not previously offered: delivery, virtual meetings or interviews, and remote work were some of the most common changes made by businesses.

However, as you return to “normal” operations, it’s important to consider whether these practices are worth continuing. If they provided a benefit to customers, vendors, or employees, consider informal polling to see what trends to keep and what to eliminate and then review other ways to grow your business, as well. Start with cost savings that put more money in your pocket for development. Then look for ways to expand your line and your customer base.

Growth through savings

Catering to customer need

Delivery service may have been a saving grace for your company over the last year. And while many new delivery options required initial startup costs — website updates, insurance, new hires, etc., the costs were offset by consumer demand. If popular, these are worth holding on to. During uncertain or transitional times, these services may not only fill a need for existing customers, they may develop into a completely new client base. As long as consumer demand continues, keep the service going.

Turning off the lights

Remote work may have been the only option to keep your business going during the shutdown. Once past the initial glitches and hurdles, many organizations found the model worked well and realized significant savings on utilities and office expenses. As you return to in-person work, take a look at what practices can continue. Your employees may have strong opinions on the subject! Make sure to ask if they’d like to make working remotely permanent or if they need to be in an office environment to stay engaged and productive.

Another consideration for businesses in a position to increase their headcount may be to grow the company with a mix of in-person and remote staff. This hybrid model can minimize real estate and other associated costs as you expand. A good way to implement this model is to offer fully remote work options to existing staff first, then add additional remote staffers to fill any vacancies.

Another consideration for businesses in a position to increase their headcount may be to grow the company with a mix of in-person and remote staff. This hybrid model can minimize real estate and other associated costs as you expand.

Targeted inventory 

During the downturn, what items flew off the shelves and what sat collecting dust? Which items are worth keeping in inventory and which should they be eliminated? Carrying inventory that doesn’t turn quickly can be costly, but you don’t want to refuse even occasional business. Consider making those unusual items custom-ordered stock that you manufacture or distribute on an as-needed basis only. Orders may take a bit longer to fulfill, but your savings could be substantial.

Mileage and meals 

Sales calls done via teleconference over the past year may have seemed less personal, but they may also have been less expensive. Your customers may be just as satisfied with a remote check-in as they would be with a face-to-face meeting. Traveling can be expensive, even locally, and poses risk to the employee and the company. If remote sales calls work, use even these small savings to help your business grow.

Growth through development 

Reward loyalty 

Many clients relied on the expanded services and options provided during these past months and capitalizing on that will be key to growth. Reward the clients who stuck with you as much as possible. Customers appreciate even the smallest discounts or incentives, and these perks are often what keeps customers engaged. Uncertain times highlight who are your loyalest customers, and as you grow, keep their needs top-of-mind.

It’s important to remember, too, that loyalty is a two-way street. Vendors who are willing to be flexible should be at the top of your go-to list for future purchases. Build on that flexibility. If you can increase or expand on the relationship, you may find opportunities for both your companies.

Build on successes 

Examine what product or service was in the highest demand during the downturn and look for ways to keep that momentum going. What solution did it provide and how, during uncertain times, can it continue to help your business grow? Look to your employees to offer suggestions on what was most requested by customers. Brainstorm ways to innovate that product or service. You may discover a new revenue stream.

If a delivery option worked during lockdowns, how can you build the service when things go back to normal? For example, small restaurants with limited seating may have created an entirely new market with delivery or curbside service. While you may have a finite number of tables to fill and turn during normal business, there may be no limit to how much you can produce and sell with delivery options.  Build on these to grow your business.

Create partnerships

Does your dog grooming business turn away requests to groom cats or exotic animals? Look for a local or mobile service in your area to partner with. Rather than saying no to a customer, recommend your partner and ask that they do the same for you. Remember to ask new clients who referred them to make sure the relationship is balanced.

Your landscaping business may not have an arborist on staff. Find one that you can refer customers in need to  and ask if they will refer customers with smaller needs to you. If your restaurant isn’t licensed to sell liquor but the bar next door is, consider a delivery/curbside service that combines the two.

Every customer you turn away actually represents a potential partnership with another small business. As you look to grow your company these relationships can be key.

Every customer you turn away actually represents a potential partnership with another small business. As you look to grow your company these relationships can be key. Solutions for your existing client base or for new inquiries can not only bring in additional revenue but are also a big part of building brand loyalty. When you partner with another company to fulfill all your customer’s needs, you can grow both your organizations.

Extend your reach

When times are uncertain, expansion may be the last thing on your mind, but it should always be part of the thinking. How can you build your customer base, product, or service line to increase  sales? You can look to the business you’ve turned away for inspiration – ask employees when they’ve had to say no to a customer. What was the product or service requested? If you discover a theme, look to grow in that area, developing that item and marketing it aggressively.

If there’s not a specific product or service you can identify, build on your best sellers. Can you improve on them? Can you expand to new customers with them? You may consider building your brand in markets further from home. For instance, a smaller, satellite location could be key to growth. You may look to grow sales with a new demographic. Whatever product or service you provide, growing your business relies on strategic thinking. Adapt what’s working or develop something new to capture more market share.

Looking for creative ways to capitalize on trends and market conditions is key to maintaining a business. In uncertain or transitional times, it’s important to look beyond survival mode to find opportunities to grow and develop for the future.

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