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How to make 2023 your year with leading small business growth strategies

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Ever wish you had a way to peek inside the minds of restaurant and retail leaders to see how they approach financial struggles and strategies?

Well, now you can.

Heartland recently conducted a survey to get to the bottom of how leading entrepreneurs across the country, generations and industries are feeling about their financial outlook in 2023. The survey covers everything from small business leaders’ top concerns to how they plan to overcome those challenges and keep driving revenue, rain or shine.

If you’re worried about the year ahead, feeling stuck or just looking for inspiration in tough times, you’re not alone. From restaurants to retail, small businesses everywhere are in the same boat. But it’s a boat you can sail toward smoother waters — with the right techniques, that is.

Keep reading to discover how growth-minded small business leaders plan to take on the year ahead — and see if their strategies could help power your own business growth.

Want a roadmap? Here are the questions we’ll answer in this article:

What makes a leader?

First, what do we mean when we say “leader”?

If you look up the textbook definition of a leader, it’s simply a person who leads a group of people. But the reality of what makes a leader – well, a leader – is much more complex.

While there’s certainly no one right way to lead, there are a few things the small business leaders we surveyed had in common. Out of all the respondents, the leaders reported significantly higher growth in 2022 (11.5%) and projected growth for 2023 (16.5%), compared to the rest of the survey participants who reported 6.2% growth in 2022 and 11.2% projected growth for 2023.

So, what’s their secret?

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Leaders make growth a top business priority

Across the board, the small business leaders we surveyed recognized the importance of prioritizing growth. Saying growth is important is all good and well, but what does making growth happen actually look like?

Well, that’s what this article is all about. (Just keep reading to find out!)

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Leaders believe agility is important to running a business

Another shared belief among the leaders we surveyed is that agility is critical to business success. But what is agility?

It means that when you encounter unexpected hardships (like shifting customer demands or supply chain issues), your business is able to quickly pivot and adapt to overcome those challenges. It’s the ability to continue moving toward growth regardless of the things that try to get in your way.

Here are some examples of how to create an agile business:

  • Share your vision and goals with team members to create shared ownership

  • Believe in your people and give employees clear authority and responsibility

  • Use an action and data-oriented approach to learning and training

  • Embrace technology in every part of your business

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Leaders are willing to take calculated risks

Next, the research showed leaders take calculated risks. But that doesn’t mean they’re playing fast and loose with their business. The key word here is “calculated.”

So, how do you make sure a risk is well-calculated? Here are some tips:

  • Determine your goals and make sure they’re specific and measurable

  • Evaluate the risk level of the opportunity to achieve that goal

  • Anticipate mistakes and do the math on how much failure would cost you

  • Walk away if it’s more than you can afford to lose

  • Make a detailed action plan if you decide to go for it

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Leaders invest in technology

Last, leaders showed they’re inclined to invest in technology to help run and grow their businesses. Try as you might, you can’t do it all on your own. Technology is a great way to offload tedious, time-consuming tasks and streamline operations to make your business run smoother.

Here are some examples of the tech we’re talking about:

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What roadblocks are leaders looking to clear?

Now that we’ve defined the mindset of our leaders, let’s look at their top concerns for 2023.

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Standing out among increased competition

With 33.2 million small businesses in the US alone, it can be tough to stand out. Not to mention the competition from big box stores, fast food chains and ecommerce empires offering perks like next-day delivery and competitive prices. That’s why small business leaders cite increased competition as a top external obstacle to growth in 2023.

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Developing a marketing strategy that attracts new customers

Small business leaders also listed developing a winning marketing strategy as a leading internal obstacle to growth. With 47% of small business owners running marketing on their own, it’s easy to see why it’s a common concern.

Whether it’s a lack of funds you’re contending with or a lack of headcount forcing you to handle marketing yourself, crafting content customers will love is hard. But the bottom line is that with competition being so fierce, a strong marketing strategy has never been more important.

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Reducing costs to fight inflation

54% of small business leaders listed inflation as a top concern for the coming year. And it’s no wonder.

Record-setting inflation has been the name of the game for a while now. Over the last year, the Consumer Price Index increased 6%. And prices for everything from real estate to gas to eggs at the grocery store have spiked with it. For entrepreneurs, that means the cost of operating a business has risen drastically, causing many to raise prices or cut costs.

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Finding qualified workers

Last but not least, 75% of small business leaders listed finding qualified workers as their top external concern.

There’s no shortage of crises entrepreneurs have had to face of late — and the hiring crisis has consistently ranked toward the top of that list for some time now. Recent research revealed that while there are 10 million job openings in the US, there are only 5.7 million unemployed workers. The math doesn’t lie. If every one of those unemployed workers found a job, we’d still be down by 4 million.

How do leaders plan to clear those roadblocks?

OK, we just threw a lot of problems at you. How about some solutions? Up next, we’ll cover how to overcome obstacles with leading small business growth strategies.

