Small business owner preparing barrel for beer at his brewery

Small businesses across Ohio are booming. New tax benefits and other incentives are driving tremendous small business growth in every part of the state. According to JobsOhio, the Buckeye State offers small businesses the eighth best tax climate in the U.S.

  • Ohio doesn’t tax corporate incomes or capital gains.
  • New business filings increased for six consecutive years this decade and by almost 22% between 2010 and 2015.
  • The Ohio Small Business Investor Deduction, enacted in 2013, reduced the tax bill of small businesses by $1.09 billion in the 2016 tax year, as reported by Policy Matters Ohio (in 2018, the deduction was increased, and the filing process was simplified to encourage more qualifying small businesses to claim the deduction).
  • Ohio’s Opportunity Zone program, which applies to 43% of the census tracts in the state, has boosted small business investment in poor neighborhoods, providing federal tax reductions and deferrals, and permanent exclusion of capital gains from taxable income for investments held for at least 10 years (Policy Matters Ohio).

As successful small business owners will attest, growing a startup requires a very different set of skills than were used to start the business. Making the transition from startup to expansion is a critical turning point for every business, but business growth can be particularly challenging for small business owners who often lack formal training in management and entrepreneurship.

Tips to Grow and Scale a Small Business

One skill all successful business people have in common is knowing when to seek the advice of experts. For small business owners preparing for expansion, the advice they need may relate to managing finance, complying with regulations, recruiting employees, training, and supervising new staff. The following tips encapsulate the collective experience and expertise of small business owners who have met the challenges posed by business growth and want to share what they’ve learned with others in the same situation.

Carefully analyze the benefits and risks of growth

A growth plan for a business begins by assessing where the company currently stands in terms of assets, liabilities, and cash flow. Based on the financial analysis, the next steps can include projection of future sales and calculation of the resources required to achieve specific goals.

  • Small businesses in Ohio can use the financing guide of the Ohio Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for help planning for business growth.
  • The Women’s Business Center of Ohio has locations in Cleveland, Akron, Cincinnati, and Columbus. For a small fee, small business owners can access libraries of resources on every aspect of starting, running, and growing a small business.
  • Local offices of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Ohio are listed in the Small Business Resources Guide, including eight SCORE offices and 13 SBDCs.
  • The SBDC site provides a complete list of all 28 SBDC locations, including a map showing their locations in the state and links to their websites.

Often a detailed financial analysis or business growth plan will require seeking advice from paid experts whose research and insight can guide decision-making. These experts include accountants, business advisers, and lawyers.

Network with other local and state businesses

The demands of running a small business leave little time to make contact with other organizations in the same industry or line of work. Local and state networks help small business owners understand the challenges they face in their business growth plans.

Take advantage of tax and government incentives

A central component of any business growth plan is understanding and planning for tax benefits and other incentives offered by government agencies. Small business owners in Ohio benefit from a number of tax programs and incentives geared toward the needs of growing small businesses.

  • The Ohio Development Services Agency’s InvestOhio program gives a nonrefundable personal income tax credit to anyone who acquires an ownership interest in a small business in Ohio. The benefit is available to individuals or pass-through entities owned by individuals who hold the investment for two years.
  • The Ohio Small Business Deduction was established in 2013 and now can be applied to 70% of the first $250,000 of apportioned net business income. The deduction is available to Ohio residents who report on their personal income tax return any income from a pass-through entity, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and S corporations.
  • Other financial incentives available to Ohio small businesses are the Ohio Job Creation Tax Credit available through JobsOhio, enterprise zones and community reinvestment areas, and rural business development grants offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Stay true to your values

Two common pitfalls of small business growth plans include trying to do too much too soon, and feeling the need to meet all the needs of clients and customers. Expansion causes some small businesses to lose sight of the qualities and characteristics responsible for their initial success. At the same time, business owners should avoid placing too many limitations on the goals they set for their business.

The Main Street Alliance of Ohio promotes leadership, community, and responsibility in the state’s small businesses. The group’s goal is to give small businesses a voice in public policy and to help businesses apply the latest economic and scientific research to have a positive impact on the communities they serve, including education, healthcare, infrastructure, public safety, and housing.

