Few businesses grow consistently and evenly forever. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept plateaus—in fact, being vigilant when it comes to monitoring our company’s growth can help us reach new heights.
Too often, when an entrepreneur is confronted with a plateau, the temptation is to push harder, to try to muscle through a stagnant period. But even the most manic approach isn’t always enough to overcome inertia.
So what can you do when you can’t get out of a slump just by working harder?
You do things differently.
In American Express’s new podcast called Turning Points, business owners share valuable lessons on how they pushed past their own plateaus, switching up their processes and strategies to navigate the critical turning points in their business’ growth.
The Key Indicators of a Growth Plateau
- Client growth stops. When you’re working hard to bring in new business, but you’re unable to gain ground, you may be seeing the effects of a plateau.
- You and your staff are working at your maximum capacity. If you’re working all-out, you may not be capable of growth. I like to use the sunrise/sunset rule: If you don’t see the sun rise or set for several days in a row, you’re working too hard.
- Customer complaints increase. If you’re failing to deliver what your customers expect, then you may be less likely to experience healthy growth.
How to Do Things Differently
When one of the key indicators points to a plateau in your company, it may not just be a sign that your revenue isn’t going up. It can be a sign that something’s wrong, and that you may want to consider rethinking and reworking your processes.
Consider taking a step back and looking at what’s not working efficiently. Find out where you’re wasting time or resources, and then develop a strategy to fix what’s wrong.
Analyze the “Why” Behind the Problem
We’re so busy trying to run (and grow) our companies that it’s easy to fall into the trap of treating symptoms rather than trying to cure the disease. But growth requires that you peel back the layers of a problem and arrive at the root cause.
It may not be enough to notice that you’re losing customers—you need to figure out why. Is there a bottleneck that’s slowing down your process? Have you saturated the market? Identify your company’s disease and cure it!
Rethink Your Time Management Strategy
I’ve had periods of my career when I’ve worked way, way too many hours. And in addition to being worn out, I learned a little something about the law of diminishing returns. Sure, I was in the office for long stretches, but I wasn’t actually accomplishing that much more.
It turns out that I was actually more efficient when I was well-rested. (Who knew?) I was able to retain focus and not drift off into Facebook, online news and skimming email for the 100th time. And with adequate sleep I could better select work that I needed to do, work that others could do, and work that no one should do (which was most of it). Could the same be said for you?
Consider Hiring for the Long Term
There’s a lot of attention paid to minimizing payroll expenses. While controlling the outflow of cash is important, you may want to reconsider how you hire. Rather than staffing for where your company is at now, consider staffing for where you want it to go.
In other words, what got you here won’t necessarily get you there.
If your employees are working at full capacity, then there’s probably no room for growth and there’s no room for error. You shouldn’t rush the hiring process, but you may want to consider whether you can put resources towards hiring more people than you absolutely need in order to facilitate growth.
Problems with your internal team are frequently problems with systems, not the people themselves. When you have client complaints, your best bet may be to take a look at how your company is running. It’s often beneficial to people-proof your system, first. We call it the “Jane Test” here at our office. (Jane is the 8-year-old daughter of my business partner.)
When we develop a new system, we have Jane come in and take it for a run. After a little instruction, if she can’t handle it error free, we consider the system to be a work in progress and not “people-proof” yet. Only when Jane can’t “break” the system do we know we have a rock solid process for one of our team members to take on.
Own Your Role
When you started your business, you were most likely the owner, operator and chief bottle washer. But times change, and as your business grows your role should evolve as well. Maybe you started out as the sole lawyer at your own practice, but at some stage, you might become a manager of other lawyers and eventually the managing partner of a law firm. As your title changes, what people expect of you (and what you expect of yourself) can change as well.
Growth isn’t just about making more money. It’s about the struggle that produces innovation and excellent service. Plateaus aren’t a problem just because you want more revenue. Plateaus matter because stagnation can kill your business. Be vigilant and be ready to do things differently.
For more business lessons, tune into Turning Points from American Express, a six-episode podcast series featuring candid conversations with business owners about the crucial moments that changed their companies forever—as well as practical advice on what it takes to improve and grow a business: www.americanexpress.com/podcast
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