How to adapt your business to change for continued success

Small businesses often have to show considerable strength just to keep the lights on. For small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) leaders, tackling problems both big and small can be a full-time job in itself. They don’t necessarily have a lot of time to think about their business’ next step or the opportunities to grow that might be out there to pursue.

2020 saw the world turn upside-down and many SMEs have done everything in their power to keep their business going. However, even though this year has presented unprecedented challenges, it’s also been a prime example of business owners doing what they do best: innovating and adapting to changes so that they not only survive, but transform, grow and thrive. Our research shows that a large number of SMEs intend to do exactly that in the coming year -18%1 of them plan to move into new areas to diversify their business.

Small and medium businesses are uniquely suited to change. Unlike big corporations, they rarely have long-winded internal processes or logistical barriers to implementing new ideas. With a lean, dedicated team and a little know-how, innovation can be introduced relatively quickly. However, even with this ability to adapt, making changes, particularly at a time of wider uncertainty, can be easier said than done.

So how can small business owners assess these opportunities and implement them effectively?

The risk of the single offering business

While taking your business in a new direction can feel risky, it’s important to remember that being a single offering business can also put you in a potentially vulnerable situation. 

The pandemic has seen many small businesses having to rethink their entire approach to doing business. And, in some difficult cases, they’ve been left unable to operate. While social distancing pressures and lockdown restrictions seem an extreme case, they’re examples of unforeseen challenges that all SME owners will be aware of. Times and trends can change quickly and you can’t always anticipate how they might impact your business. It could be a new disruptor who enters your market with an innovative approach, or new technology that makes your product or service seem outdated.

Whatever the case, the best way to prepare your business is to ensure that you are continually diversifying and identifying new opportunities for growth.

How to identify opportunities to create an adaptive business strategy

What are the next big stepping stones to growing your business?

  • Remove the roadblocks so your team can do their best

Many employees, particularly those that work in an office environment, have enjoyed flexible working as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Evidence suggests employees are more productive and can maintain a superior work-life balance as a result. 18%1 of SME owners are looking to adapt their flexible working systems and policies as a result. This also allows small and medium businesses to anticipate additional lockdown measures, should they be introduced.

  • Look at your existing customers’ problems

The easiest way to diversify your business, without overextending yourself, is to pursue opportunities that might be under your nose already. Have an open and curious discussion with your existing customers so you can better understand their needs. Think about the common problems they face and how you could lend your expertise to help them.

  • Focus on your existing selling points

Listening to customer feedback will also allow you to understand what you already do well and expand on it, whether it is a speedy service or highly specialised assistance. Existing customers are more likely to try a new product or service if it relates closely to a discipline they know you already excel in.

With this in mind, it’s also important to make sure your existing team and supply chain are able to sustain the demand of a new offering. Stress-testing these in advance can be an important part of a smooth launch.

  • Make existing services available through new channels

Diversifying your business is not just about new products and services, it’s also about reviewing the availability of what you already do. Could your business benefit from offering more of what it does online? As a direct result of the pandemic, 22%1 of small business leaders are already looking to move their business more online in the next year. We also know more consumers than ever have turned to shopping online as a result of COVID-19.

An often-overlooked way of making your business more visible online is ensuring your social media channels are up to date and closely managed. It’s much easier for existing customers to share your details with their own personal networks if they want to recommend you. This is a key part of promoting a new offering as social media offers a flexible and inexpensive form of advertising that allows you to specifically target new potential customers with ease.

Click here to access our simple Marketing Guide, highlighting practices that may help improve your business visibility and increase awareness of it.

Measuring success

Adapting your business or introducing a new product or service can be an exciting way to grow your business, but it’s also important to have measures in place to test its effectiveness.

Have realistic key performance indicators (KPIs) and put regular ‘progress meetings’ in place so you can make sure the changes are delivering what you originally intended. Also, continue to gather feedback from customers, suppliers and employees to ensure that new systems aren’t creating any frustrations or bottlenecks that you aren’t aware of.

It’s important to remember that adaptability is a mindset and something you need to continue over time. For any new process you introduce, there will be necessary tweaks and changes before it is effectively integrated with your current business.

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1Source: Research conducted by Opinium Research between 3 and 13 July 2020 with a nationally representative sample of 1,006 senior decision makers in UK SMEs. This followed previous research conducted by Opinium Research between 23 and 30 April 2020 with a nationally representative sample size of 1,000 senior decision makers in UK SMEs

2Source: Research conducted by Opinium Research between 7 and 13 May 2020 with a sample of 503 senior decision makers in UK SMEs.