How to develop an agile approach as a small business owner

How to develop an agile approach as a small business owner
Anji Marychurch
Anji MarychurchCareer Coaching Ltd

Posted: Mon 9th Nov 2020

In a future of increasing uncertainty, it's become important to explore the idea of an agile approach - something that's especially relevant for small business owners and solopreneurs/entrepreneurs.

What is an agile approach, and why is it increasingly important?

'Agility', according to the Oxford Reference Dictionary, is the quality of "being able to move nimbly, quickly and in a lively way". This implies an ability to move and respond to the environment you find yourself in, and not just accept what it is.

Small business owners know that their ability to 'read' what's happening in the marketplace is key for surviving and thriving without drowning or losing focus. Being agile, then, is vital to business success.

What is the bigger context for agility?

Today's environment is often described using VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity - essentially shorthand for 'It's a bit crazy out there'.

This environment suits individuals who relish change and challenge in equal measure, and who enjoy complex problem solving. Interestingly, in recent years it has become the new reality for many business owners. Think of life as a moving walkway with ever-changing scenery and step into the picture!

Is agility always going to be required?

To be agile in your business and career requires having an eye on the wider context within which work is carried out. By remaining aware of the bigger picture an individual will be more informed about likely future trends and challenges to be faced, and therefore better placed to respond appropriately when the need arises - as it inevitably will!

In turn, the extra value to the individual is a level of perceived dynamism and energy, portraying them as attuned to what is going on - an attractive distinguishing feature to a potential client, which may also create the positive perception of them having a finger on the pulse, and of someone who will go the extra mile.

How does an agile approach apply specifically to the solopreneur?

The quality of being agile and responsive on every level is essential to those who work for themselves. Being able to respond appropriately and speedily to customer needs will also ensure a greater likelihood of winning an order or fee-paid work.

Making a point of being aware of current trends and challenges within a particular sector or industry, and responding innovatively, can give an edge to the entrepreneurial business owner seeking a headstart on the competition in the marketplace.

Those who work for themselves know that the product or service they begin offering very rarely stays the same - so the ability to listen to what your customers want, and offer them that by evolving your service or product accordingly, is a key factor in the survival rates of new businesses.

One key success factor of any business is the personal qualities the owner brings. If they apply the skills of agile leadership by responding innovatively with new policies, or enabling system changes swiftly, this could be commercially advantageous and differentiate the company from competitors who are more complacent. We can all think of people who seem to ooze the 'gets things done' ethos; they usually do before others wake up to the need for change. Fortune favours the bold!

Observable traits that crop up regularly in solopreneurs and small business owners are:

  • Pragmatism and a persistence/tenacity when facing difficulties

  • A love for thinking differently about common problems

  • An ability to spot a gap or opportunity, innovating as required

  • A relatively thick skin to help handle rejection or resistance

  • Strong self belief

  • An appetite or love for learning

  • A passion for what they do

As you'd expect, these kinds of agile leaders are usually adept at managing their careers and set the bar high within their own company, often expecting those who work for them to share their enthusiasm for self-improvement and learning.

A small business owner is also vigilant and aware, acting rather like a meerkat in the marketplace - their observable behaviour is displayed as an innately wired talent for scanning the environment. Who do you know who acts like this, and what might the benefits be?

Finally, the idea of career agility can be linked to a growth mindset - which can be very powerful when applied consistently. A solopreneur with a growth mindset is essentially willing to try new things, sees failure as part and parcel of the process of learning, and welcomes the challenge as part of the experience.

Some questions you may like to think about for your own development...

  • How do you currently rate yourself with regard to your career agility on a scale of one to five, with one being beginner level and five being excellent?

  • How would you improve your own career agility quotient?

  • Within your network or community, who do you consider to be agile?

  • Who do you know has the meerkat approach, and what can they teach you?

Relevant resources

Anji Marychurch
Anji MarychurchCareer Coaching Ltd
Hi, I'm here to help. I'm volunteering free advice calls of up to an hour as part of the Recovery Advice for Business scheme, over the next 6 months. Please get in touch to see how I can help your business.' I am a talent development practitioner with many years in learning and development consultancy plus business coaching and mentoring. I am passionate and skilful and enjoy working with business owners and their teams. Career Coaching Ltd is my own small business founded in 2002 and is based in West Sussex. I offer 3 core services of career consulting, individual assessment and mentoring/ coaching as needed to small business owners and staff members who want to grow in capability. I have worked across all business sectors over the last 35 years.  I am qualified to administer a range of psychometric assessments with clients and am an Accredited Master Strengths practitioner, so I use these specific skill sets to underpin transformational learning at both individual and team level in companies as I know they make a real difference to engagement, wellbeing and productivity. I am a Chartered member of the Institute of People and Development and a Professional Certified Coach (International Coaching Federation) and Business Mentor (Prince’s Trust). Please get in touch if you would like some free help and advice!  Email me at    

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