You’ve done the hard work, spent years building a business and have gained great momentum and traction. You’ve stepped up your game and have a stable foundation – but now you just can’t seem to push it through to the next level.
Having worked with many businesses in similar situations we’ve put together 5 reasons why businesses stop growing and how you can avoid it below.
The Growth Plateau
At some point, even the most successful businesses will plateau. This normally happens naturally and is an indication that aspects of the business model have reached or expired their current capacity on a number of levels - whether this is the talent in the business, it’s approach, culture, methods or external changes.
The challenge, and difference between a lean business that is continually progressing and growing, over a business that levels out at a certain point, is whether you can identify the reasons for this and create growth focused change.
To begin with, is your business operating at a comfortable level?
More importantly, are you as a business owner, operating at a comfortable level?
If the answer is yes, then you have identified you first growth challenge.
A lean, proactive business will thrive in the uncertainty of operating well outside any comfort levels, is always trying new approaches and take calculated risks to propel the business forward and grow. This not only keeps things exciting and fresh but also means your business is constantly developing and changing.
However, this is a double-edged blade.
Why? Because of Failure
Sometimes things will go wrong, not have the desired outcome or could even be a complete disaster. The good thing here is when, not if this happens, it will create huge amounts of growth opportunities because for every setback or failure, you are gaining experience, developing, learning and growing (even if your sales are not initially). The choice, however, depends on if you embrace failure or reject it.
So in order for you and your business to grow, you and your business must fail. But, before you say, “wait, my business can’t fail” understand it will only grow through failure:
1. Fear of Failure
Everyone fears failure at some point. That pull that stops you pushing outside of your comfort zone to try new approaches in life and business. It’s evolved from the primordial instinct to protect us in the event of danger, but in modern culture and society serves very little purpose. This is because in the main there is no actual physical danger being presented to us - only a perceived illusion of an outcome that is not desirable, that hasn’t even happened yet.
Our perception of fear in business is to avoid changing what is working for the simple fear that it may go wrong. This block hinders business growth by tying you into a comfort zone across your business. In many cases even becoming a part of your culture.
Remember when you first started your business?
Struggling sales, struggling cash flow, not enough time and this almost hopeless sense of being overwhelmed constantly.
At this point, you have a lot less to loose in the event of failure so try new things, approaches and ways of working all the time to help gain new experiences and knowledge to build your business and your skills. It’s a very exciting, motivating and exhilarating time, if not challenging.
As your business grows, your fear of loss and failure heightens relative to how you value your business. At some point, your fear of losing and failing becomes higher than the desire to gain further. It’s at this exact point your business will stop growing.
This does not mean you say f**k fear and go blazing ahead out of your comfort zone to screw it all up thinking you will learn, grow and make your millions! The risk of a colossal mistake would be pretty high doing so, don’t you think?
Instead, acknowledge how fear of failure will suppress business growth. Plan thoroughly how you can make changes to operating outside of your comfort zone to try new ways of working and create a structure for reviewing and monitoring progress continually so lessons can be learned as they changes take place - not in hindsight when it’s too late. Plan your risks, take an 180-degree look, prepare to learn and go for it!
Finally, understand success and failure are the same thing. In that to fail is to become more successful.
2. Relying on Referrals
As businesses grow they naturally (providing you have a quality product or service) stimulate customers and clients to talk about you and your business. This leads to referrals from others that feel they will benefit from working with you.
As your business grows further, referrals grow in rough relation this organically (even more so if you encourage it).
Now, referrals are a very healthy thing for any business and a fantastic indication you’re doing something right. However, we’ve worked with a number of businesses that hit (you guessed it) their comfort zone because they get to a point where referrals become the main source of their income across the business.
Once they hit this stage, they begin to rely on this regular flow of referrals, and naturally end up reducing (or even stopping) their efforts to attract business from other sources.
Ask yourself, what percentage of my business is generated from referrals? If it’s more than 60% you are relying too heavily on them.
The worst bit about this?
Referrals are a lot easier to convert from opportunity to sale so often distort your overall conversion rate. Perhaps, showing your overall business converting at 70% whereas in actual fact you’re converting new business at only 10%.