Give employees room to grow with your company

Often small business owners take on more responsibility than they should. Particularly when growing a business, it’s imperative for owners to focus on the duties that are most critical to the growth plan’s success and delegate other responsibilities to employees. Doing so provides employees with the opportunity to learn new skills and thrive in new roles, which contribute to their career goals and reduce the chances of employees seeking other job opportunities.

Finding and hiring the best candidates for a small business should be done deliberately, beginning with research on the pay rate and other comparisons of similar positions in the industry. It’s advantageous to have a clear idea of the open position’s responsibilities and the skills required to meet those duties. Because few small business owners have experience recruiting and interviewing job candidates, and also because of their busy schedules, they often rush the hiring process. Seeking the assistance of a recruitment specialist can be a wise investment for a growing small business.

  • The National Association of Professional Employment Organizations (NAPEO) offers information specifically for small businesses looking for help with human resources, payroll, benefits, and other standard business functions. The NAPEO site features a “Find a PEO” service that makes it easy to find employment services in Ohio.
  • The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation recently implemented a Policy Activity Rebate program designed to promote the health and safety of small business employees. Businesses can reduce their workers’ compensation premiums by 50%, to a maximum of $2,000, by choosing from among 33 activities, such as completing online safety courses, creating a wellness program, or establishing a safety and health committee.

Continue to value relationships with customers

Setting specific goals for a small business growth plan begins by listening to customers and responding positively to the feedback they offer. However, few small business owners realize how valuable top-flight customer service can be in distinguishing themselves from the competition. The time small business owners take to cultivate relationships with customers is one of the best investments they can make.

Often this requires reaching out to regular customers rather than always waiting for them to initiate contact. Small business owners can solicit feedback by providing customers with satisfaction surveys they can complete and encouraging them to write reviews of the business. Social media can help a business maintain contacts with customers, but more personal approaches are often more effective: a phone call or personal email can have a tremendous impact on current and potential customers.

Treating every client and customer with the same level of attention and responsiveness is the best way to win repeat business and gain customer referrals. In addition to developing first-rate listening skills, small business owners should look to hire employees in customer-facing positions who have excellent people skills. Another way to establish and maintain customer loyalty is by rewarding your best customers by letting them be the first to know about sales, discounts, and rebates.

Seek guidance from other successful owners and entrepreneurs

Some of the best resources for Ohio small businesses looking to expand are business people who have successfully navigated their businesses through the stormy seas of expansion. The Ohio Development Services Agency operates Entrepreneurship and Business Assistance Centers throughout the state that offer technical assistance, employee training, and financial counseling.

Fastest-Growing Companies in Ohio

It’s one thing to read about tips and techniques for growing a small business such as those listed above, but it’s another thing to see how real small businesses in Ohio have used those methods to successfully implement their expansion plans. Here are capsule descriptions of 30 Ohio small businesses whose growth strategies have paid dividends and placed them on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.

TruDog

Founded in 2013, this Milford-based pet store that specializes in raw food for dogs has seen its revenue grow by 6,754% in three years, reaching $8.8 million in 2017.

Central Point Partners

The key to this Westerville-based information technology staffing and consulting firm’s 1,956% growth over three years (reaching $2.1 million in revenue in 2017) has been to “value our workforce” and “encourage new ideas,” according to its leader, Pamela Stanczewski.

T-Pro Solutions

Offering artificial intelligence (AI) software used by consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers, the firm, which is located in Columbus, saw its 2017 revenue reach $2.3 million, a three-year increase of 1,478%.

TENFOLD

Helping companies ensure their workplaces are designed to match their brand has enabled this Columbus-based advertising and marketing service to grow its revenue by 1,347% over three years, to a total of $2.2 million in 2017.

4Front Imports

Located in Dayton and founded in 2012, this wine importer’s revenue grew by 1,241% over three years, reaching $4.2 million in 2017.

Crimcheck

With 35 employees and $6 million in revenue in 2017, this Brunswick-based company, which conducts background checks and drug tests, recorded a three-year growth rate of 1,166%.

Dibsies Personalization Station

Selling custom children’s furniture, toys, and keepsakes has allowed this Cincinnati-based retailer to grow its revenues by 918% over three years, to a total of $3.7 million in 2017.

Ease Logistics

Founded in 2014, this Dublin-based transportation and logistics services company with 32 employees recorded $24.3 million in revenue in 2017, representing a three-year gain of 897%.

