It's hard to turn on the news without hearing bad news for your business. Business expenses are up, revenue is down, taxes are going up, and the available labor force is somehow getting smaller by the month. A staggering 4 million people decided last month was the last month they were coming to work.
It turns out the beating that the American business owner has been taking is not quite over. In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out just as we're learning how to do more with less, and we're about to have to do more with ... nothing. That's right, and if you haven't heard, business owners will also have to learn how to retain customers with a fraction of the available inventory they're used to by the end of the year.
Fortunately, survival doesn't have to be the primary goal. Over the last year, the American business owner has shown themselves to be resourceful, creative, and able to pivot to new markets. In fact, there were over 4.4 million new businesses created in the U.S. during 2020, and that's the highest on record and over 50% higher than the average over the last decade.
Here are four ways to stop thinking survival and start thinking growth:
Before you fill (or re-fill) that job posting, ask yourself how to automate it. Once upon a time, this type of thinking would get you called un-American. Now it's a necessity. Order taking, reservations, scheduling changes, and a host of general business tasks can now be automated with tools that will likely only cost a small subscription fee per month. Best of all, your customers will love it! They don't want to sit on hold or wait for you to get back to them. They are desperate to be in control and have instant access, so give it to them!
Ask yourself what the core items are that your customers want. This could be a more factual approach like looking at what products your clients purchase the most of, or it could be mission-based, like asking which services you offer most closely align with your values and where you want to take the business over the next ten years. And by the way, if you're only looking at surviving the next year, you've already lost.
Start by asking the people that would know best, your staff. It's time to go old school with those big pieces of paper that stick on the wall and everyone standing in a circle (6 feet apart, of course). Give everyone sticky notes and ask them to write down items that they spend time on. Then move the sticky notes onto a few different boards like; things that make us money, things that make us "us," things that we could probably eliminate or automate, and things that are a complete waste of time. Let them know you aren't looking to reduce staff but rather free up time for everyone to focus on what will truly have the largest impact on your customers. I think you'd be surprised how insightful your team can be.
3. Invest in Your Team
The best way to avoid having to spend your days in recruiting hell is to keep the team you already have. Burnout is a very real thing, and it affects your staff differently than it does you. It's easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking, "what do they have to be stressed about." Covid has been completely and utterly draining to all of us. I would argue that keeping your small business afloat has kept you from some of the worst of it, as quite likely you've been too preoccupied to be depressed.
It's little things that can make all the difference like healthier snacks, paid days off, bringing back one on one meetings to find out how they're doing and what YOU can do to help them (sometimes we forget as business owners that's it's our job to serve our team not the other way around).
For our company, we started something called Wellness Week earlier this year. Every Friday, we spin one of those big bingo spinners, draw a name, and that person doesn't get to come to work the following week. No notice, no chance to plan anything. Just a paid week of boredom to do anything they want. The only rule is that you have to post a picture on the board of something fun you did the following Monday.
4. Don't Borrow, Benefit
For some, capital is what is needed most. Maybe automation means an ordering kiosk or a new piece of software. Maybe keeping your shelves full means buying in larger quantities. For some, reaching new clients means expanding your marketing. Every business could use extra cash flow right now but don't think borrowing is your best option. PPP may have introduced the American business owner to emergency relief, but unfortunately, most businesses stopped there, not realizing that PPP was one of the smallest programs available. The Employee Retention Credit qualifies business owners to upwards of $26,000 per employee. The Workers Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) qualifies employers for up to $2,400 for employees hired. The R&D Tax Credit will net you back a portion of each qualifying employee's pay over the last four years. Business owners that own commercial property qualify for new benefits under the TCJA.
There are plenty of programs available for small and mid-sized businesses, and the hard part is knowing where to start. In partnership with Karla Leonard, Growth Management Group has developed software to help businesses find out precisely what emergency relief they qualify for and quickly get the money into their hands, helping businesses all across America.