As a small business owner, you’re probably juggling multiple priorities while looking for ways to accelerate your business. Using agile principles could offer genuine benefits, allowing you to stay responsive and competitive as your business scales up. Here, we look at how you can stay agile, flexible, and ahead of the competition as you grow.
What is agile?
Agility in a small business is all about the ability to continue to generate value as market conditions evolve. An agile business approach usually includes working closely with both staff and customers to keep testing and delivering new and improved iterations of products or services.
While it has its roots in software development, agile principles can be applied to any business. Adaptive planning, continuous improvement, and rapid and flexible response to change are pillars of an agile business. So what do these general principles mean for your small business? The following strategies are some ways to stay agile as you grow.
1. Leverage your niche
A small business has limited resources, so making the most of your chosen niche is key to staying agile and responsive. If you over-commit to too many products or service lines, you can end up constraining cash flow, keeping too much stock, and be unable to respond quickly to the marketplace. Work out your niche and concentrate on it, whether it’s one, two, or three areas of focus.
2. Master iteration and feedback
Rapid iteration, continuous feedback, and refinement are at the core of agile workplaces. Consider how you can apply processes like continuous testing, continuous integration, and ongoing evolution to your operations.
Review your processes, procedures, and documentation. Where can you remove obsolete ways of doing things and unnecessary formalities that get in the way of your goal? Integrate adaptive planning into your daily decision-making, and consider how feedback – from customers, staff, and leadership – can be used to drive improvements on a continuous basis.
Talk to your customers and constantly seek feedback so you understand what they need and want. Keeping your customers is critical for staying competitive, no matter how small or large you are.
3. Apply just-in-time principles
The just-in-time approach to business operations is another way to stay agile as your small business expands. Every element, from inventory and stock to employees, can leverage the just-in-time strategy to reduce the risk of over-commitment. For example, you buy, or better yet, lease equipment only where you need it, and you reduce the amount of unsold inventory you hold.
Reduce debt and look for ways to transform your entire supply chain to a just-in-time model. Look for ways to get the minimum viable product into the market rather than waiting too long and losing the first-mover advantage. These approaches will not only reduce your costs; they could drive stronger cash flow, allowing your business to keep operating and growing without the cash-flow constraints common to small businesses.
4. Review your staffing practices
Hiring the wrong staff members can be a costly exercise, and if you overestimate your capacity, you’re still committed to paying your team’s salary. Just-in-time principles can be applied to your staffing strategy, with agile organisations opting for contractors, outsourcing, and other on-demand options for non-core activities.
Consider the skill sets in your small business. What are the core business activities and what could be contracted out? With a strong core team supported by contractors, your small business can continue to grow without committing to a rigid human resources program. Staffing is an area where you can combine permanent employees with contractors and freelancers to stay flexible and agile.
5. Encourage self-leadership among staff
As small businesses grow, middle management tends to expand as well. While leadership is essential, a bloated managerial layer could weigh down the business and reduce your ability to respond quickly.
Changing your internal processes by giving staff more decision-making scope could be the solution. By empowering customer-facing, ground-level staff, you can react more quickly to customer queries, complaints, operational issues, and other challenges, without each decision going through an additional layer of approval. Self-leadership can also help you overcome resistance in staff members who find it hard to shift to an agile mindset.
Make staff accountable and emphasise self-leadership and autonomy where possible. Doing so will help your small business to stay nimble and create additional benefits like improved productivity, satisfaction, and overall business performance.
6. Use the right tech tools
Your technology infrastructure can drive agility, allowing your team to be more self-leading, effective, and collaborative. For example, cloud infrastructure enables staff members to work from anywhere and collaborate on common projects to drive rapid iterations and improvements.
Consider your current technology tools, both software and hardware, and explore how your technology infrastructure could be holding you back or supporting your small-business agility.
7. Refine collaboration and communication
Collaboration and communication among your team members is a critical part of staying agile. As the leader of your small business, work to facilitate collaboration and communication, whether it’s through technology or designing decision-making processes and project set-ups. When setting up ad-hoc teams for example, what are the tools and processes you can offer team members to support cohesiveness?
Business agility is about staying focused on the iteration-and-feedback cycle and listening to your customers as you look for ways to improve. Small businesses should consider strategies like just-in-time principles and novel staffing practices, as well as encouraging self-leadership among team members. Staying agile can be a challenge as your small business grows, but with a clear plan and commitment to keeping agile, you can stay flexible and responsive as a business.
NexusHub is the smart way to live and work on the Central Coast. We offer flexible workspace at an affordable price, as well as a community for networking and innovation. To find out more about how our workspaces can support your small business success, contact us today.
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