1. Introduction: Stay Nimble, Stay Ahead

The days of “business as usual” are long gone. Any small company that’s grown comfortable with the status quo risks losing ground as industry and market changes speed ahead and new trends change the landscape. To succeed in today’s business environment, your company needs to excel at anticipating the demands that will emerge tomorrow--and be ready to handle those demands while your competitors are still playing catch-up.

What does it take to sustain growth amid a whirl of constant change? Smaller businesses have always enjoyed a competitive advantage on this point because their size allows them to be more nimble. And in an age when larger companies depend on algorithms to tell them what their customers want and need, your direct contact with clients gives you an additional edge. By adopting best practices in exercising agility, you can make the most of your company’s resources and ensure that your team is ready to respond profitably to the next big opportunity.

2. Put Your Company into the Conversation

Business-oriented social media and technological aids like Google Alerts have made it easier to target the industry and market news that’s most valuable to your company. “LinkedIn has so many incredible discussion groups, there’s just no reason not to know what people are thinking and doing,” says Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works and co-author, with John Paulo Cardoso, of Cause a Disturbance: If You Can Slice a Melon or Make a Right-Hand Turn, You Can Be a Breakthrough Innovator (Morgan James Publishing, 2014). “You can get some pretty strong expert advice, direction, or feedback very quickly. There’s just no excuse anymore not to have a better understanding of opportunity.”

As you monitor industry trends, it’s essential to evaluate how relevant each development is to your core business and how well it can be absorbed into your existing operating model. By staying focused on your core objectives and market strengths, you make it easier to stay grounded and pursue the new directions that are the best fit for your business.

3. To Hit Your Numbers, Calculate Your Metrics

“Beyond that, you need to measure your activities to have a better sense of what’s working,” says small business expert Gwen Moran, creator of Biziversity.com. “Then you can more closely consider new developments and trends in light of what has had an effect before.”

Establishing and measuring performance metrics also supports efforts to build contingency planning into your business plan so that you have an advance framework for responding to change in a competitive, productive manner.

Those numbers will help you to assess how well equipped your company is to handle opportunity and change financially, Moran explains. They give you a dependable picture of where you can cut expenses if the new area of business takes longer than projected to ramp up and start generating revenue. Metrics allow you to quantify the level of resources you can commit to training your team for new responsibilities or adding to your technology infrastructure where that will support your expansion goals. They help shape decisions about which areas of the business merit investment if sales of a new product or service rise more quickly than anticipated. By conducting these assessments, you also can identify areas in which your credit framework needs adjustment to ensure that you have access to adequate capital when you need it.

4. To Stay Ahead, Follow Your Clients’ Lead

Another key strategy is moving beyond what Tencer calls “selling and servicing mode” and engaging your clients in conversations about their long-term objectives and plans. “The best way to keep your team relevant to your customers is to understand the changes that may be coming and help your clients see you as a solution provider for that change,” he says.

Adding depth to your knowledge of your clients’ challenges will help you to identify the most promising areas of expansion for your product and service lines. It also strengthens your branding message and reinforces client perceptions of your company as forward-thinking and engaged in thought leadership.

5. To Foster Business Growth, Promote Employee Growth

Another factor that demands careful attention is human capital. As you contemplate shifting or expanding your products and services, you need to assess your existing team’s potential to develop additional expertise and take on new roles. You’ll need to think about where it may be necessary to bolster your capacity and how you can attract talent or establish strategic partnerships to fill those gaps.

But experts stress the importance of integrating professional training and development opportunities into your plans for growth. You’ll get the best performance out of your existing team by soliciting employee input and suggestions, recognizing and rewarding good ideas, and demonstrating that you value your staff.

“Give key employees more authority, invest in training to develop skills your company will need both now and in the future, and reward forward-thinking employees who come up with innovative ideas or solutions,” Moran says. She notes that each of these strategies will contribute to the overall quality of your company culture and help to ensure that your team shares your commitment to advancing the company’s market position and optimizing its growth.

“People want to be engaged,” Tencer says. “Tell your team where you want to go once you’ve heard from your customers. Ask them for their insights. It’s very empowering. And it’s something that tells employees that you take them seriously and value their input.”

6. Deliver A Strong Message--and Live It

Another benefit of this approach is that it creates a more complete picture of clients’ true needs and concerns than management can achieve through its perspective alone. By soliciting information from employees at all levels, you can identify customer pain points that might escape your notice as the business owner. That creates additional opportunities to strengthen your relationships with clients and impress upon them your dedication to ensuring their satisfaction and success.

Especially when you’re a smaller company, it’s essential to establish a strong message about your awareness of their concerns--and to act on that awareness to their benefit. Your business values, ethics, and commitment to clients can establish you not just as a preferred vendor or service provider, but as a dependable partner in meeting existing and emerging challenges.

If you can achieve that status, you gain a stronger competitive advantage than any rival company can attain. You won’t be threatened by rivals who try to shift the conversation to price, showcase their innovations, or promote the value of a bigger team--because you’ll already have sold your company as the right team.

As in so many aspects of business, agility is largely a product of strong relationships and open communication, two areas in which smaller companies often excel. By staying focused on what your company does best and viewing trends and emerging opportunities through that filter, you can guide your team to its best and most agile performance. Hold yourself and your team to this standard, make success a shared goal that offers shared rewards, and you’ll create the optimal environment for benefiting from change and unlocking your company’s potential to achieve long-term sales growth.

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