Many entrepreneurs complain that their businesses are not growing as fast as they'd hoped. They may have a wonderful product, superior customer service and a steady flow of customers -- yet their business growth has stalled. What they don't realize is that they themselves might be the ones holding their business back and causing its growth to flat line long before it's time to die.
I read that there are 28 million small businesses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Small Business Administration -- 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms. So, there's plenty of opportunity for everyone. If you're one of these promising self-starters, it's time to figure out what's causing the stand-still and to fix what's broken.
What should you do when you see a growth plateau? The hasty response is to throw more money at the problem in the form of aggressive marketing or to seek a cash infusion to reinvest in your business. However, before you spend another penny on marketing or take on added debt, consider the following nine reasons you may be keeping your business from growing.
1. Flawed or outdated business plan
Before you started your business, when you created your plans, you may have had an idea of how you wanted things to work. But things don't always happen according to plan. And now, that business plan is wrong or outdated. You find yourself making tougher and tougher decisions to adapt on the fly.
Quick fix: Perhaps it's time to re-assess your whole plan and see if it’s relevant to today. It takes years to build a business, and lots of things change and evolve in a year or two -- the economy, your customers, your products and services, your goals and much more. So take a look at it, and tweak it as necessary.
2. Imperfect pricing strategy
Selling based on low prices or low fees only works if you’re the lowest-priced alternative, and chances are, that's not you. In fact, your prospective clients can go to Google and find a lower-priced alternative in seconds. If you desperately price-drop in an effort to attract sales, it’s a very shaky, short-term approach that I call a race to the bottom, where you attract the lowest-value clients that will leave as soon as someone undercuts you.
Quick fix: A better strategy than lowering prices is instead to add value to what you do. This will make your business more profitable and allow you to compete for better, more profitable clients or customers.
3. Blending in with the competition
In an attempt to play it safe, you've camouflaged your business. You seem like all the providers in your industry, just blending in. While the names and faces change, nothing is really noteworthy about your business. Nothing sets you apart.
Quick fix: Do something outstanding, if you want to stand out. Something remarkable. Something uniquely valuable. Find a new service that your competitors don’t provide. Have a customer meet-and-greet. Conduct a webinar. Or do something else that differentiates your business. Just don’t be like all the others, if you want to get noticed. Stop thinking like a same old, same old provider. Be brave and think outside the box. Creativity and courage is what it takes to really grow.
4. Settling for too comfortable
You started off with great plans, but somewhere along the way you decided to settle. Instead of focusing on building business, you switch to lowering your expectations to meet the limitations of an performing business.
Quick fix: It’s up to you turn up the enthusiasm and restore the passion you once had. Step outside your comfort zone, set bigger goals, make the commitment. You have to be your own cheerleader!
5. Investing in a ton of expensive technology
I get calls every day from software salespeople selling me stuff I just don't need now. I think most of it is overkill. Why pay for all that functionality that you won’t use every day?
Quick fix: Look for free or lower cost alternatives. And make sure whatever you decide on allows you to add more features and functions at a reasonable price, so you can scale the technology as your business grows.
6. Avoiding tough decisions
Sure, you have to make difficult decisions every day. But then there are the once-in-a-blue-moon difficult organizational decisions that will require weeks or even months worth of work to accomplish. Of course, these only occasionally come up, but they dictate the future success and direction of your company. Many entrepreneurs I've known find it easier to simply avoid hard decisions, resulting in less work -- and usually fewer dramatic successes.
Quick fix: You can’t expect off-the-charts growth if you are not willing to make the hard decisions or put in the time and effort to change direction. It’s not going to be comfortable or fun, but it must be done. Company change will not come if you're not willing to change.
7. Erroneous focus
On paper, a big order from a huge client looks very appealing. But, it can take a whole lot of energy and resources to attract, win and keep those infrequent opportunities -- and they could even put your entire company at risk. Pursuing the biggest whale can even drag you under, as Captain Ahab learned in Moby Dick.
Quick fix: Instead of having your livelihood hinge on several large pieces of business, why not focus on servicing a smaller, steady client base? Remember that there’s plenty of opportunity to go around.
8. Conversion rates are too low
If your conversion rates are low, it may be that you're wasting a lot of opportunities that could’ve converted into deals. You're having a problem with your sales process and you need to make adjustments.
Quick fix: Once you know there's a problem, figure out exactly what it is and what works for your business. You might have change the sequence or number of prospect touch points to better align them with your marketing efforts. Consider added follow-up emails, Facebook messages, tweets and the like.
9. Dependence on DIY everything
You've built your business around your own expertise and don't have partners or team members to collaborate with, so you've been reluctant to outsource tasks or spend money on help. But if you try to do everything yourself, including marketing, website maintenance, content development and more, one or more of your efforts are going to suffer. Plus, you’re limiting your growth and can find yourself on the fast track to burnout.
Perhaps you say, “I don’t have enough money to hire outside help.” The truth is that you will never have enough money to hire help. Just do it, anyway. If you don’t take the risk to get some help with things that distract you from selling more and growing your company, you will stay stuck.
Quick fix: You could find freelance or consulting assistance on LinkedIn. Or you could bring in a smaller, focused marketing agency to assist. You will find that it will cost a lot less than you might have thought, and that it was well worth it to help get unstuck.
These are just a few of the main reasons your business is struggling to grow. But don't worry. It's very common for a startup to go through a rapid growth spurt and then slow down dramatically. The best way to deal with lack of growth is to figure out the causes and fix them, which usually is relatively fast and easy.
You could do nothing and look for excuses -- blaming others, insufficient time and money, etc. Or, you can look for reasons to improve things and work on the improvements. I strongly believe what Benjamin Franklin said: "Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning."