Is your company’s growth diet well balanced? Five ways every small business needs to grow

Business growth is often thought of in terms of increasing the top-line (revenue) or bottom-line (profit); but, to keep your small business healthy and competitive over the next ten years as well as the next ten months, get beyond these platitudes. In an earlier post I wrote about the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in the small business growth agenda, but there are other crosscutting elements to consider and cultivate. Here are five I think of as essential, along with some hypothetical illustrations.

1. Grow smarter: Trends in the marketplace, competitive landscape, and technology can be challenging to follow. Businesses that track these diligently are less likely to be caught off guard. Encourage all employees—especially sales and operations staff—to bring new developments to the attention of the management team. When you spot an important trend, investigate further to determine how your company will respond to or leverage recent developments.

2. Grow stronger: Every business has a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Fortify strong points or shore up weak points to make your business better able to weather adversity and take advantage of opportunities. For example, improving your business’ financial condition will enable it to cope better with economic downturns or respond quickly to new customer needs.

3. Grow more capable: The skills and abilities of employees are what enable a business to deliver products and services that customers want. Extend these capabilities based upon changing customer preferences, emerging competition, or to improve operations.

For example, the owner of a restaurant with a reputation for its signature menu items notices that customers are increasingly asking for dinner salads as healthy alternatives to heavier meals. Thanks to her commitment to building a financially robust business and sensitivity to what customers want, she is able to authorize the chef to develop and test new recipes with the goal of offering items that will satisfy customer demand for healthy options.

4. Grow more efficient: Improving efficiency—doing things better, faster and/or cheaper—can make the difference between success and failure. In addition to cultivating a culture of continuous improvement, new capabilities often require some changes in the daily routine. After our hypothetical restaurant adds four new salads to the regular menu, the staff finds them cumbersome to prepare in the current kitchen set-up. To make the process better, they work with the chef and owner to reorganize the kitchen, making it easier to assemble salads while reducing the staff time required and food waste.

5. Grow more connected: Every successful business exists within a web of connections that includes customers, suppliers, advisers, service providers, business colleagues, industry contacts, and—last but not least—employees. Thoughtfully fortifying and extending this web can build loyalty and make your business more resilient.

Social media has an important role to play here, but don’t overlook more traditional methods as well. For example, by celebrating local farmers who supply its vegetables, our restaurant owner tells a story that can deepen the engagement of existing customers in the dining experience, attract new customers interested in eating locally produced foods, and build loyalty among suppliers.

All of these elements of growth ultimately impact business performance by increasing revenue and/or profitability while, in the long run, enabling a small business to evolve in response to ever-changing circumstances. Breaking growth initiatives into these separate ingredients can be useful in placing each within the context of a well-rounded, integrated approach to growth. This helps small business owners create, balance, and implement new initiatives that nourish their businesses.


Karen Utgoff, principal of Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, is a market-oriented business strategist based in Amherst, MA. Learn more at

© Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting 2013. All rights reserved.

1 comment

  1. Smaller businesses have the advantage of being able to make choices and implement changes without the exhaustive process and conflicting points of view that slow down major corporations. You need to anticipate your market and customers’ needs and constantly innovate to stay ahead. This requires leadership with agility, resilience, and a willingness to fail and to recognize that failure quickly enough to adapt and move forward.

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