No matter the industry, small and medium (SMB) business owners face many of the same pesky problems. And sometimes, those challenges can feel like pole vaulting over 500-foot hurdles at every corner. But some businesses really do have it all together. They make it look easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. (Meanwhile, it’s super difficult for everyone else.)
Which begs the question: What are they doing differently?
We’ve got the answer. And it’s right inside Trainual's 2023 State of Small Business Report. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Nearly 600 SMB leaders in over 20 different industries were surveyed for this report. We collected data on the state of small businesses over the past few years, and where they landed in 2022. A large chunk of survey respondents had SMBs that had grown and thrived for nearly a decade or more. Even more experienced major (we’re talking over 20%) revenue growth this year — shoutout to the 37% of women-owned and 32% of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-owned businesses that reported seeing these impressive increases!
So, what did the teams with the highest revenue, performance, and retention all have in common?
Here are the top five survey takeaways, and how you can leverage them in 2023.
If there’s one thing the COVID pandemic taught SMBs, it’s that we need to prepare for challenging and tumultuous times before they strike. And we can all think of a business or two that got it right. You know, the ones that not just maintained, but increased revenue while other businesses plummeted.
Let’s take a look at the companies that got it right (and the ones that didn’t).
Companies that didn’t document their processes well saw the effect directly reflected in their bottom line.
Oof. So not documenting processes is not great for growth. Got it.
Luckily, one-quarter of the businesses surveyed said they had at least 80% of their processes documented. Here’s what they saw.
Revenue went up:
Even cooler? A whopping 37% of small businesses that experienced high growth (over 20% increase in revenue) said they had at least 80% of their processes documented. And here’s what they saw.
Revenue shot through the roof:
This much is clear — businesses that prioritized documentation saw a significant, positive change in revenue when times were indescribably hard. When employees were suddenly forced to work from home (WFH) for the first time, company and sick time policies changed left and right, and important business supplies were as hard to get your hands on as toilet paper. Needless to say, a bunch of SMBs were riding the struggle bus.
But the ones that prioritized documentation were thriving. They had things under control.
And it doesn’t take a degree from Wharton to figure out why. Businesses that made their important processes, policies, and business knowledge accessible 24/7 before disaster struck prepared their team for productive, confident independence.
Employees transitioned to WFH life without missing a beat because they could instantly surface all the answers they needed. Plus, they could stay up to date on ever-changing policies and processes as priorities, operations, guidelines, and responsibilities shifted around.
Of course, we don’t expect another worldwide crisis any time soon. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for challenges and circumstances that’ll inevitably come your way. You know — the ones that’ll require you to change existing plans and roll with the punches.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, SMBs who pivoted successfully prioritized documentation. And it’s the best company insurance money can buy (with an unbelievable ROI) as you head into the unknowns of 2023.
Some turnover is inevitable. But generally speaking, you want people to stick around. After all, when someone leaves, you’ll need to spend more on hiring, onboarding, and training. (Insert unenthusiastic cheer.)
Let’s take a look at how much time SMBs spent on training and development, and how it affected employee tenure.
Companies that held frequent and continual training sessions and devoted resources to employee development experienced significantly longer employee tenure.
Makes sense, right? When you invest in your employees, they feel supported, confident, and knowledgeable. It tells them you care about their professional development, growth, and safety. And they’ll be less likely to search for something new — after all, they might have to sacrifice those benefits if they leave.
On the other hand, if you don’t frequently train your employees, they’ll begin to feel like their professional growth is stagnant. Or they could start dreading work as they become increasingly insecure about their knowledge and abilities.
Nobody wants to come to work confused every day, forced to either pester someone with a million questions or carry out every task like a shot in the dark. They need to know what’s expected of them and how to be successful.
If your team feels like your company doesn’t support professional knowledge and skill development, they’ll just leave for one that will. (Let’s be real — it won’t be too hard to find.)
But this is easy to prevent. And it all starts with intentional and continuous employee training. When you implement the right system, your all-star team members will feel unwavering support that’ll make them want to stick around forever.
Not-so-breaking news: Hiring capable, trustworthy folks is a responsibility small businesses need to get right. And to say that hiring is a pain right now is a severe understatement. (Thanks, current market.) Also, after hiring someone, it’s hard to find the time to get them up to speed.
