Whether you’re running an established small business or just starting your journey toward entrepreneurship, it’s safe to assume most business owners are on the hunt for new ways to grow their enterprise and improve their bottom line.
And we should all want to help them do so. Why? According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses create nearly 70 percent of net new jobs nationally, and drive tremendous growth in our local economies. When small businesses flourish, everyone wins.
My father-in-law is a small business owner. As a result, I have seen first-hand the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, and am driven to design products and provide resources to help small businesses meet their goals and fulfill their dreams. (This selection part article written by Yumi Clark. Yumi Hosaka Clark is VP of new product development for Capital One’s small business segment, Spark Business. Throughout her career in product management, her specialty has been creating new business and scaling them for large corporations. Using lean start-up approaches, Yumi has evangelized the methodology of test-and-learn and failing fast to build successful technology ventures in Silicon Valley companies including Adobe, Intuit, eBay and PayPal.)
In honor of National Small Business Week, here are four ways small business owners (SBOs) can drive business growth this year.
1. Go grassroots
While tried and true marketing tactics like digital advertising, email campaigns and direct mail are great ways to extend your reach and awareness, a 2015 Nielsen report found consumers are 90 percent more likely to trust a brand recommended by a friend. Never underestimate the power and value of word of mouth.
For example, San Francisco-based entrepreneur Gerald Luna wanted to build local buzz for his Belgian waffle company b. street waffles. In 2012, he proposed a partnership with the local Capital One Café to serve waffles at the bank once a week. Five years later, Gerald developed a faithful following and has expanded his business to cater some of the top tech companies in the region.
The lesson here: local partnerships and engagement can bring big results. Whether its learning from other small businesses and turning to them for advice, or finding opportunities to connect with new customers, small business owners need to capitalize on opportunities to engage with their community, which will ultimately help their business thrive.
That’s the inspiration behind the new Capital One Spark Business We Work As One program, which is offering small businesses in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Denver and Boston the chance to: host pop-up experiences to share their products and services with consumers and other businesses, share educational demos to connect with their local communities and network with other local businesses.
2. Fail fast and pivot often
The word “fail” may seem counterintuitive when it comes to business growth, but playing it safe can stall progress. This is especially true for businesses developing new technologies or tools.
As you introduce new products, adopt new technologies or expand your sales strategy, identify key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine the customer and business impact. If the new strategy works, great. If it doesn’t, learn from it, refine your approach, and try again.
For example, I recently spoke with a photographer who pivoted his entire business to focus on photo editing as new technologies now enable anyone to take professional quality photos. As a result, his business is still relevant and is experiencing growth due to the change in focus.
3. Be opportunistic
Oftentimes, small businesses stick to what they know when it comes to running their business. It’s not that they are reluctant to modernize, they’re just so busy managing day to day financials and tasks, they have little time to educate themselves on new ways of doing things. By dedicating time to learning about new technologies, business owners can ultimately benefit from tools that automate tasks and streamline processes, and that help save time and reduce operating costs. This allows SBOs to focus on what matters most: growing their business.
One emerging technology businesses are adopting is mobile payments, and there’s a good reason why. According to a recent report, 46 percent of SBOs currently offering mobile payments say sales have increased over the past six months, compared to 35 percent who do not use the technology.
4. Find a mentor
In addition to networking with other local business owners, you’ll want to find a local mentor who can help you navigate the inevitable ups and downs that come with starting, owning and running a business. They’ll oftentimes have more experience in certain areas, and can share their own lessons learned and advice on fostering growth.
There are resources, like BusinessAdvising.org, which can help make those connections for you. Or, sometimes all you need to do is ask someone you admire if they’d be willing to mentor you. Most of the time, they’d be more than happy to share their insights and provide business advice.
Having been directly connected to small businesses throughout my life, I’ve seen the lasting impact they have on communities. As we celebrate National Small Business Week, I always remember that when small businesses flourish, we all do too. 
Inspiration; Jason Mercado started his business, Just Cookies, when he was homeless. Learn how he persevered despite the overwhelming odds against him.
When Jason Mercado found himself in a dire situation, he had a choice: become consumed by negativity, or try and find a way out.
