small businesses

By David Abramson

Adding new customers and fueling revenue growth can be a difficult proposition for growing small businesses. Not every business figures out the secret sauce for success. But those that do tend to have several things in common.

We had the opportunity to connect with leaders from several small businesses that successfully became larger companies to find out what helped them along and gather their tips for other growing organizations. These included: Nicole Snow, CEO and Founder of Darn Good Yarn, a rapidly growing supplier in the $44 billion craft market by spinning clean, unused remnants of cloth into new yarns and fabrics for knitters, crocheters and quilters; Aytekin Tank, CEO and Founder of JotForm, an online business form company; and Arif Khan, VP of Marketing at Singularity.NET, a blockchain-based AI marketplace.

Here is what they had to share with small business owners:

Connect Your Culture to a Community

It is challenging to build a high growth company and nearly impossible to sustain it without a strong community. That is why it is important to establish a brand’s mission and values at an early stage. Fortunately small businesses are well positioned to showcase themselves as authentic alternatives to their larger, more impersonal competitors.

Taking the time to create a mission or belief statement can help promote these values as your company grows. As Darn Good Yarn’s Snow recounts, the company’s value statement, “Be Human and Kind,” has guided her from the start. It’s helped to engender an atmosphere of integrity and love, which has created a strong community for users and employees alike. Indeed, everyone at the company believes in what the company stands for, which has helped customers believe in its mission as well, she said.

Khan at Singularity.NET and Tank at JotForm also underscore the importance of building a community that can serve as brand advocates. Each company has established a culture that puts customer needs first. Engaging with people who use their products and are eager to act as brand ambassadors on websites and social media channels has helped build a strong base and community, the leaders said.

Don’t Be Afraid to Look Outside

Sometimes fast growing businesses have difficulty keeping up with demand, at their current capacity. Several leaders we spoke to mention the importance of using good technology and tapping outside talent to stay ahead of the market, as well as to compete and grow.

From a technology standpoint, the leaders note the benefits of using workflow and communications tools, such as Slack and Asana, to enhance collaboration and communication.

The leaders also stress the increasing importance of using global freelancing websites, like Upwork, to rapidly expand their workforces as their companies grew. Nearly 57 million Americans now freelance, according to a recent Upwork survey, providing a steady bank of talent to keep businesses running.

JotForm, for example, differentiates itself with top-notch customer service, and has turned to an online freelancing network to assure it can manage inquiries around the world, Tank said.

Learn and Adapt

Leaders said small business owners should always remember you don’t need to accomplish everything at once, and you don’t need to be perfect when building a business. With an open mindset, focus on one area of growth at a time, investing in the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. JotForm’s CEO Tank, for instance, acknowledges the company started off slowly and made mistakes. But they always kept moving and kept learning. And over time they navigated their way to success.

So, if you’re a small business with a great idea, these leaders urge you to “go for it.” The only true failure is not extracting lessons and insights from your efforts. Small businesses succeed when they take full advantage of their natural agility and capability to evolve.

David Abramson is the vice president of growth at Upwork, where he focuses on growing Upwork’s user base through customer engagement and optimization strategies. Prior to joining Upwork, he held product management and customer growth roles at Jawbone and Mercer Management Consulting.