For small and medium sized businesses (SMBs), 2018 has been a roller coaster of a year so far. Political upheaval is rampant, unemployment lingers at record lows and many other economic indicators looking promising, while tax reform, trade wars, and healthcare costs are breeding fear in certain sectors. Through it all, there is a steady path to follow for SMB leaders who are looking to grow amidst the larger turmoil, concentrating on key elements that can lower hurdles to growth. While there are many forces outside the control or management of individual business leaders, these four strategies can help you gain a leg up on the competition (and help you navigate potential roadblocks).

1 Use Different Lenses

Many business owners, presidents, and CEOs consider themselves experts. After all, they’re at the top of their organization’s food chain. Theirs is the vision that the whole organization depends on, and that responsibility is a weighty one. Just as massive trucks have multiple mirrors to see small obstructions in their view, business owners, presidents, and CEOs should consider having other perspectives to rely on when they’re trying to figure out how to adjust the trajectory of the business. Management teams and board members can’t be involved in every decision, and some of the more sensitive issues about the organization’s future shouldn’t be biased by opinions that are too agenda-driven. Forbes describes the conundrum and how business leaders need to consider other perspectives beyond their own: “The sheer magnitude of all the information out there, much of it conflicting, makes it overwhelming to understand what you can trust and what you can’t, and who you can trust to see through the data clearly. Anyone who has gotten multiple opinions on a medical condition knows that the opinions of world-class experts can vary wildly. Judging expert judgment has become a key leadership skill today, guaranteed to only grow in importance over the future.”

A growing number of business owners, presidents and CEOs are seeking out advisory boards or executive peer groups to gain access to knowledge and experience beyond their own. “Working with the right executive peer group can be invaluable,” said Glenn Perkins, executive coaching and forums leader for Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley. “With distance and neutrality, the feedback provided around challenges and how to solve them can open up new perspectives and opportunities, learning from others who have ‘been there done that’.” Relying solely on your own perspective, or even that of your management team can be extremely limiting. Like the infamous “10th man principle”, outlying opinions can open up new trains of thought, new potential solutions. Seeing the world through different lenses can broaden your perspective and help the business, relying on a more extensive set of information. No strategy is foolproof but, as Forbes points out, “with several sources of intelligence and data, we can better triangulate on our risks, and better avoid them.” “Don’t underestimate the value of internal opposition,” added Perkins. “Looking through different lenses or agitating the discussion to dig deeper can be confrontational, but it often leads to new ideas being shared and potentially developed.”

2 Care About Culture

The one environment that’s manageable for a business leader is the environment inside his or her own business. Any people-centered enterprise these days relies on certain cultural elements to keep superstar employees on board and build motivation behind the vision of the organization. “Organizational culture is the foundation of employee engagement, empowerment and motivation. These elements can translate to improved citizen satisfaction” according to the PA Times. With employee churn being one of the most disruptive and costly expenses for SMBs, culture matters, regardless of the specific demographic of your employees. Creating memorable moments of community and bonding is what keeps employees engaged beyond a paycheck. In his book, Start With Why, renowned author Simon Sinek talks about the importance of culture on employee morale: “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief - WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” The same goes for the environment inside a company, as it has the power to motivate and inspire employees who believe in the same WHY that the business owner, president or CEO does. Does your company have a culture that supports a clearly articulated WHY? If not, look to that as a top priority.

3 Focus Enough (but not too much)

In the classic Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” However, if you focus too strongly on a single path, small twists and turns may take you by surprise and cause problems. Have your plan, pursue your vision, but be flexible in order to grab unexpected opportunities or avoid pitfalls. Focus with a sprinkling of flexibility is even more important for SMBs, who are expected to be more nimble than larger corporate entities. Middle market business development experts caution that “the business world is changing faster than ever; if you develop the perfect strategy in December, it may be obsolete in six months. Defining a strategy will always be an important, necessary process, but flexibility has never been more important. If your strategy doesn't allow for adaptation when assumptions are no longer valid, then it's bad, no matter how perfect it was initially.”

4 Be Open to Learning

Lifelong learning, even once you’ve reached the c-suite, can be a significant advantage as innovation and technology continues to change the global market landscape. But where or who to learn from when you’re the decision-maker at the top? Again, boards of directors and management team members are seldom the answer, as they are too close to the situation and may find it difficult to offer neutral counsel. As popular as MBA degrees are for business people who are starting their climb to the top, executive coaching has become a learning resource for many who have reached the pinnacle. Finding a trusted advisor who can strategically see situations from a distance can be immensely helpful. “Not all CEOs come to the table with the full set of skills they need to build their companies to last for the next decade,” reports Entrepreneur magazine. “These days, a strategic plan may only span three years as the markets are changing and shifting so quickly,” added Perkins. “Utilizing the strengths of an executive or business coach can empower the business owner, president or CEO with the resolve, insight and confidence to address project management, or organizational structure challenges, or whatever the need of the moment might dictate. It’s a tactical as well as a strategic move to look at executive coaches who challenge the leader to get more out of themselves and, in turn, get more out of their top team.” Executive coaches can be found in markets all over the country, so beyond the skillset needed for the particular business, the relationship fit is what most top business leaders look for. For example, the executive forums run by Glenn Perkins concentrate on bringing small groups of top executives from non-competing companies together to form peer advisory groups through which each member can gain fresh ideas and new insights. Business Owners, Presidents, and CEOs join the groups to gain advice, support and insight from members who have faced the similar business and personal challenges. The peer advisory board process also employs one-on-one Executive Coaching opportunities to focus not only on individual goals and objectives but also on leader personal growth and by exploring new ways to address challenges. To the four strategies outlined here, it doesn’t hurt to add two tactical recommendations to add to the mix. The first, have a healthy trust in your gut instincts to navigate the choppy waters of SMB leadership. Though fortune favors the prepared, sometimes circumstances align against even the best laid plans and failures happen. Keep your tolerances in mind and try to balance instinct with intelligence to lead you towards success. The second tactical recommendation is to embrace technology. SMBs are usually small and nimble enough that technology adoption or innovation isn’t overly daunting or costly, and the tech tools you have available can help catapult you past the competition if you’re willing to use them. Renaissance Executive Forums draws Silicon Valley’s diverse business leadership community together, allowing business leaders to readily learn from each other and sharpen their CEO skill sets. As an active business advisor and multi-faceted business executive with deep-rooted experience across numerous industries, Glenn Perkins is the leader of Renaissance Executive Forums Silicon Valley, and a conscientious resource for the business leaders and owners in the area. He is continuously spear-heading the formation of new executive peer groups, innovative workshops and business education opportunities as the local, national and international markets continue to evolve. If you are interested in participating or learning more about becoming a forum member, please contact Glenn at or call 408-213-9513. For more information visit