You’ve got a great product or service, your staff is top notch, your marketing efforts seem to be on point and yet somehow, your business is failing to thrive. According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, nearly 50 percent of all small businesses fail within the first four years of their existence. By the 10-year mark, the percentage of businesses still standing plummets to around 35 percent. It’s no surprise that factors such as owner incompetence, inexperience, fraud and neglect are generally to blame but there is one quiet killer that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late: stagnation. If your revenue and market share have lost momentum, it’s a sure sign your business is in big trouble.
No matter if your business is still in its infancy or if you’ve enjoyed previous longevity only to begin stalling out now, there are several measures you can take to break inertia and get moving again. What’s more, many of these measures are easy to institute and can quickly kick the growth engine back into gear. I recently spoke with self-professed “Bosspreneur” Becky A. Davis of MVPwork LLC, to get her take on the best strategies for stopping stagnation and restarting growth.
Davis shared eight of her best concepts entrepreneurs can employ right now to jumpstart short-term progress that are also highly effective within a long-term strategy for sustained growth.
- Be a better “Bosspreneur.” An entrepreneur is defined as a person who takes a risk, start a business or enterprise to make money. Bosspreneurs do the same, but also have written and quantifiable targets, goals and actions. Not just focusing on staff and other external variables, they focus on self-improvement and believe they themselves can and should learn from anybody. Bosspreneurs accept responsibility. They are open to change and they want others to succeed. They consistently break down barriers. A Bosspreneur does not just own a business, they own their behavior.
- Promote ingenuity with immediate impacts. Ask employees, customers, partners and vendors this question: “What three things would you change right now that would impact the company this month or quarter?” No group is too “unimportant” or insignificant to offer valuable advice, opinions and perspective. Hold internal weekly brainstorming sessions with staffers for creating and collaborating on innovative ideas such as streamlining processes for speed and efficiency. Create a task force to document, analyze, prioritize and take tactical action on those ideas you feel will have an immediate impact on the business and then segue to those where the benefit will be realized longer term. When things stabilize, continue to do this once a month or quarter at the very least.
- Be a stickler for staff. As a business owner, it’s important to continually challenge your team and hold them accountable for activities resulting in measurable growth. Once you have set clear expectations and provided training and coaching, step back and give staffers the autonomy needed to perform the clearly articulated duties expected of them. Don’t micro-manage but do require regular progress reports so you can recalibrate as needed and remain proactive rather than reactive. If performance does not improve, it’s time for an accountability conversation. Have this conversation sooner rather than later, as the longer you take to expect improvement, the worse the situation will become for you and your team.
- Identify and resolve conflicts and unsavory politics. Conflicts, whether they are between personnel, staff and vendors, or even within the supply chain, can directly affect your company’s bottom line. Work to resolve those inevitable workplace conflicts so the company can come out even stronger on the other side. Do not forget, everyone is watching what you, as a leader, will do or, as importantly, not do. Taking a “wait and see” approach or hoping a situation will just pass is not a solution, but rather is more likely to foster a toxic work environment, often perpetuated by low performers, which can cause high performers to seek employment elsewhere.
- Play all positions. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gave LeBron James the nickname of “1-through-5” for his ability to play and defend all five positions on the floor—an ability that earned James three NBA titles and four MVP awards. It is just as important for small business owners to be able to adjust and flex to their employee’s thinking styles to inspire an all-star performance from the team. Small business owners should be able to be similarly named “1 through-4” based on the four critical thinking styles: 1) the Analyzer only seeks the facts without the emotion 2) the Organizer – detail oriented, structured and procedures-oriented; 3) the Synthesizer – big picture people that are imaginative and excel at holistic in their thinking; and 4) the Harmonizer – The always empathetic, emotional and expressive person always seeking ways for people to get along. As the leader, to get the best productivity and create a high performance teams and third party relationships, you need to be able to play all four of these communicating positions based on how others naturally think rather than how you naturally think.
- Even during hard times, give praise and rewards. When things are not going as well as expected, going out of your way to recognize and reward even small successes right now can re-invigorate key players and the team at large, fostering a renewed fighting spirit. Rewards don’t have to cost money. It could be an extended lunch hour, thank you email or word of encouragement. Employees get nervous when things are tough but if you increase your communication during those tough times, it will ease some of the tension. Always give credit where it’s due: create a formal monthly honors or rewards program that recognizes employees company-wide, at any level, for developing ideas and solutions that have a tangible beneficial impact on the bottom line.
- Invest in top talent. According to research compiled from 3,800 small business leaders and conducted by Salesforce.com, growing small businesses prioritize talent retention at a much higher rate than large enterprise. As a business owner, surround yourself with the smartest and best talent possible to propel your company to the next level. Invest the time to find those superstars—even in a part time consultative or contract capacity if you can’t afford to hire them on full time. The ideation, energy and optimism that comes from high-caliber staffers can be contagious and give the entire company a boost.
- Pay it forward. As the business owner, take an active role in the community through pro bono work on boards and committees. Such activities often proffer new networking opportunities, enhance the image of the company and its figurehead, and drive good publicity—all of which can reinvigorate revenues. Sometimes when you pull yourself away from the business and serve someone else, it helps to clear your mind. Giving always has a way of coming back to you.
If your company is stuck in a rut, don’t wait another day to change course with the hope that somehow things will turn around without serious intervention. Taking immediate action and implementing growth acceleration strategies like those above will reinvigorate your business, strengthen your team and help ensure your business maintains forward momentum.
Branding, business and entrepreneurship success pundit, Merilee Kern, MBA, is an influential media voice and lauded Communications Strategist. She also serves as the Executive Editor of “The Luxe List” through which she spotlights noteworthy brand endeavors. Merilee may be reached online at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.
Photo via Becky Davis