Keeping Your Small Business Healthy
1) Put Culture First. One of the most important factors in your organization's health is culture. A good culture can be hard to define, but it will be unique to your team and should align with your values and goals. A healthy culture has a way of weaving itself into every aspect of business, permeating break room conversations, friendships between co-workers, marketing strategies, and customer service. Culture broadcasts to the world your team's outlook, priorities, and why your team is in business.
At a small business, everyone leaves a distinct impression on the company's culture. No matter your role, be mindful of the words you use to describe your work, your responsibilities, and those that you work with. Similarly, make sure that the way you form relationships (be it with clients, investors, or co-workers) runs parallel to your organization's goals, values, and outlook.
2) Hire the Right People. This one seems obvious, but it requires a lot of discipline. In small companies, roles evolve and pivot rapidly, which means that the person you hire to run your blog might also need experience in Google AdWords, e-learning, or lead management. When considering your team's present needs, you also need to forecast your future needs. This is no easy task, and forces small businesses to pay even closer attention to hiring resilient, talented candidates who contribute positively to the desired culture.
Think of hiring processes as a serious investment. An employee that stays on board for 10 years can easily represent a million-dollar investment once you factor in time, salary, benefits and company resources. When you put it in these terms, it becomes harder to justify short-sighted hiring decisions, and forces you to play the long game.
At Katapult, we've invested in interns for many years, and have had some exceptional results. When coder Kyle Gerber signed on full time in May 2017, it had been six years since he first stepped through the doors as a Katapult intern.
You don't have to think six years down the road every time you hire a new employee, but playing the long game can yield major results when it comes to hiring success, and it also shows your team that you are invested in their growth and success--which aids employee satisfaction, improves culture, and reduces turnover.
3) Utilize Fair Exchange Whether it's employee relations or customer service, the concept of treating others the way you want to be treated is nothing new. If your employees feel like they are getting less they are giving, they will face burnout very quickly. Similarly, if your clients are taking more than they're giving, your team won't make enough profit to maintain growth.
At Katapult, we often refer to the bid structure in our industry as "a race to the bottom." Everyone wants to offer the best services for the cheapest prices, even though we all understand that it's just not possible. A client that wants service for less than it costs to provide is a bad client. An employee that wants to be paid more than they contribute is a bad employee.
When you hold your company, your employees, and your clients to a standard of fair exchange, you can quickly pinpoint those who are exploiting the system. Transparency can go along way within your team and with your clients, so don't be afraid to be honest about your bottom line.
4) Find a "Blue Ocean" Strategy Though it requires some outside-the-box thinking, finding a niche where few others are competing can be a major step towards finding organizational success. It's a simple concept; in a highly-contested market, all margins can only be found by decreasing your competition's market share. Small companies have an especially tough time competing against established giants, so finding your own "blue ocean" might be your best bet.
It doesn't have to be a groundbreaking new technology, or a change to your core business. Look for the easiest way into a niche that you can dominate. Your biggest obstacle won't be a competitor, instead it will be lack of awareness. From our experience, it's much easier to get the message out that your product or service exists than it is to convince people to switch from a competitor.
Finding a "blue ocean" scenario for your small business might not be necessary, but it's a technique that can be wildly successful, and it forces your team to think outside the box and find ways to shake up the status quo.
5) Control Your Team's Growth Everyone wants to increase profits and see their small team grow. Business journals around the world laud the fastest-growing companies and the individuals who lead them. But what is the cost of such aggressive growth? While investors enjoy the increased returns and communities appreciate the influx of jobs, uncontrolled growth has a devastating effect on an organization's culture, and could put the company out of business.
Because growth is expensive--and initially inefficient--the margins tend to to shrink each year. Soon, your margins will be so tight that a delayed payment or cancelled contract could put the company under. If you can, shoot for 10-30% growth year over year, even if it means pulling back on the reins.
Thanks for reading! At Katapult, we create tools that help us hire exactly who we want to build the company, and let them slowly grow into industry experts.