This may seem like a peculiar time to be thinking about growing your small business, but the truth is that in a down economy there are still plenty of opportunities to develop and expand. Forget the headlines and start paying attention to the types of things you see and hear every day.

What are customers talking about? What are your suppliers concerned about? How is the area around your facility growing and changing? What are the newest innovations in your niche? How are your marketing efforts coming along? If you’re not asking yourself these questions periodically, you should be. Being proactive is a key ingredient in moving your business forward.

Tips for Moving Your Small Business to the Next Level

Get your house in order – We’ve talked at length about the importance of good customer service, effective team building and creative marketing. If you’ve tackled these areas, you may be ready for the next new challenge on the horizon, and may even be ready to explore the possibility of franchising your brand. If these components of your business still need work, though, now’s the time to address them.

Keep your eyes and ears open – Your suppliers, customers, competitors and even neighbors in your retail or warehouse space have valuable information to share. One major economic pundit used to watch pallet sales to determine whether the economy was growing or not. Being aware of (and acting on) what’s going on around you is one of the best ways to know when and how to jump when opportunities arise.

Be flexible – You may have anticipated big growth for your brick-and-mortar shop only to discover that your website is generating good revenue while your walk-in business remains flat. Being able to adapt to the unexpected doesn’t only help your small business stay afloat, it will help make it more successful over time. Where business is concerned, “small” is often synonymous with flexible. Being able to recognize and act on intelligence quickly is one advantage you have over the big guys.

Invest in the future – We’re all trying to operate in a challenging economy. You can view this as a calamity or your big break. There’s equipment to be had at bargain basement prices. Prime retail spaces are sitting empty. There’s also a wealth of unemployed talent available for the asking. This kind of upheaval means opportunity. Update your business model to embrace new prospects.

Diversify – If you’re a one-trick-pony in the marketplace, you know it. During good times, specialization works well in many industries. During bad times, expanding your product line or services could help you make it to the next level without a major overhaul or much added risk.

Forge a strategic union – Whether you acquire a complimentary business or combine forces with another company for mutual benefit, building your brand by forming a strategic alliance is a time honored way to grow quickly by benefitting from the initial efforts (and reputation) of others.

Embrace the global economy – Going international involves a learning curve and has attendant risks, but the term “global economy” has never been truer than it is today. If you have a product with cross-cultural appeal, consider expanding your horizons — literally.

There are huge repositories of free information available from Federal Government agencies like the U.S. Census Bureau and sites like and SCORE. Take the time to do some research, and use what you learn to help shape your strategy. If you want to play a waiting game because the economy still looks lethargic, position yourself for future growth by becoming an expert on key tactics that will help your business prosper once the economic climate improves.

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