Technical Assurance

The firm, headquartered in Willoughby, provides project management and consulting services emphasizing sustainable building management programs. Its three-year growth rate of 888% resulted in $31.5 million in revenue in 2017.

Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash

This chain of express exterior car washes, located in Westlake, recorded a three-year growth rate of 760%, reaching $3.1 million in revenue in 2017.

Evolution Energy

Offering transportation and other services in support of oil and gas firms has enabled this Bowerston-based firm with 204 employees to grow by 676% over three years and record 2017 revenues totaling $26.2 million.

Health Carousel

This Cincinnati-based health staffing firm with 443 employees supplies the healthcare industry with nursing, medical, and other health professionals under short-term and long-term contracts. In 2017 the company reached $180.7 million in revenue, representing a three-year increase of 640%.

Excel Impact

This nine-person company, located in Medina, offers customer acquisition and other marketing and advertising services to the insurance industry. Its three-year growth rate of 594% led to 2017 revenues of $26 million.

Homeside Financial

 Founded in 2014 and now employing 463 workers, this mortgage and mortgage counseling provider recorded $73.6 million in revenue in 2017, a 589% increase over three years.

Retail Service Systems

Providing proprietary retail systems to the home furnishing industry has enabled this Dublin-based firm with 23 employees to record a three-year growth rate of 576%, reaching $28.3 million in 2017 revenues.

Fab Glass and Mirror

A maker of glass and mirror products sold to consumers, businesses, distributors, and contractors, this Columbus-based company had revenue of $5.2 million in 2017, growing 560% over a three-year period.

The Garage Group

Located in Cincinnati, this company provides innovative marketing and advertising consulting to large corporations. It grew by 523% over three years and reached $2.9 million in revenue in 2017.

Windows Direct USA

This Cincinnati-based company serves the construction industry, selling and installing replacement windows and entry doors. Founded in 2014, this firm’s 2017 revenue of $3 million represents growth of 512% over three years.

Idea Buyer

By offering a marketplace where people license and sell patents, this Dublin-based company grew by 498% in a three-year period, reaching $3.1 million in revenue in 2017.

Callibrity Solutions

Helping companies improve their software-development and operations practices led this Cincinnati-based company with 36 employees to $4.8 million in revenue in 2017, a three-year growth of 497%.

Polaris Logistics Group

Located in Toledo, this company offers logistics and transportation services and recorded $12.2 million in revenue in 2017. Over a three-year period, it grew 496%.

Primal Life Organics

Specializing in vegan and gluten-free skin care products since its founding in 2011, the Copley, OH-based firm grew 487% in a three-year period and had $4.6 million in revenue in 2017.

Mean Green Mowers

This maker of electric, lithium-powered commercial lawn mowers, based in Hamilton, recorded $5.1 million in 2017 revenues and had a three-year growth rate of 480%.

Waste Away Systems

This Heath-based hauling firm with 15 employees grew 442%over three years and had 2017 revenues totaling $4.1 million.

ProLink Staffing

Offering talent and staffing services to a range of industries, this Cincinnati-based company recorded a three-year growth rate of 441% on $63.4 million in revenue in 2017.

Cincinnati Asphalt

Located in Cleves, west of Cincinnati, this firm provides asphalt paving and other site contracting services to the construction industry, reaching $7.6 million in revenue in 2017 for a three-year growth rate of 414%.

Rise Brands

This Columbus-based marketing and advertising service with 260 employees specializes in immersive experiences to promote brands. Founded in 2013, it had $13.9 million in revenue in 2017 and a three-year growth rate of 409%.

Exacter

By offering software that uses machine learning to improve prevention of electrical failures, this Columbus-based firm recorded $4.1 million in revenue in 2017, growing 400% over three years.

Custom Pro Logistics

This Cincinnati-based company’s logistics services include truck freight brokerage, expedited shipping, and freight forwarding. It reached $26.4 million in 2017 revenue and had a three-year growth of 381%.

pH7 Architects

This architecture and engineering firm, located in Columbus, offers its services in a range of commercial and community projects. Its $4.8 million in 2017 revenue represent a three-year growth rate of 371%.

