Adaptability, technology, ‘people-first approach’ cited as small business keys for 2022

As entrepreneurs plan for 2022, using technology to maintain their workforce, enhancing their online presence and incorporating charitable causes are among the ways they are aiming for growth amid economic uncertainty, according to Jenny Miller.

Miller is a network builder at KCSourceLink, a Kansas City-based organization that works to connect entrepreneurs to resources. She spoke with Missouri Business Alert’s Small Business Network on Friday, highlighting the ways she has seen small businesses adapt and survive amid the rigors of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we’re looking at small business and working with small businesses, we’ve really seen a renewed sense of resiliency,” Miller said.

“A lot of times when we think of entrepreneurship, it’s the grit and the tenacity, their willingness and ability to figure it out,” she added. “And we have seen that renewed vibrancy within our entrepreneurs.”

Technology and labor shortages

Using social media, new technology and remote work can help attract and keep workers amid record labor shortages, Miller said. Almost 50% of small businesses reported having job openings they could not fill in November, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

“Utilizing digital technologies of social media, and increasing the reach to hire is going to open your applicant pool,” Miller said. “But then also you’re going to bring in new cultures, new dynamics to that workplace and create a better work environment for everyone.”

Miller advised employers to be flexible and pay attention to the mental health of employees in order to retain staff. As remote work becomes a larger priority for employees, she recommended focusing on “work-life integration,” or letting employees take an active role in planning how to blend professional and personal priorities.

Small businesses can create a “people-first environment,” Miller said. “Especially for small businesses, their co-workers, their employees are more like family.”

E-commerce continues to shine

Having an updated online presence that can adjust for new trends remains crucial for small business owners, Miller said. Third quarter e-commerce sales grew by 6.8% over last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. To utilize the continued rise of e-commerce, business owners should make sure their websites can grow with their business and manage inventory between online and brick-and-mortar sales.

“We’re seeing that consumers are going online first,” Miller said. “That’s where they’re going when they’re looking for local, Main Street businesses to support.”

Business owners should be wary of how sales taxes differ across jurisdictions when they are preparing to sell online, Miller said.

“Even if you’re selling online for different cities of Missouri, keep your eye on that,” she said. “It is the business owner’s responsibility to ensure you are collecting sales tax and you are remitting that to the appropriate states.”

Business for the betterment of all

Miller said KCSourceLink has seen an uptick in social ventures, or companies that make social good core to their mission. She said companies that adopt sustainable practices or donate to charitable organizations resonate particularly with young people, who are willing to pay more for products that align with their values.

“It’s not about the dollar anymore,” Miller said. “That’s kind of been the driving factor for years. Pay people more, and they’re going to come work for you instead of somewhere else, or make your products and services less expensive, and people will buy more. But we’re seeing that dynamic shift with the millennials.”

Incorporating sustainable sourcing or charitable contributions can increase costs for a business, but Miller said those practices can be valuable if effectively communicated to customers.

“Make sure people, the consumers that you’re looking to target, know that,” she said. “And then if maybe that makes your products and services a little bit more expensive, that’s OK, too. People are willing to pay more for products and services if their dollars are benefiting society.”

Looking forward

Preparing for every scenario remains important heading into 2022 amid uncertainty, Miller said. Maintaining flexibility and looking ahead to best-case and worst-case scenarios will remain important as the pandemic continues to evolve.

“I think that we have seen that everyone needs to have a plan in place,” Miller said, “but maybe not just one plan — Plan A, B and C.”


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