There's a mindshift going on in the small-business community. Owners are finally coming out of survival mode -- and moving into growth mode.
More small-business owners have plans to hire now -- 35 percent -- up 9 percentage points compared with the fall, the American Express Open Spring Small Business Monitor found. Four in ten are planning to invest in their businesses, and more than half say they're willing to take financial risks to do so.
But here's the tricky part -- fears about cash flow are at an all-time high for the survey -- 66 percent of owners say they're worried.
Take it all together, and it forms a picture of entrepreneurs who're still freaked out about the downturn, but just can't take sitting around anymore. They're ready for action.
The problem is, taking on debt while you're still worried about cash flow can be a recipe for disaster.
Companies that grow now without taking on debt will likely thrive. By contrast, those that borrow to spur growth are basically rolling the dice with their business. If their investments don't pay off, the additional cost could take the business down.
Given how shaky the economy still is, it may make more sense to find ways to grow with existing resources. Here are a few ideas on how to grow without adding new costs:
Make every employee a salesperson. If your receptionist doesn't know your products or services, it's time to hold a training session. The more people who can talk up your brand, the more sales you will make.
Hire creatively. Consider hiring sales staffers who work on commission-only, contract laborers on a trial basis or interns from a local college who need work experience. Also, try letting new workers telecommute to save on office rent. While the economy remains weak, hedge your labor bets until your strategy starts paying off.
Network more. Invest your own time to spread the word about your business -- you're always your company's best spokesperson.
Leverage the Internet. The ecommerce side of business is dirt cheap to operate at this point. Maybe you could throw up a new website that targets a different audience, or add more content to existing pages to bring in new customers. You can also tap social media and the power of viral marketing to expose new customers to what you do, at little cost.
Spread the word. Press releases can be posted on free sites such as Free Press Release and PRLog. If you've got some company news, send it out there and make a few calls to local media outlets -- you never know who might bite and give you some free publicity.
How will you grow your business in 2011? Leave a comment and tell us your strategy.