Every business plateaus. You never think it will happen to you. Then one day the launch dust settles and inquiries drop off, customers stop returning, profits flatline, the press deems you yesterday's news, or you run out of the enormous energy it takes to drive a business forward.
Launching a business is like falling in love -- the initial ecstasy of your idea blinds you to the realities of long-term commitment. In small business, I have seen the proverbial seven-year itch happen at six months, two years, even 12 years into business. After the romance begins to fade, how do you diagnose and execute exactly what's needed in order to keep your relationship with entrepreneurship strong and healthy?
In a best-case scenario, business owners reignite their spark through fresh contacts, stronger marketing, or systemizing for expansion. But sometimes the situation calls for more substantial action, which starts with getting honest about your best course of reinvention.
Before you leap into a business transition, prep accordingly:
- Know your real resources. How much money, time, and energy do you have to dedicate to your transition? Will investing in a transition drain your reserves, and is that worth it? Do you need a vacation to refresh so you can put your best focus into creating a new chapter?
- Get professional help. You've been in it too long and too deep to see things objectively -- get a real expert on board to partner with you through the transition and increase the probability that your effort will reap rewards.
- Lifestyle-check yourself. Is your itch for change actually an indicator of a personal yearning to evolve into a new chapter of your life? If what you really want to do is travel, change careers, have a child, or move to a new city, diagnose the real root cause of your restlessness and find a way to make that your primary area of focus.
Now that you're ready to go, you have four options for starting-over your business, each with increasing levels of effort and finality. I have worked with clients in each of these scenarios with successful results; the key is determining the right fit for your particular business and to execute with smart strategy, timing, and clear communications.
Here are the four main ways to boost your business past a plateau:
What the entrepreneur translates as stagnation may actually be that magical point of systemization: your business is such a well-oiled machine that you can flip the switch to things get done right -- and profitably. Now's the time to open a second location, launch in a new city, or introduce your product to a new audience. If your product and processes are crystal clear, your best move may be to test your business in its next logical market.
If you're not connecting with your desired audience, either 1) something was off in your initial marketing, specifically in your branding and communications, or 2) you have been talking to the wrong people. Take a step back and identify exactly who will be your most loyal customer, and then build a promotional strategy and corresponding action plan to connect with that audience.
This buzzword is simply smart business practice: is your real goldmine hiding behind the product you've been promoting? It's possible that your best growth and profit driver is not what you initially thought. This is a hard one because you have to suspend your initial vision -- and your ego -- to assess what people actually want to buy. A pivot also demands a relaunch, so your marketing department will require an overhaul to support your fresh direction.
Close Up Shop
If your business is irreparably draining your bank account, lifestyle, or will to live, it may be time to bid adieu. The high percentage of small businesses that close are not necessarily failures. What could be more successful than having the courage to admit that your goals have changed, taking control of your financial situation, or opening the door to a new chapter of your life? Whether you sell or simply close your doors, be sure to thank the people who helped create and sustain your business while you were there -- it's very possible that they'll be back for your next endeavor.