Navigating growth: Lessons for success

Research reveals the state of SMBs and proven, actionable strategies to help them thrive

All fields required

By signing up, I agree to the Heartland Payment Systems Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

Unlock the secrets

Across the US, entrepreneurs and business owners face a multitude of challenges unique to their industry and the moment. In spite of it all, research shows they remain optimistic about growth. In an era of economic and geopolitical uncertainty, it begs the question: What’s behind their positivity?

Research holds the answer. See the overview below or download the full report for free to learn what small business owners are up against, and what the most successful among them are doing. Let their strategies be your guide as we explore actionable ideas that just may offer the advantage you’ve been looking for.

A box of french fries against a blue background with flowers laying along the edges

Preview the highlights

Preview the highlights

Follow the Leaders

To delve into what drives success, we grouped respondents into three categories — Leaders, Followers and Cautious Adopters — based on company performance. Research showed that Leaders enjoyed actual growth and expected to achieve more of the same in the future. They also shared challenges and characteristics that differed from what Followers and Cautious Adopters reported.

For example, Cautious Adopters claim that delegating responsibilities is one of their toughest obstacles. But Leaders are more likely to cite reducing costs, inflation, a lack of qualified workers and changing customer loyalty as some of their biggest challenges. Leaders are also more likely to take risks than their counterparts in both groups.

So how else are Leaders taking their small businesses to the next level? Let’s take a high-level view of what the study revealed.

“The last three years, there’s just been so many [agility] is very important. Of all the words we’ve used, ‘agility’ is the one that resonates the most.”
Furniture store owner
A black visor with flair pins on it, a ship captain's hat, and a multi-colored spinner hat

Embrace agility by leaning into lean

To Leaders, adopting an agile business model is nearly a non-negotiable goal. Businesses that rank agility as “most important” significantly outperform those that don’t — 68% of Leaders who highly value agility are in the top quintile of financial performance. Of those who don’t strongly agree, only 32% experienced similar financial success.

Since time and money are scarce, moving quickly, accurately and cost-efficiently is essential for growth. As a result, many business owners are turning to lean and agile methodologies like Six Sigma and just-in-time inventory management.

Importance of agility to running a business

Boost brand awareness and the bottom line

Half of respondents say that marketing strategy is a major obstacle to growth — 50% chose it from a list of 20 internal and external obstacles, tying it with supply chain issues as a major challenge.

Top 5 obstacles to growth

But why? Generational differences may hold the answer. Millennials are more likely than Gen-Z to see marketing strategy as a major obstacle — 70% versus 50%.

It’s important to note this doesn't mean that modern marketing is off limits to business owners of any age. It just requires getting more comfortable interacting with customers on different platforms and most importantly, becoming a content creator — just one of several marketing efforts Leaders use. See more below.

Adopting new marketing tactics isn’t going to help business owners overcome their strategy-building challenges overnight. But they can serve as actionable steps toward a comprehensive plan that yields greater brand recognition, more customers and bigger profits.

Four piles of clothes in progressive stages of folding and packing them into a box

Broaden the scope of innovation

Leaders realize that they must take a broader view of customers’ interests than the products they’re currently selling. As a result, they’re much more likely to develop new sources of non-traditional revenue than Cautious Adopters — 23% versus a scant 8%.

New sources of non-traditional revenue can be pretty straight forward. Here are some examples:

Gas pump icon

A boat dealership fills customers’ gas tanks before they take to the water

Unboxing icon

A chocolatier incorporates 3D printing, allowing customers to customize their sweets

3D printing icon

An ice-cream company offers new flavors via a subscription to increase loyalty and test new flavors

Consider a blended workforce

Finding qualified workers is a challenge for most business owners. But some are using freelancers to fill the gap. Nearly one-third of respondents hire freelance staff to supplement their employed staff. Not surprisingly, retailers are significantly more likely to hire freelance staff than restaurants or other industries (59% vs. 33% and 25%, respectively). And over half of Leaders (53%) hire freelancers, significantly higher than Followers and Cautious Adopters.

Likeliness of hiring freelancers

Adopt technology

Half of owners are “quite” or “very” willing to invest in technology to support their businesses. Only 5% are not at all willing to invest, and another 11% are “hesitant.” Leaders are most likely to rely on technology to reach their goals.

They’re intent on improving operations, hiring and finding ways to work better that only the right solutions can help them achieve. Whether it’s about finding new customers through strategic marketing, boosting cash flow through improving operations or developing offerings for a new target market, only powerful tools will do.

Willingness to invest in technology for business

Some soil and four different flower varieties

Unlock deeper insights

Whether you’re a start-up, have been in business for years or sell to people who have, leveraging these insights can help you build a successful business strategy. Download the free report to access the complete findings.

Download the free report
A business without technology is just like a person without oxygen.
Motorsports retailer CEO
A woman in an office sits at a desk and uses a laptop.
How to leverage automation to improve efficiency

Discover how you can cut waste and boost productivity in a world where every penny counts.

small business owner plans next steps
Get more money from agility

Unlock your profit potential with insights you can use now to go lean and boost your earnings.

A woman sitting and smiling at something on the table
How entrepreneurs are leveraging the gig economy

Learn how the gig economy can help solve staffing problems that hinder stability or growth.