To gain insight into the most pressing challenges facing small businesses today and how to overcome them, we gathered first-hand experiences from 15 professionals, including digital marketers, CEOs, and business consultants. From identifying existing strengths for strategic clarity to using apprenticeships to solve hiring issues, these experts share their valuable perspectives on overcoming the hurdles small businesses face.
- Identify Existing Strengths for Strategic Clarity
- Boost Digital Visibility with Marketing
- Compete by Focusing on Unique Value
- Overcome SEO Challenges with Backlinks
- Increase Workforce Diversity with Tools
- Adapt to Technology Through Digital Presence
- Redefine Remote Work Performance Metrics
- Navigating Inflation and Price Increases
- Hiring Challenges and Creative Solutions
- Personal Connections Beat Corporate Competition
- Master Financials for Informed Decisions
- Adapt to Marketing Changes and Diversify
- Balancing Quality and Growth Successfully
- Integrate AI to Minimize the New Tech Effects
- Input an Apprenticeship Solution to Solve Talent Hiring Issues
Identify Existing Strengths for Strategic Clarity
There are countless marketing channels available to businesses today, both online (such as Google, social media, and email marketing) and offline (such as direct mail and referral programs). Choosing the right strategy can be a challenge and can often come at a high cost. Small businesses may try out several paid strategies to see what works, but this can hurt their ROI and limit their investment opportunities.
Personally, when I first started out, I struggled to determine the best marketing strategy for my business. I found that identifying my existing strengths (such as networking as a free marketing opportunity) and utilizing them to generate income before investing in paid marketing strategies was a helpful approach.
Boost Digital Visibility with Marketing
One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses today is getting digital visibility. There are so many brands, companies, and products in the online space and so many competitors that a small company should overcome and be visible to a wider audience.
We are still a small company and we’re constantly exploring ways to get our brand out there so that people can recognize us through the services that we’re offering on the market.
What we’re trying to do is create high-quality marketing strategies and use the latest trends and tools to show our services to online consumers. We’re using social media channels, forums, bloggers, and media outlets through a Digital PR strategy to promote our brand and our services. With the right tools and the latest trends, such as AI, we can increase our visibility and beat the competitors.
Compete by Focusing on Unique Value
As a small business owner, one of the biggest challenges we face is competition from larger, more established companies. These larger companies often have more resources, such as larger budgets and established brand recognition, making it difficult for small businesses to compete and stand out in their industry.
To overcome this challenge, we’ve needed to understand our unique value proposition, and the market based on that, then subsequently target niche under-served markets. By identifying our strengths and focusing on our unique offerings, we’ve been able to differentiate ourselves from larger competitors and build a loyal customer base.
Overcome SEO Challenges with Backlinks
Building a healthy backlink profile has been one of the major challenges that we’ve had to work through in optimizing our website for SEO.
As a small business, we have a limited reach and audience, which makes it difficult to attract the attention of other websites and earn backlinks. Also, our social media following or content distribution channels aren’t as refined as bigger enterprises, making these channels less effective in promoting our content.
We also face a significant level of competition from bigger brands that have already built a strong online presence. This makes it even more challenging to earn high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources in our niche.
Increase Workforce Diversity with Tools
Organically and authentically increasing the diversity of our staff has been one of our primary challenges as a small business. For many years, our diversity score was below 20%, which we felt was drastically low. To rectify this situation, we adopted Exude, a diversity assessment tool, that has been effective at helping us identify and fix diversity and inclusion gaps across our entire company structure.
This tool also gives us access to diversity resource materials that help us navigate the growing regulations and expectations on diversity and inclusion for small businesses, making it easier for us to comply with the necessary rules. Diversifying our workforce has directly contributed to our increasing revenues over the past few financial quarters, as well as our improved employee retention metrics. Diversity compliance is also at 59% now, and we’re hoping we can achieve 70% compliance by the end of this year.
Adapt to Technology Through Digital Presence
One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses today is adapting to transforming technology. Small businesses often struggle to keep up with the constant advancements in technology, which can hinder their ability to compete effectively and reach customers. This challenge was faced by our small business as well.
To overcome this, we invested in our digital presence. We started by revamping our website to make it more user-friendly and mobile-responsive and then implementing an e-commerce platform to allow customers to shop online. We also educated ourselves on the latest digital marketing strategies and tools to help us stay relevant and effectively reach our target audience.
Redefine Remote Work Performance Metrics
Many small business leaders are leaning on remote business models because they’re inexpensive and flexible, but they can create challenges with monitoring employee performance. Employers that lean on idle time trackers or screen monitoring can make employees feel micromanaged and policed, while a lack of monitoring can cause performance to drop.
By shifting performance metrics, we can maximize team autonomy without losing productivity. Consider focusing on goal-based performance measures rather than process-based ones, giving your team the freedom to find their own best remote workflows. Rather than micromanaging how they do things, you’re offering the freedom to choose and support them along the way to keep those goals on track.
