Small-business optimism is high and entrepreneurs are putting growth ahead of all other priorities for the first time in years. Close to three quarters of business owners in the 2017 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor survey are bullish about the economy and their own prospects for the next six months.
Businesses are also confident that funds will be there when they need them, according to the Monitor survey, and they plan to hire and make capital investments in greater numbers in 2017 than last year.
If you're a growth-minded small-business owner, remember that the key to success for sustained growth is to make sure your foundation is strong enough to support the bigger company you are building.
Keep these three tips in mind as you expand.
1. Make sure customers are happy.
Don't lose your focus on good service, even when your eyes are on expansion. If your plan for winning more customers is built on setting yourself apart from competitors through better service (78 percent of the business owners surveyed by American Express will use this strategy) then your attention is already where it needs to be.
Consider adding new ways to communicate with customers that can help you rapidly respond to their needs. For example, 65 percent of business owners reported that they will use social media tools this year, up from 57 percent in last year's survey. Your Twitter and Facebook accounts can serve more than just your marketing agenda: They can be monitored for messages from customers, who may reach out with questions or problems on these channels.
Deliver a more consistent experience to your customers by defining what excellent service means at your company and communicating clear expectations to employees. Let them know how quickly you expect customer problems to be solved, and what staff is authorized to do when "making things right." For example, restaurant staff should know when it's appropriate to offer a free appetizer or even a free meal. Also define and communicate a process for quickly escalating problem-solving up the chain of command.
2. Attract and keep great employees.
Hiring more employees is considered essential to growth by 74 percent of this year's Monitor survey respondents. Every small-business owner knows that hiring the right people is just the start: Keeping them satisfied once they're on board is equally important.
One key to retention can be offering salary and benefits that are competitive for your area, but you may inspire more lasting loyalty by paying attention to your workplace culture. Millennial employees are particularly motivated by more meaningful work, so strive to communicate a positive mission and cultivate pride in a job well done. Giving them opportunities to develop new skills may help increase job satisfaction and retention.
Perks that enhance morale don't need to be costly. Depending on the nature of your business, you may be able to help employees manage their work-life balance through flexible scheduling or occasional telecommuting. Think creatively about other low-cost perks or ways to show appreciation: Order pizza or bring in bagels, for example.
3. Plan for a rainy day.
Cash flow was not a concern for the majority of business owners in the survey: It was named as an issue by 34 percent of 2017 respondents, about the same as last year. And while a large majority (82 percent) are also confident that they can access the capital they may need, it's important to keep in mind that rapid growth can introduce heavy strains on cash flow. Buying materials to fulfill a large order for a new customer, or expanding into a new space to serve a growing market, can require you to incur costs well before you receive the revenue needed to pay your bills.
Spend carefully, and keep funds on hand for unexpected expenses.