Like many business owners, Heather Sanderson made some painful choices during the recession. When the economic slump impacted her business, she laid off 15 percent of her workforce. For a year, she outsourced many tasks, like graphic design, while working hard to restore confidence and build loyalty among her remaining team members.
Today, her company, Overture Premiums & Promotions, is on the rebound. Sales are up 30 percent, the bank renewed her line of credit and she’s hiring again. She’s overcome what she refers to as her 11-year-old company’s greatest business challenge by retaining and rewarding her best employees and staying positive. “No matter what happens with the business, it’s important to demonstrate a positive attitude,” states Ms. Sanderson, the recipient of an award at the Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) 26th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference.
Learning to overcome obstacles that impede success is an important part of running a successful business, according to Meg Herman, a certified professional coach and director of entrepreneurial services at WBDC. Since joining the organization four years ago, Ms. Herman estimates she’s counseled more than 1,000 prospective and established women business owners.
“Entrepreneurs get so enmeshed in day-to-day leadership and operations, they tend to forget the big picture,” she explains. “Survival sometimes means cutting back. Businesses sometimes have to shrink to survive.”
Sue Bhatia, owner of Rose International and a speaker at the Forum Breakfast during the Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference, focuses on slow, steady growth. Her method has brought success, as Staffing Industry Analysts recognizes the company as one of the fastest-growing U.S. staffing firms; Rose made the top five on this list for the past two years.
Ms. Bhatia’s 19-year-old, employee-owned company, with a workforce of 6,000, has 21 offices in the U.S. and an office in India, but her greatest challenge has been managing growth through several stages. “When I started, I had to overcome a credibility issue to win clients because I had no track record,” she explains. “When I reached $20 million in sales, I had to overcome another hurdle with companies that wanted to work with a $100 million company.”
To set her company apart, Ms. Bhatia says she’s never compromised on quality service. She also believes it’s important to seize certain opportunities, like she did with Employment Outsourcing, Independent Contractor Verification and Management Programs, which are currently thriving. “While it’s important to know industry trends, trying to do everything dilutes your focus,” she explains. “My advice: stay true to your core capabilities and do what you do best.”
Ms. Herman believes the key to business growth is to develop adaptive strategies that reach target markets more effectively. “Most people I counsel have a financial issue they’re concerned about,” she continues. “Early stage business owners have questions about feasibility and financing their start-ups, while established businesses typically need more customers or have cash flow issues.”
Ms. Herman advises business owners to consider incorporating certain “preventive” techniques, like learning to build a cash-flow report and reviewing it at least monthly. “Financials are the bottom line,” she states. “Otherwise, the business is just a hobby or vocation rather than a way to profit from entrepreneurship.” Courses, workshops, business books and business counseling can help start-ups and established business owners learn the techniques they need to overcome obstacles that may impede growth.
Ms. Sanderson says downsizing had a silver lining. It forced her to reassess her company’s business model and identify inefficiencies. She now meets monthly with her “dream team” of five managers to solicit their input about ways to improve the company and reviews the company’s business processes every six months.
“All companies will face a crisis at some point,” affirms Ms. Sanderson. “It’s how you respond that can make you great.”