Sources

BlueVine Capital, “Tips for Running a Small Business While Raising a Family”

BuildFire, “15 Small Business Management Tips That’ll Save You 40 Headaches Every Day”

Business News Daily, “The State of Small Business: Ohio”

Business Analytics, Data & Analytics

Champaign Economic Partnership, Financial Incentives

City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Inclusion, Business Resource Guide

City of Cleveland Department of Economic Development, City Financing and Incentives

City of Cleveland Department of Economic Development, Enterprise Zone Tax Abatement

City of Cleveland Department of Economic Development, Green Technology Business Grant Program

City of Cleveland Department of Economic Development, Tax Information

Cleveland.com, “Ohio Offers More Money for Small Business Loans, Using Once-Controversial Funds”

CNBC, “Columbus, Ohio: A Growing Mecca for Small Business”

Columbus Business First, “Columbus Entrepreneurs to Get Coaching Help Under City Program  Designed to Scale Up Small Businesses”

The Columbus Dispatch, “Central Ohio Lags Peers When It Comes to Small Businesses”

The Columbus Region, Business Funding and Incentives

The Columbus Region, Entrepreneur Resources

Council of Development Finance Agencies, State Small Business Credit Initiative Portal

Crain’s Cleveland Business, “Ohio Tax Incentives, Savings for Small, Midsize Businesses: Critical Planning Opportunities”

Crain’s Cleveland Business, “Tax Tips: Tax Reform Gives Business Owners Credit for Employees’ Paid Leave”

Ernst & Young, “Economic Incentives and Tax Credits Developments”

Forbes, “The Dos and Don’ts of Growing Your Small Business”

Fundera, “Small Business Grants: 105 Ways to Get Free Money for Your Business”

Gudorf Law Group, The Ohio Small Business Deduction

The Hartford, “7 Tips from Successful Small Business Owners”

Hatchbuck, “9 Tips to Help Your Small Business Stand Out in Customer Service”

Inc., Inc. 5000: Top Companies in Ohio

Inc., “4 Ways Partnering with Local Schools Can Help Your Business”

JobsOhio, Incentives

JobsOhio, “Ohio’s Small Business Tax Climate Is Among the Top 10 Best in the U.S.”

Joint Economic Development Initiative of Southern Ohio, Incentives

JumpStart, Entrepreneur Resources and Ecosystem Support

LendEDU, “Small Business Financing in Ohio: Loans, Grants, and Investors”

Listen Money Matters, “10 Years of Small Business Tips”

The Main Street Alliance, Ohio

The Metropreneur, Networking Resources

National Association of Professional Employment Organizations, Why Use a PEO

Village of New Bremen, Tax Incentives and Business Resources

Occupational Health & Safety, New Ohio BWC Program to Help Small Businesses

Ohio Business Gateway, Start a Business

Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Small Business

Ohio Department of Taxation, Business Income Deduction FAQs

Ohio Development Services Agency, Business Bonds, Grants, Loans, and Tax Credits

Ohio Development Services Agency, Enterprise Zones and Community Reinvestment Areas

Ohio Development Services Agency, Entrepreneurship and Business Assistance Centers

Ohio Development Services Agency, InvestOhio

Ohio Development Services Agency, Ohio Capital Access Program

Ohio Development Services Agency, Ohio Enterprise Zone Program

Ohio Development Services Agency, Ohio Job Creation Tax Credit

Ohio Economic Development Association

Ohio Innovation Exchange

Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network

Ohio Secretary of State, Ohio Business Road Map

Ohio Small Business Development Center, Center Locations

Ohio Small Business Development Centers, Small Business Help

Policy Matters Ohio, “Assessing Opportunity Zones in Ohio”

Policy Matters Ohio, “Ohio’s Tax Breaks Are Ready for Review”

Small Business Trends, “9 Things You Must Do Today to Grow Your Small Business”

Small Business Trends, “Top 20 Tax Deductions for Small Business”

Small Business Development Center, Springfield, Ohio

Strong Towns, “5 Ways to Support Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses in Your Town”

Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, Business Development Resources

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Community Connect Grants

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Business Development Grants

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Resource Center

U.S. Small Business Administration, Small Business Resource Guide, Central and Southern Ohio Edition 2018

U.S. Small Business Administration, “10 Tips to Help You Build and Grow a Stand Out Small Business Brand”

USA.gov, Small Business in Ohio

Williams County Economic Development Corporation, Incentives & Taxes

Women’s Business Center of Ohio