Build a brand and differentiate yourself

We can all agree, it’s a competitive climate for entrepreneurs right now. But one key way you can stand out from the crowd is defining your brand identity. Here’s how:

Identify your USP

Your USP is your unique selling proposition — the thing your business has that your competitors don’t. It’s how you convince customers they should choose you over the store or restaurant down the street.

Some questions to ask yourself

Does your restaurant offer fast online ordering and delivery options while other local restaurants require phoned-in curbside pickup? Does your store only sell sustainable products and services while other businesses on the block lack your commitment to sustainability? Do you use local ingredients to create a thoughtful, farm-to-table seasonal menu while others are more close-lipped about what’s in their pantries?

Whatever you do that makes your business stand apart, shout it from the rooftops! Or rather, make sure your customers know about it — and tell them in the right way. Speaking of…

Develop your brand voice

While this might sound a little abstract, its importance can’t be overstated. Your brand voice is how you present yourself to the world, how you talk to your customers, how you let them know who you are and what you’re about. It’s essentially your business’ personality.

Two key things to think about when crafting your brand voice

1) Who is your target market and what kind of tone will resonate with them?

2) What are your business’ mission and values that you want to shine through?

Don’t get hung up on honing some perfectly professional tone if that’s not you. Customers will see through a voice that doesn’t ring true. Be real, be respectful and be yourself.

Focus on serving a niche well

Ever heard the quote, “It's better to do one thing well than ten things poorly”? If you do one thing well, customers will be more likely to think of your business when they’re in the market for that thing. On the other hand, if you try to do everything, your business might fail to come to mind for anything.

The best way to go about finding your niche?

Conduct market research to find out what your customers want, do the work to discover your passions and skills, then align the two.

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Create a strong online presence

Once you’ve built your unique brand identity, it’s time to market it to attract customers. Since eyes are never far from a screen these days, one of the best ways to reach customers is by building a strong online presence. Here’s how to bolster your digital marketing efforts:

Start with a professional website

That competition we were talking about earlier extends to the online world. If your website looks like it hasn’t been touched since 1999, you can’t expect customers to stick around long. So, be sure to give it some TLC.

We’re not saying you need to have an award-winning web design. Simply making sure it looks up-to-date, has a clean look and feel, is user-friendly and allows customers to easily find information will go a long way.

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Beyond that, you’ll want to equip your website with the functionality your customers are looking for. Depending on the kind of business you run and industry you’re in, that could look like a seamless online shopping experience or an intuitive online ordering and delivery platform. Think through how your website could make your customers’ lives easier — and make their journey from browsing to checkout quicker.

Build out your social media profiles

Even if you’re not a social media person, we’ll wager your customers are. The hard truth? If you’re not taking advantage of social, you’re missing out on a whole lot of customers.

Aside from using social to drive customers to your business or ecommerce site, you can make sales on social platforms themselves. In fact, 52% of businesses plan to sell through social networks this year. So building social media profiles on popular platforms and growing your followers could be a big revenue boost in more ways than you realized.

Here’s a quick list of things to focus on:

  • Define your audience

  • Choose the right platforms

  • Create a content calendar

  • Stick to a posting schedule

  • Track metrics

  • Engage with customers

  • Use hashtags to join relevant conversations

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Looking for more tips on how to up your social game? Check out these strategies to win over your new market with content that works.

Don’t skip reputation management

A big part of whether potential customers decide to give you their business is based on online reviews. A recent survey showed that 76% of respondents always or regularly read reviews when browsing local businesses.

No matter how awesome your business is, no one bats a thousand when it comes to customer reviews. And you can bet when potential customers read the less than flattering ones, they’ll be paying just as much attention to how you respond as they do to the review itself. This is why your online customer relationship management is so important.

But between Google reviews, Facebook reviews, Yelp, Tripadvisor and more, it can be challenging to keep up with all the places customers are leaving their thoughts on your business.

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Get the complete guide on how to manage online reviews to boost your business’ rating and attract more customers. As a bonus, consider these tactics for how to win over angry customers in the moment to cut back on negative reviews in the first place.

Leverage influencers

If you think influencers are for big brands only, think again. You’d be surprised how many are eager to promote local businesses. Look for influencers relevant to your customer base, industry or geographic area. If you don’t have the bandwidth to reach out to them on your own, there are agencies you can use to handle the back and forth for you. While outsourcing this can cost a pretty penny, it might be worth the load it’ll take off your shoulders.

Once you’ve decided to partner with an influencer, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting as much as possible out of the partnership — especially if you’re putting significant dollars behind this type of advertising.

Be sure to discuss content usage rights and make sure they are spelled out in a contract. Whether the compensation is monetary or just a product/experience, most influencers are likely to permit you to repost their content on your feed.

