How Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive

May 11, 2013


Change and reinvention are a continuous process for many small business owners as they remain competitive in a tough business climate.

Some changes are big – like a product overhaul. Or they can be small, such as doing additional research or increasing face time with customers.

[source: Citibank® Small Business Pulse survey] Nevertheless, the Citibank Small Business Pulse survey revealed specific actions that small business owners take on a regular basis to remain competitive. They are:

#1: Do your research and get educated.
While 88% remain up to date and knowledgeable about their business and industry, they also pay attention to market changes in order to remain competitive.

“Many business owners focus on their skills and industry knowledge,” says Jerome Byers, Head of Citibank Small Business. “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.”

#2: As always, work hard, be diligent and do what needs to get done.
Perhaps one of the easiest identifiers of a business owner is their sense of dedication and willingness to dig into all aspects of the business. One sign of that commitment is their inability to take a break; 53% didn’t take a vacation last summer.

“Small business owners don’t stop when the clock strikes 5:00,” says 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.”

#3: Update or upgrade technology.
Close to 70% of respondents have updated or upgraded their computer systems, with 51% proclaiming a major technology change to their business operations.

#4: Know your clients.
Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said they have increased face time with customers to keep their business thriving in today’s economy.

“Small businesses thrive on deep customer relationships,” Byers notes. “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.”

#5: Keep a close eye on cash and budgets.
Many small businesses are budgeting conservatively and pocketing cash reserves as a cushion. Their caution stems from experience, as 58% say a major challenge to running the business in the past few years has been having enough cash. Most small business owners (73%) handle their own cash management and feel like they have it under control.

#6: Be involved.
Whether it’s the 51% who built a network of suppliers and partner companies around the business, or the 47% who became more active in the community and other local organizations, small business owners understand the value of investing time in the community.

#7. Be prepared.
If the economy were to face another downturn, 80% of survey respondents feel prepared to weather market weakness. In previous Citibank small business surveys, small business owners said they took actions such as reducing costs, renegotiating contracts and operating leaner.

#8: Plan ahead.
Among small business owners, 27% can predict their cash standing four to six months into the future.

“Future thinking and proactive planning is critical,” says Byers. “The enemies of long-term success can be complacency over current success or paralysis over a tough situation.”

#9: Stick with your aspirations.
Business owners bring their hopes and dreams to life when they start out, tying business to their personal sense of success. Statistically, 63% say they are living their dream and 75% would do it all over again despite the challenges.

#10: Market, market, market.
Over half (53%) have increased their own social media and online advertising in the past year; 54% invested in Website improvements and search engine presence.


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