Directory 23: Set your business sail with the wind at your back

Shawn Wellnitz

Shawn Wellnitz, CEO and president of the Entrepreneur Fund, notes that the fund “partners with small businesses to realize their business ambitions.  We provide money & expertise for small businesses to grow.” 

BN: Could you suggest ways to keep growing a business, even in an uncertain 2023?

SW: 1) Be sure to take the time to define what your business really does best - invest in those areas that give you a competitive advantage and promote it.  Hitting this sweet spot always drives revenue growth and the long-term value of your company. 

2) Create an advisory board comprised of the skills, experiences, and perspectives of people that you want but can’t afford to hire.  Convene them quarterly, pay them a small stipend, feed them well, and pose some of your biggest challenges and opportunities you are having in the business. You will be amazed about the talent who wants to support small business and how clear solutions and opportunities will emerge.

3) Invest in your people for the long-term.  I›m not just talking about retention, but recognizing your people are the ticket to your future. Bring them into goal setting and problem-solving, give them ways to grow and be a better employer by offering career tracks. Every business can afford to do this in some way. Your next growth opportunity will be contingent on having the people you need to execute it. Investing in your people now ensures that you have people that can think and grow with you - and already feel vested in a shared future. 

4) Know and manage your numbers. This matters all the time, but especially in difficult business conditions. Know your gross profit margins. Know your break-even. Know the key weekly measures that drive your business and manage to them accordingly. If it feels overwhelming, reach out to a support organization who can guide you along. You cannot lead and grow a business if you do not know your numbers and what drives success. 

5) Take care of yourself. Many business owners have experienced a host of stresses in the last few years: pandemic closings, staff shortages, inflation. Find ways to prioritize and take care of your well-being. Your renewed energy can free your mind to work “on the business” and come up with creative solutions rather than grinding it out. Take 60-90 minutes every day for exercise, learning, social connection or reflection. Every company needs a strong leader, so be sure to foster the parts of you that enable you to be what your company needs. 

6) Look for acquisitions. If you’re in a strong financial and market position, many businesses will be distressed or are coming available as aging owners retire. Many of these firms may have potential strategic value for your company. Explore opportunities to buy businesses or partner up with those that have key competencies, talent, complimentary offerings or that can add market share if it’s a good fit and you have the capacity to manage this type of change.   

BN: What might be among the greatest challenges to business growth in the coming year - and any opportunities? 

SW: Finding new employees will continue to be one of the biggest challenges. That is no surprise. I think it provides opportunities to automate, reshape business models, integrate technology, or improve processes to do more with the same number of people. It can be a win for both employees and firms, as it seems to grow the economic well-being of both. 

Inflation will continue to be a challenge. There is an opportunity for those who can keep pricing, wages, and costs all aligned– this goes back to knowing your numbers – by maintaining your short and long-term viability. Too many have lagged in passing this on and result in losing staff and profitability in the process. Don’t let those be a death blow.   

Solving problems is the heart of what makes new businesses emerge and transform, so look for opportunities where your business can solve or ease the problems that are being created. Those who approach it this way will find long-term success and put them on the offensive, rather than reacting, to the current and upcoming environment. 

BN: What is really the most important question to ask as we head into a year laden with images of “continued inflation,” “possible recession,” “continued interest rate hikes” and, of course, a new make-up in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature? 

SW: The most important question to ask is “What do I want to take on and achieve in the short and long-term?”   

It’s easy to get into react mode. Your time, energy, and focus aren’t endless. Crisis and problems undoubtedly happen, but anyone with scar tissue in business recognizes difficult times pass and new opportunities emerge. Most people overestimate what they can do in the short-term and underestimate what they can do in the long-term. Author Jim Collins had a great insight in saying that: not all time is created equal. This point of time is a moment to decide on what you want to do and has relative context for you and the business.  

Do you want to reinvent, stay in a safe harbor, or perhaps exit?  The answer for each person is up to them and their business. Be intentional in focusing on what you can change in the short-term, and what you want to do over the long-term. Put those two things together to create a clear plan of action and have your team aligned around it.    

I recommend, for all business owners, to work through a framework like Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS – or similar frameworks – that put real tangible goals into a 1-year, 3-year and 10-year framework and tools to build the health of your team.  The Entrepreneur Fund offers a “Be Strategic: Grow Your Business” program with a simple strategy framework you and your team can use as well as key management tools. Pick what works for you – but put focus to what you want to change and achieve. 

The power of leading your team to a long-term vision, short-term action, and clear measures of success is one of the biggest assets you can build in your business. A strong, healthy culture sustains over the long-term. Put your attention here – and put your team to work on overcoming these larger issues – and you’ll be surprised how quickly you have the wind to your back in any storm.