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Staying competitive is not only a key component of any successful small business, but it is also one of the biggest challenges that small businesses face. Despite those challenges, small business owners say they have a number of simple and creative strategies that they employ to stay ahead of the competition.
In particular, new research has found that 88 percent of small business owners say they remain knowledgeable about their business by paying attention to changes so they can stay competitive. Other business owners say they stay competitive by forgoing summer vacations in favor of work while still others say they spend more time building relationships with customers.
In addition to those examples, some of the most common steps that small business owners take to stay competitive include:
- Do your research and get educated—"Many business owners focus on their skills and industry knowledge," said Jerome Byers, head of Citibank Small Business, which conducted the research. "To find truly new business ideas, often the best sources are from other industries and markets. When seeking new answers, all business owners are your peers."
- As always, work hard, be diligent and do what needs to get done—"Small business owners don’t stop when the clock strikes 5:00," said Byers. "But it's also important to know when an outside resource can do something better and faster and offer new ideas and approaches based on their experience."
- Update or upgrade technology—Researchers found that half of the companies that upgraded their computer systems say they noticed a big change to business operations after making the upgrade.
- Know your clients—"Small businesses thrive on deep customer relationships,” Byers said. "Face time isn't just client service. Those relationships contribute to staying educated about your market and can be the source of ideas. A conversation today can be part of your business plan tomorrow."
- Keep a close eye on cash and budgets—Nearly 60 percent of small business owners say that having enough cash has been a big challenge in running their businesses in the past. For that reason, a majority of small business owners, 73 percent, say they still handle their own finances in an attempt to stay competitive.
- Be involved—One of the biggest differentiating factors for small business owners is the relationships they are able to build. Researchers found that 51 percent of small business owners say they build a network of suppliers and partner companies and 47 percent say they have become active in their community in their attempt to stay competitive.
- Be prepared—Researchers have also found that many small business owners stay competitive by being prepared. That research found that 80 percent of respondents say they are ready to take on market weaknesses.
- Plan ahead—"Future thinking and proactive planning is critical," said Byers. "The enemies of long-term success can be complacency over current success or paralysis over a tough situation."
- Stick with your aspirations—Business owners also say that they are more competitive because they are living their dream in running their business. To that end, the researchers found that 75 percent of small business owners would do it all over again despite their challenges.
- Market, market, market—Researchers also found that more than half of business owners say they have stayed competitive through their use of social media to market their business. Business owners also remained competitive by making improvements to their websites and search engine presence.
The research was a part of the Citibank Small Business Pulse and was based on the responses of 750 small business owners.