Navigating Inflation and Price Increases
The biggest challenge for small businesses is overcoming inflation. It has forced us to raise prices to keep up with rising costs. And whenever prices go up, there is pushback. No matter how much explaining we will do, some customers were inconsolable.
Raising prices to keep up with an inflated dollar is just one of the many costs of doing business. I’m sure that those customers were disappointed to find that they could not find another contractor that hadn’t already adjusted their pricing for the same reasons.
Hiring Challenges and Creative Solutions
As someone in the SMB financing industry, many clients have voiced that hiring is a major concern. It’s not that people don’t want to work, it’s that many small businesses cannot afford living wages for entry-level jobs.
Inflation has increased the need for higher-paying jobs, and even in states with higher minimum wages, it’s difficult to attract talent within their budget. This will either require more financial support and opportunities for the small businesses themselves through programming or grants, or more support to the people they are hoping to employ through assistance with high living costs.
Leveraging AI and expanding non-financial perks could help bridge the gap in the meantime.
Personal Connections Beat Corporate Competition
Nowadays, the competition is not just with neighborhood businesses but also massive corporations in other cities or countries. This is the case in every industry, from restaurants to hotels and, in my case, a plastic surgery office. So when a major hospital in our city offered cosmetic surgery, and our numbers dropped, I felt it was game over.
Interestingly, my wife and I were heading out for dinner one Friday evening, and she wanted to go to a local restaurant. When I asked her why not go for a fancy meal downtown, she replied that the local spot had just as good food but was more welcoming. Wow, she was correct. We went to that restaurant often because they were small and friendly. I applied her insight back to my practice.
Nowadays, I make sure that I get to know my patients on a personal level. My staff and I ensure our patients know how much we appreciate them and that they are not just the “next person in line.” And it paid off.
Master Financials for Informed Decisions
As a business consultant working one-on-one with private-label brand owners, I’ve found that a significant challenge facing small businesses today is a lack of financial acumen. Many entrepreneurs don’t fully grasp their numbers, including pricing strategies, overhead costs, and advertising spend, leaving them unable to make informed decisions.
In my experience, some brand owners unwittingly lose money with each sale, yet continue to invest in their business. My approach focuses on helping them master unit economics and better understand their financials. By doing so, they can identify growth drivers and potential pitfalls, ultimately leading to smarter business decisions and a more successful venture.
Adapt to Marketing Changes and Diversify
The upcoming death of the 3rd party tracking cookie is one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses today.
Why is it such an enormous challenge?
Without the tracking cookies, our pay-per-click targeting is much less accurate, resulting in a lower ROI. Our analytics data becomes less accurate (including GA4), and understanding how our prospective customers are responding to our email campaigns gets harder when we can no longer track open rates or clicks.
All of this has evolved, with people using ad blockers and privacy browsers like Brave. The final nail in the coffin will be when Google blocks the third-party cookies in Chrome, which has a 62% share of the browser market.
Diversifying your marketing mix is key. Focus on getting your 1st party and 2nd party data and owning the relationship with your customers.
At Intribe, we’ve focused on SEO, referral marketing, co-marketing, and testing out new services like Terkel that have allowed us to build our email lists.
Balancing Quality and Growth Successfully
One of the most significant challenges that small businesses, like ours in the cleaning service industry, face today is balancing quality and growth.
When we started, we had a limited team and each of us was deeply involved in every project. This allowed us to maintain the highest standards of quality. However, as our business expanded, we found maintaining that same level of quality increasingly difficult.
The solution, we found, was investing heavily in regular training, making sure everyone on our team understood the importance of maintaining our standards. We also put in place stringent quality control measures. This journey wasn’t without its bumps, but we’ve maintained our quality standards while experiencing growth.
Integrate AI to Minimize the New Tech Effects
AI is infiltrating a myriad of technical and creative careers (including mine, freelance writing). While I think there’s ample opportunity to thrive alongside AI, many business owners struggle to learn how to go about it.
Meshing technology with the human element has always created learning curves for businesses: the internet, email, automation, and social media, to name a few. Now, with a technology that has a high potential to completely eradicate many employees, many businesses are keen to fight against AI instead of embracing and integrating its advantages healthily.
We’re on the cusp of a new learning curve, and the stakes are high. It’s important for businesses to explore this technology with caution. Finding ways to integrate AI with human staff while striving to understand AI’s short- and long-term implications will be key to its advancement.
Input an Apprenticeship Solution to Solve Talent Hiring Issues
I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses today is recruiting the best talent. As a growing non-destructive testing company, we needed to employ more qualified technicians, but really struggled to find people who could adopt our company’s values.
In the end, we decided one part of the solution was to create our own apprenticeship scheme to enlarge our team with “home-grown” talent. As we handle the training, we set expectations at the very beginning of the course, ensuring that our company values become embedded throughout the business. To date, five apprentices have qualified with us, while another three are in training.