Times are tight for entrepreneurs and small business owners. The economic landscape remains uncertain, it’s difficult to hire and retain employees, rising prices for goods and services pressure consumers and businesses alike, and inflation sits at 5.2% in February, well above the Bank of Canada’s (BoC) 2% target. So how can small businesses grow in this environment?

Although Canada may dodge the ravages of a deep economic recession, ongoing challenges persist. Rising commodity prices and global inflation, the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine, excess demand for goods, and a tight labour market are all influencing the current state of the Canadian economy. 

The BoC increased its benchmark interest rate eight times in the past 10 months to force inflation downwards from its peak of 8.1% last year, but earlier this month, Canada’s central bank opted to hold its current rate at 4.5%. That’s because the BoC believes inflation will come down to 3% by the middle of 2023 and is expected to drop to 2% by 2024.

A businesswoman deciding on a strategic plan.

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That sounds promising, but if employment numbers continue to surge (Canada’s unemployment rate was sitting at 5% in February, shy of the 4.9% record low in July 2022), it’s conceivable the Bank may be forced to hike its rate again. Why? Economic theory suggests unemployment and inflation are linked. Therefore, as unemployment increases, inflation decreases and vice-versa. However, what’s puzzling is that’s not what we’re seeing. The perceived economic slowdown we’re experiencing is not mirrored by the labour market, where competition for talent remains fierce and challenging.

Regardless, for small businesses grappling with increasing their margins and remaining competitive, the answer may lie in strategic planning to identify where growth opportunities exist.

4 Steps to Create a Strategic Plan and Grow Your Small Business

Economists expect the Canadian economy to grow by 0.5% in 2023 and 1.2% in 2024. That’s significantly less than the 3.5% growth realized in 2022, but if correct, the modest growth will help Canada avoid stumbling into a recession. 

Finding ways to thrive and grow in this economy means zeroing in on what you can control versus attempting to control macroeconomic problems like rising costs, supply chain problems, and labour shortages. After all, how you respond to such pressures as a business owner is what ultimately determines the outcome.

That means coming up with a simple but strategic plan identifying your business’s risks and key priorities. Here are four steps to creating a strategic plan for your company or startup:

1. Discovery phase

What is the state of your business today? You need to know where you’re going and how to get there. Before you can map that out, you need to take stock of your business’s strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, do a SWOT analysis (SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to outline the positives and negatives. You’ll also need to consider or create your company’s mission and vision statements.

Some things to ponder include how you are different from your competitors and what’s your value proposition. How are inflation and rising prices affecting your target customers? How are those same pressures impacting your profitability?

2. Determine goals

Once you have a lay of the land regarding how your business is performing, you can begin to envision your future state by determining your primary goals for each facet of your company, including sales, finance, operations, recruitment, and technology. That means identifying your business partners, primary activities, resources, and a cost structure. 

You also need to identify your various customer segments, how to make meaningful, personalized connections with each and on what channels, and outline what your short- and long-term objectives are. Ensure these are achievable. For example, a short-term goal may be improving your email marketing open rates, while a long-term goal may be launching a new e-commerce platform.

Other items to consider:

  • What are your action plans, and how will they support your external growth goals? 
  • How will you measure your progress? 
  • What resources do you have to meet those goals? For instance, what is your budget, and how will you allocate resources to ensure you have the needed employees?

On that note, it’s safe to assume finding the talent you need to staff your team will continue to be an uphill battle. Statistics Canada’s data shows our population is aging, with 19% of Canadians being 65 years and older. Furthermore, it’s estimated 22% of workers in Canada today are 55 years or older, and more than 20% of workers will retire in the next decade.

You’ll need to get creative with your hiring strategies and provide competitive salaries or wages and benefits to woo talent your way.

3. Reaching your audience

You’ve researched who your existing and prospective customers are, where they are, what matters to them, and how your goods and services fulfill their needs. So, how do you reach them? For instance, look at what social media channels they use. Then, engage with them and articulate your competitive advantages.

Regardless of the industry you’re in or the type of business you own, there are many ways you can leverage digital marketing to keep your existing customers engaged and attract new ones.

4. Execution

With your detailed action plan in place, you need to rally your employees to execute those plans in a coordinated way. Explain to your employees the plan, why it needs to happen, the expected outcomes, and how it affects and empowers them. Use key performance indicator (KPI) metrics to map your progress.

You’re the business owner and leader. It’s leadership that determines the success of any venture. So listen to what your employees are telling you and get their buy-in on the plan. Set priorities and communicate your progress as you proceed, celebrating wins big and small along the way.

Lastly, routinely evaluate and revise your plan as required. 

Bear in mind that a strategic plan is not a business plan. A strategic plan outlines your future objectives and is a blueprint for where you want to go and how you’ll get there. A business plan outlines what you do and how your business operates.

Why Small Business Insurance Is Essential

All small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups should have a detailed risk management plan that includes a customized small business insurance policy to protect their finances from losses. Furthermore, the annual insurance premium you pay is a tax-deductible expense.

Make shielding your business’s reputation and assets from the expensive threats of damage and loss by getting business insurance from Zensurance. 

Completing our online application for a free quote only takes a few minutes. Let our expert insurance brokers find and customize the policy you need from one of more than 50 insurance providers in our partner network at a competitive price so you can concentrate on growing your business.

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About the Author: Liam Lahey

Liam is the Content Marketing Manager at Zensurance. A writer and editor for more than 20 years, he has been published in several newspapers and magazines, including Yahoo! Canada Finance, Metroland Media, IT World Canada and others.