Growth Hacks for Business Owners: How Smaller Businesses Can Grow
As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series—a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories—Peter Harris, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Pipedrive, outlines five ways smaller businesses keep growing amidst an increasingly competitive, uncertain market.
Small to medium businesses (SMBs)—companies with less than 500 employees—play a vital role in the United States economy, contributing to job creation and economic growth. There are approximately 33.2 million SMBs operating in the country, and these businesses collectively employ over 61.7 million people. Moreover, SMBs are responsible for generating approximately 44 percent of the total economic activity in the nation.
Despite their significant impact, SMBs face several challenges, including access to capital, competition, and regulatory requirements. Today’s economic outlook is uncertain amid financial sector turmoil, high inflation, and the ongoing effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Crunchbase data shows that venture and growth investors in private companies continued to scale back their investment pace in the first quarter of 2023. Given this situation, the question arises as to what concrete measures small businesses can take to fully exploit their growth potential and achieve new company sizes.
Below is a 5-point checklist of possible courses of action that can help SMBs realize their goals and grow successfully.
1) Play the Long Game
Heightened scrutiny around investment decisions means venture capitalists will increasingly exercise greater selectivity when allocating capital, choosing entrepreneurs who demonstrate solid economic viability and achievable growth trajectories. Therefore it pays for business owners to adopt a long-term perspective and prioritize fundamental aspects (i.e., profitability, cash flow management, and financial planning) to be well-prepared for future improvements in market conditions and increase their investment potential.
2) Adopt Artificial Intelligence
The discussion about artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be ignored and will presumably keep us busy well into the future. Companies mainly see it as having the potential to create new revenue models and increase efficiency. These goals have already been successfully implemented in many application areas. Nevertheless, they are often mistakenly rejected by decision-makers in SMBs as costly and complicated.
However, there are numerous examples that show how AI can be successfully applied in practice for SMBs. Some of these use cases include:
- Automation of routine tasks: AI can help automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks. This not only saves time and resources but also allows employees to focus on more strategic and value-adding activities.
- Customer analytics and personalized recommendations: By using AI, companies can analyze extensive data about their customers to better understand their needs. Based on this, they can develop personalized recommendations and tailored offers to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Demand and supply forecasting: AI-powered analytics enable companies to predict demand for their products and services. This enables them to optimize their production and inventory levels and avoid bottlenecks.
- Fraud prevention and security: AI can help detect fraudulent activity early and minimize security risks. Through the use of algorithms and machine learning, suspicious patterns and anomalies can be identified to combat potential threats.
Careful evaluation of specific requirements and collaboration with experts can help SMBs find and successfully deploy the right AI solution.
3) Focus on Employee and Workforce Culture
The competence and motivation of employees are crucial to the growth of startups and young companies. There are various measures that can help attract qualified employees and retain them in the long term. To attract highly qualified employees, it is important to offer attractive incentives such as:
- Flexible and hybrid work arrangements: the most frequently requested benefit by employees, according to a survey by job platform Remote.
- Career opportunities: The prospect of personal and professional growth is a big draw for employees. Companies can create clear career paths and advancement opportunities within the organization to attract and retain talent.
- Recognition and appreciation: employees want to know that their work is valued. A culture of recognition, where achievements are publicly acknowledged, can increase employee motivation and retention. Rewards, bonuses, or regular feedback are ways to express appreciation.
- Corporate culture and team cohesion: A positive corporate culture in which cooperation, openness, and mutual support are encouraged can motivate employees to stay with the company for the long term. Team-building activities, joint events, and regular communication help to develop a strong sense of team.
It is important to note that the incentives and measures that are appropriate for a company depend on various factors, such as the industry, the size of the company, and the individual needs of the employees. A comprehensive analysis of the target group and regular reviews of the effectiveness of the measures implemented are crucial to achieving the best results and retaining qualified employees in the long term.
4) Embrace Countercyclical Marketing
Countercyclical marketing refers to a deliberate departure from the current trend and the alignment of marketing strategies against the general market situation. This approach can be particularly beneficial for small and medium-sized businesses in difficult economic times. Rather than drastically reducing their marketing spend, smaller businesses should focus on maintaining their presence in a cost-effective manner so as not to jeopardize visibility and customer loyalty.
One example of countercyclical marketing lies in the use of social media. SMBs can target micro-influencers to address specific niche target groups with a smaller reach. These target groups are an ideal fit for the company’s profile and can be effectively converted into loyal customers. With comparatively little investment, SMBs can produce content such as “behind-the-scenes looks at the company” or “tips and tricks for using the products” to increase customer loyalty. In addition to social media, there are other opportunities for countercyclical marketing. SMBs can, for example, focus more on search engine optimization (SEO) to improve their online visibility and drive organic traffic to their website. By specifically optimizing relevant keywords and providing high-quality content, SMBs can strengthen their position in search results and appeal to potential customers.
Countercyclical marketing can play a significant role in long-term success. Countercyclical marketing allows companies to stand out from the competition by going against the general trend. While other companies may be reducing their marketing investments, SMBs are taking the opportunity to increase their visibility and maintain their market presence. By taking targeted action, they can reach out to potential customers and build closer loyalty with their existing customers.
5) Challenge the Status Quo
It’s important for small businesses to continually challenge the status quo and respond to change. By regularly reviewing their business models, strategies, and product offerings, they can increase their competitiveness and adapt to changing market conditions. This requires an open corporate culture in which employees are encouraged to contribute innovative ideas and suggest improvements. This active approach enables SMBs to take advantage of their flexibility and develop successfully.
Small companies have the advantage over large, often rigid corporations in that they can act more flexibly. In particular, the less complex organizational structures and decision-making levels make it easier not only to regularly discuss potential changes in the business model or strategic orientation but also to implement them more quickly. All SMBs should take advantage of this flexibility. In addition, market changes and new customer needs can be addressed much more easily for SMBs.
An illustrative example is a small design studio that traditionally specializes in graphic design and visual communication. Instead of focusing solely on these services, the company could take advantage of current developments in virtual reality (VR) to expand its offerings. They could consider offering VR designs and simulations to provide immersive and interactive experiences for their clients. This would not only create new opportunities for customers but also open up the potential for unique projects and partnerships.
Incorporating these growth hacks into their business practices, SMBs can overcome challenges and seize opportunities to achieve sustainable growth in the dynamic and competitive business landscape. By staying agile, forward-thinking, and customer-centric, smaller businesses can thrive, contribute to the economy, and make a lasting impact on their industries.