After being laid off in 2011, and finding himself homeless during the height of a national economic downfall, he did the last thing anyone would have expected: he decided now was the perfect time to open a small business.
“I thought, well, I love to bake. This would be the perfect opportunity to start my own business.”
Everyone told him he was crazy; that opening a small business would be impossible because he had no money and no place to stay. But he was determined to make it happen.
Ready for one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories we’ve heard in a long time?
Check out the story of Jason Mercado, CEO and founder of Just Cookies, below:
Starting a Business From the Streets
Jason’s first order of business was to gather as much information as he could about opening a small business, including marketing, business plans, and how to sustain success.
To do this he sought out free business classes at Entrepreneur Works, a Philadelphia based non-profit corporation that provides support to emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Next, he had to find a place to cook.
The Friends Center provides conference rooms and office space to organizations in Philadelphia, and Jason reached out to them about using their kitchen to bake up his delicious treats, and they were open to the idea.
Armed with a business plan and a place to cook, Jason began the unending task of marketing his small business.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Jason began baking regularly, and passing out samples to everyone he met, encouraging word-of-mouth marketing buzz in his local community.
“I think my biggest hurdle was initially getting people to believe in me. I was homeless and talking about wanting to start a business!”
But instead of listening to every doubtful voice that came his way, he made it his mission to turn every new acquaintance into a believer.
“For me, I’m a very outgoing. No matter where I’m at, I always make some kind of attempt to talk about my cookie company. I’m always networking,” he said.
That networking paid off by turning his cookies into a popular local favorite. He thanked his community and those who believed in him by holding a Just Cookies launch party at the Friends Center on June 1, 2012.
“I think, for me, I was determined that this is something that I’ve wanted to do, and now is the time to do it, because I don’t have anything, and at the end of the day, I have nothing to lose.”
From Homeless to Hollywood
To keep his business moving forward Jason created a website and got active on Facebook. Posting enticing pictures of cookies began to pay off as he saw more regular interaction with his fans. His non-stop networking eventually led to another huge win for the cookie company.
“I recently had the opportunity to make cookies for one of the Oscar’s after-parties,” he said, for which he earned a good deal of positive press.
Since then, Jason has relocated his business from Philadelphia to California, and presently works on an order-only basis. To make things even sweeter, Jason is no longer homeless and living in a sober living apartment community until he can afford to live on his own.
But instead of simply basking in success, Jason has come full circle in his experiences and plans to turn his business into a vehicle to help others.
“When I initially started the company it was kind of a selfish thing. I wanted to do this because I wanted to make sure I had a place to stay and I wanted to draw some income,” he said.
“But I asked myself, if I’m going through this, I wonder how many other people are going through the same thing who don’t act because of all the negativity?”
Never Letting Struggle Limit Success
Jason wants his rags-to-riches story to serve as an example to others who might feel that their situation is equally as hopeless as his was.
“My eventual goal with the company is to use it as a way to teach at-risk youth and young adults to become entrepreneurs. With me being homeless before, I understand all of those components. What you did in the past is your past. Let’s talk about what you want to do today,” Jason says.
Thanks to his enthusiastic fans submitting recipe requests on his Facebook, Jason is up to 14 recipes from his original 8, and is hoping to eventually open a dedicated storefront for Just Cookies, and expand to different cities across America.
He’s also thrilled to announce that he has acquired full use of a kitchen in Huntington Beach, California, which enables him to do full production, accommodate larger orders, and even start accepting online shipping orders.
With all the good that’s come from Jason starting his business, it’s pretty safe to say that entrepreneurship has played an exceptional role in bettering his life. And he’s more than ready to pass on the lessons he’s learned while working relentlessly to make his business a success.
“I want to use the same model of teaching youth, young adults, at risk teens, and ex-felons how to work and become entrepreneurs.”
A Happy Beginning
There’s no better rags-to-riches story than one where the main character finds success, but Jason has one-upped even that. His desire to pass on his hard-earned wisdom so others can improve their lives through entrepreneurship is admirable and very telling of his giving personality.
And while we use the phrase “rags to riches,” throughout this blog post, we don’t necessarily mean Jason is rolling in the dough quite yet, so to speak.
Still, he was able to create a successful business even when all the odds were against him, and that’s pretty darn rich all by itself if you ask us.