We know how it gets. But the weight can lift right off your shoulders when you follow the footsteps of business leaders that have onboarding down pat.
Does this mean that larger companies have the time for onboarding while smaller ones don’t? That hiring and onboarding pain points are inevitable for SMBs because of their size?
You can totally ease hiring and onboarding pains without trying to get massive first. Here’s what larger companies do that you can copy with minimal effort and spending.
Like a huge chunk of SMBs, you’re probably wondering, “Where the heck were all the good candidates hiding in 2022?”
You might have found that those who applied to your business were unqualified or gave underwhelming responses during their interview. Or maybe you decided to throw in the towel during your search to just hire someone pronto, even though they didn’t fit your culture, mission, or vision.
Where are the gems you’re looking for? They’re waiting for you to show them what you’ve got. That you’re organized, cutting-edge, and people-first.
When you use a training and onboarding tool (like, ahem, Trainual), you can share your company mission, vision, and values; benefits; team member bios; the hiring process; and other need-to-knows with prospective candidates. Nothing says “Apply” like a job posting that wows future hires with everything they’ll get when they pick you (and shows you’re incredibly on top of it).
But remember: Your new hire may be the cream of the crop, but they’ll be at a major disadvantage if you don’t give them the tools and resources they need for success.
Onboarding is equally as important as (if not more important than) hiring. And contrary to popular belief, the right person isn’t necessarily the most experienced person. You don’t need the worker who has the most stacked resume (and demands the highest pay).
Here’s what you do need:
Simple as that.
If you follow this two-part onboarding plan in 2023, you could save hours of time and thousands of dollars that you currently spend hiring, re-hiring, onboarding, and training. Plus, you’ll foster an environment that makes people want to apply, say yes, and stick around — all while saving money as you thwart turnover costs.
Different roles in your org see things, well, differently. After all, priorities and project insight can do a 180 based on experience and perspective.
So, what do owners and founders think about onboarding, training, and documentation?
To take it one step further:
While we don’t like to point fingers, it’s clear that head honchos tend to severely underestimate the time it takes to get a new hire onboarded, trained, and ramped up. Conveniently, they’re not the ones doing it as the company starts to grow. Coincidence? We think not. It’s no wonder they miscalculate the lift it takes.
And here’s where things get interesting:
It’s safe to say owners and founders think more processes are being documented than actually are. Makes sense — the big cheese can’t be on top of strategic planning and tracking every documented process.
And it’s no secret that SMB owners and founders are busy bees — they feel that they can’t clear their outrageously full calendars to personally document each and every company process.
As soon as they realize how important it is to document, though, they realize they may not know where to start.
The simple solution? Have all your company leaders and go-to experts help build out a complete playbook of business processes. After all, who knows how-tos better than those with all the know-how?
When a bunch of pros add nuggets of knowledge to your business playbook processes, new hires get equipped with everything they need to succeed. Plus, veteran employees get a trusty reference for all their processes and policies, along with increased accountability.
🔥 Tip: When you document company processes on Trainual’s Scale plan, you get free setup help. Documentation experts will teach your whole team all the best practices they need to create helpful, organized, and engaging training in a flash. Try for free.
Wanna know what it was before the pandemic (AKA — pre-2020)? We got the deets.
This adds up, considering the pandemic ultimately resulted in workers feeling empowered to receive benefits like WFH, flexible and alternative working schedules, and resources that help to prioritize mental and physical health.
Here’s how to build your benefit offerings and make them stand out:
When you establish an enticing benefits package, good people are sure to follow.
Survey says… document, document, document. Then, go ahead and document some more.
Bottom line: If you truly want to scale, you need to build a business that can grow beyond you. One that keeps running like a well-oiled machine even when you’re not there.
And the only way to do that is to write out what your employees need to do, give it to them, and hold them accountable for doing it.
You’ll see the revenue, retention, performance, and applicant spikes that dreams are made of.
👉 Ready to get started? Try Trainual for free.
¹ Pandemic data collection was based on the survey respondent perception of the peak and duration of COVID-19 in their area.
² Answers indicating “nearly all” processes were documented indicate the respondent believed 80% or more company processes were documented.
³ Increases of 20% or more in annual revenue are labeled as “significant” and “high growth.”
⁴ Early-stage small businesses are those that made between $100K and $499K in annual revenue.