You can either stop there or negotiate paid usage. With this type of usage, if the influencer creates content you like, you can pay to license it for a specific period of time, and run it as a paid ad on your own Facebook or Instagram channels. Be sure to negotiate the options that appeal to you most in your agreement.

One last tip for working with influencers

They’re popular for a reason, so let them do their thing! Allowing them to do what they do best, in their personal style and voice, will resonate with their followers much more than forcing them to conform to your brand.

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Forge partnerships and new revenue streams

If you’re struggling with managing inflation or your cash flow’s not flowing, our research shows small business leaders are significantly more likely to develop new partnerships and revenue streams in the next year – as a way to break through those barriers – than other small business owners (23% and 8%, respectively).

Build partnerships

Sometimes, we all need a little help from our friends. Collaborating with another business on a new product line, event, pop-up shop, marketing campaign or licensing deal is a smart business move for a lot of reasons. But here are a few of the biggest:

  • Tap into a new customer base

  • Expand your brand awareness

  • Generate buzz beyond the borders of your current market

  • Increase customer loyalty and customer retention

  • Share the costs for marketing and labor

To get a collaboration started, research who would make a good partner for the goal you have in mind (do their values and target audiences align with yours?). Next, put together a proposal to make the partnership official (be sure to consult your legal counsel before signing anything). After that, brainstorm ideas for how to best collaborate with your partner and nail down the specifics of how you’ll execute the launch together.

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Interested in this idea? Check out this resource for a complete guide on how to build a collaboration that’ll help you pull in more revenue.

Expand products or services

If a partnership isn’t up your alley, you might consider launching a new line of products, menu items or services that make sense for your brand — and customers.

To get started, research what’s trending in your market or what problems customers are facing that you could solve. Next, think through the logistics. What kind of time frame would it require? How much would product development cost? Do you need to bring on more staff for the duration of the project?

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If you need additional capital to make your product expansion happen, you’ll want to make a business plan for your loan application, explaining goals and strategy for your new business idea. Learn more about how to secure a small business loan here.

Hire freelancers

It’s no secret: Good employees are good for your business’ bottom line. So, if you’re having a hard time finding and attracting talent in your traditional hiring pools, it might be time to break with tradition.

Enter the gig economy. Over half of the leaders we surveyed (53%) reported taking advantage of the gig economy to hire freelancers and gain a competitive edge. Why?

The gig economy operates via apps and online platforms to provide a wide variety of top-tier talent for various job types, including creative freelancers, developers, delivery services, labor, administrative assistants and more.

More perks of the gig economy? It’s a good way to do a trial run with a worker before bringing them on as a full-time or part-time employee. It also allows you to easily scale up and down to match busy/slow seasons, making it a great solution to supplement staff for seasonal work. On top of that, it’s often more affordable than bringing someone on in-house and doesn’t require benefits.

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If you’re still a little uncertain about how to navigate the gig economy, this guide will have you feeling confident in no time.

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What’s holding you back?

If you’re thinking there’s no way you have time to consider – let alone implement – those growth strategies when you’re struggling to simply get through your daily to-do list, you’re not the only one. 43% of the small business owners we surveyed listed time management as an obstacle.

Yet, somehow small business leaders do find the time. Wondering how? It comes down to this question: Are you spending your time on the right things?

If the answer is no, here are a few tips to help get over that hump, so you can start putting your own growth plan in motion:

Get good at delegation

No ifs, ands or buts about it: Successful small business leaders have this skill in common. But it can be difficult to master — and do correctly. 31% of the small business owners we surveyed listed resistance to delegating responsibility as their top obstacle to growth.

If delegation is your Achilles' heel, we get it. Trusting other people with handling important pieces of your business is scary. But once you figure out how to delegate effectively, you’ll have more time to focus on growing your business, while your team takes care of the tasks that are holding you back.

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You might be thinking: Delegation sounds great in theory, but how do you actually execute on that? Glad you asked. Get the full guide on how to save your sanity and strengthen your small business with delegation leadership — including do’s and don’ts, and three actionable ways to start delegating at your small business now.

Let technology do the work for you

Finally, if you’re not taking advantage of all that modern technology has to offer, chances are you’re wasting time doing work you don’t need to be doing.

For example … Been managing payroll manually? Counting inventory by hand? Using a sticky note scheduling system for employee shifts? Paying for paper billing and invoicing? Counting cash when you’re on the road because you can’t accept mobile card transactions?

At Heartland, we have a solution for all of the above and so much more. Find out how our collection of powerful, human-centered point of sale, payments and payroll solutions can help make every day work better for your restaurant or retail business — and give you the freedom to lead your business toward growth.

Ready to focus on the things that really move your business forward? Get a free quote for our custom fintech solutions or talk to a rep to learn more about how we can help.


Heartland is the point of sale, payments and payroll solution of choice for entrepreneurs that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back and spend less time in the back office. Nearly 1,000,000 businesses trust us to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at heartland.us