Take a look at the difference in your conversion rates between referrals and other business sources. It may surprise you!
To avoid this, make sure your plan, develop and measure a rock solid lead generation strategy that reduces your dependency on referrals.
3. The Lead Generation Struggle
Aside from relying on referrals, businesses often find it difficult to increase inbound leads, the quality of those leads and the average spend per lead/sale.
Gone are the days when you drop an advert in the local paper and wait for the phone to ring. Yet we still see so many businesses claiming to be marketing their business, spending fortunes on advertising but not seeing a great return in terms of lead generation. Even worse is most can’t even measure their marketing return-on-investment.
Understanding and planning a lead generation strategy is fundamental for any growing business and even more essential for a business that is struggling to break through to that next level.
Lack of understanding between advertising, promotion and PR, or how to position your business in a crowded marketplace can contribute to poor lead generation, along with a lack of clarity in your overall marketing and pre-sales pipelines.
Take a look at your lead source figures and compare it to your marketing spend - does it tell you anything?
Are you spending thousands on print advertising and only generating hundreds back over a year?
Are you throwing money at Google, generating lots of traffic but no leads?
This data from your business intelligence will give you the answers to your lead generation challenges.
In the main, lead generation these days is not about pushing a product or services. It’s about creating a relationship with your audience, followed by building trust and credibility.
Check out our top tips for increasing your sales here.
4. Narrow Vision Syndrome
To truly grow a business, you need to be an expert in lateral thinking, visioning the next steps and goals for your business with a constant 180, if not 360-degree awareness. This keeps opportunities on the horizon at all times and gives you head start in capitalising commercially on those opportunities when they arise.
The worst realisation is to look back and go “damn, wish I would have done that”....
Ever done this? Yes, me too!
The challenge here is turning a business is intense, time-consuming and busy work. From managing daily tasks, managing staff, keeping financial control and maintaining clients, to say the least. So it is almost too easy to fall into a habit of focusing merely on what needs your attention in the short term. Subsequently resulting in long-term business planning and action going down the drain or becoming a dreaded business chore.
Often you’ll end up looking at your business with short term vision without even realising it. Taking your focus away from the next major milestone and your ambitions for the business in the next 3-5 years.
A bi-product of this narrow vision syndrome, as we call it here, is created when businesses become reactive, rather than responsive. Simply because you cannot be responsive if your not aware of what’s up ahead on your business growth journey. These reactions then create challenges that stop a business from growing because you’re not well prepared for them, meaning they pull on your resources and your capacity.
From a business growth perspective we see business reactions happening mainly through a lack of vision and planning.
If you're constantly faced with attention needed at the coal-face, that takes your focus away from the bigger picture, ask you self;
Am I suffering from narrow vision syndrome?
Answering this question will prompt you to adjust your work balance between your business’ short-term needs and long-term goals.
5. Lack of Reinvestment
When businesses get too comfortable, business owners start to experience a decrease in drive and motivation (comfort zone trap again) and start pulling money out of their business to live the rich lifestyle before they are actually rich, rather than re-investing their money in the business. They’ll stop scaling marketing budgets or bringing in new talent or capacity as they consider their business to be performing well.
One big issue we witness is businesses locking their marketing spend at a certain figure annually and never increasing it as the business grows. Moreover, they’re not even 100% what business was generated with that locked marketing budget at the end of the year, so naturally (trying to retain profits) refuse to increase it. This is a false economy and is a very clear reason why businesses do not grow.
As a general rule, we recommend a minimum of 10% gross profits should be allocated to overall marketing year-on-year. Your 10% marketing spend, if used correctly, will increase your turnover and gross profits per year. Resulting in a natural increase in your marketing spend the following year. Resulting in growth the year after that and so on. This way you’ll be constantly feeding business growth in relation to your business size.
The same applies to reinvesting in technology, infrastructure, talent or process development that increases capacity for growth and reduces operating cost in the long-term. Many businesses simply stop investing, then wonder why they stop growing.
If you want to scale your business, look at long-term reinvestment of your cash within the business, give it everything it needs to flourish. Do not try to build a million-pound business with the resources and capacity of £100,000 business. It simply will not work.
Don’t fall for this trap. Get reinvesting!