The trends, tools, and talent to help you get there

May 1, 2018 · 7 min read

Starting a small business is hard work.

You’ve got to take an idea from a passion project to a side hustle, and then turn it into something more. It’s risky, daring, and exhilarating — but the opportunity to work on your dreams instead of someone else’s is quite the tempting proposition.

So you get it off the ground, breathing it into existence. Maybe it’s doing pretty well even. But what about the part that comes next?

In some ways, growing an already successful business is even harder. You have to get to the next stage while still maintaining what you’ve got. You need to think about scaling for the future, while still focusing on the realities of today. It’s all too easy to get trapped in a loop of keeping up with the day-to-day grind, a hamster wheel that feels hard to escape.

After all, as the owner of a small business, you wear all the hats. And there’s always more to do, more trends to stay on top of. So you don’t have a ton of spare time for the longer-term vision and strategy stuff you know you need to put into place. It can start to feel like you’re barely keeping up, much less moving forward.

But here’s the thing: to get that upward growth, you need to put in the work beneath the surface.

The right tools, talent, and resources have to come together for your growing business to take root. It’s about creating the space you need to pull yourself up to where you want to be. You can see it. You just need to get there. And there’s no time like the present.

Here’s why you should start on that foundational work now, plus three ways to invest in your business’s growth.

Why now is the time to invest in the roots

There’s a difference between working in your business and working on your business.

This is a popular piece of advice floating around out there for small business owners, but it bears repeating. In order to get to the proverbial “next level,” you have to get out of the trap of only working in your business — completing short-term tasks, focusing on your current clients or products, and worrying about the demands of the here-and-now.

Working on your business means getting out from under that daily grind. It’s about making investments or building systems that won’t pay off today, but will set the foundation for future growth. Planting the seeds and watering the roots, if you will.

In a world where we’re overloaded and always trying to ‘get caught up,’ this is easier said than done. But it turns out, that’s exactly why you need to start sooner rather than later.

“It may sound counterintuitive, but the best time to work on growing your business is when you’re most busy,” says Josh Hoffman, a marketing consultant and founder of Epic Freelancing, a resource for freelancers looking to grow their businesses.

Taking the extra time or investing in new tools and additional talent at this stage will go a long way, freeing up that space you need to work on your business.

Making it happen: 3 ways to go for growth

So how can you meet the demands of your business today, while understanding where things are going in order to set yourself up for success tomorrow?

It’s key to figure out the trends you’re up against, and how to make them work in your favor. You only have so many hours, but with the right investment, you can extend them further. And by tapping into trends such as remote work or new tools for the workplace, you can use them to your advantage to get there faster, in a way that larger businesses can’t.

Here are three investments worth making as you look to grow your business:

1) Make the time. Build the habit. Review your goals.

How you spend your time says a lot about your intentions. Are you dedicating any effort to working specifically on growing your business? It’s all about creating the space to focus on what matters.

Work up to spending one hour every day on planning or thinking about the future, even if it initially means waking up early or staying late. It’s something that needs to be blocked off on your schedule, guarded and respected in the same way as any other event on your calendar. It’s an appointment with yourself, after all.

Also set aside some time every day to review your goals, keeping what you’re working toward top-of-mind. Ask yourself “What is one step I can take today to get closer to my goal?” on a daily basis, making sure to build it into your routine. Check in weekly or monthly to see how you’re progressing at a higher level.

2) Get flexible with your talent

Teams are becoming more remote and more virtual than ever. The future of work is increasingly about what you can do, rather than where you can do it from.

Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill describes this trend as ‘the Hollywood model’. “You have actors, producers, writers, designers, all coming together to create a film,” he explains. “They create something great, but once the film is a wrap, they all go their separate ways and onto their next project. This model has carried itself into the workplace,” Chris continues.

So trends such as the gig economy and remote work are requiring us to think about teams in a less traditional sense. This means we all need to take a different approach when it comes to bringing talent onboard.

As a small business owner, this trend works in your favor. You can flexibly bring on freelancers or remote talent, quickly getting them up to speed, without committing to putting someone on the payroll long-term. This frees up valuable time for you to work on those bigger picture projects and strategies, while also adding expertise in areas that aren’t your strengths.

3) Expand your toolbox

But in order to incorporate flexible talent, you need to have the right tools and systems in place to support that remote work and collaboration.

And thanks to a trend called BYOA (Bring Your Own Application), there’s now a whole new world of other tools and apps out there that small businesses can leverage.

An outgrowth of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), BYOA explains the explosion we are seeing in apps and software tools in the workplace. Workers are using beautifully designed, effective tools on their devices of choice every day in their personal lives. And these expectations and preferences don’t just melt away when they step in the office (or log on remotely for work, of course).

The people you bring on board will need the right tools to work together and get the job done, in a way that accommodates their own personal workflows. That’s why flexibility and integrations, or an ability to play well with other tools, is key. “I think the real magic starts to happen when people can mix and match their own tools and create their own productivity suite,” says Chris.

The best part is that as a small business, you don’t need a big IT team to implement new tools or tap into more advanced tech. And since you are still building out your company’s policies and practices, you aren’t already locked into a specific set of tools. You can take advantage of different platforms, experimenting and moving more flexibly than larger competitors.

Focusing on the future

When you started your small business, you probably didn’t plan on staying small forever. Developing the right habits, adding new tools, and tapping into flexible talent will help you build a solid yet flexible foundation for growth.

For small business owners, it’s important to remember that upward growth depends on what’s happening beneath the surface. The roots you put down now will determine how far you’ll go in the future. It will take some hard work, tending, and long hours. But if you’re working on the right things, it won’t be for long.

Looking for more tips for growing your small business?

We’ve partnered with Upwork to create a free ebook, giving you more specific tips for finding the best tools and talent for your business, so you can level up, faster.

We also created a pack of Evernote templates to help you get organized.

Written by Jessi Craige Shikman on May 1, 2018.

Taking Note

"Taking Note" features insights and encouragement to help you regain control of your days, lead a more satisfying life, and focus on what matters most.


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You have something to accomplish. We publish stories, tips, and tricks to help you do it.

Taking Note

"Taking Note" features insights and encouragement to help you regain control of your days, lead a more satisfying life, and focus on what matters most.

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