All businesses face obstacles at some point that will impair growth and evolution.
“It’s important to push through the problem by understanding its cause,” says Josh Klarin, vice president of Business Development, Consulting, at Sequent. “What do you do when this cycle hits? Many factors could be the cause, and it’s easy to blame them. But you need to face the situation with honesty and realism and take a tough look at things.”
“We all get stuck, we all hit bumps and even take steps back as we build our businesses. The successful learn from these sticking points, build new knowledge and blast through them. Sometimes we just have to ask ourselves a few questions, remain calm and rediscover the things that built our companies in the first place.”
Smart Business spoke with Klarin about ways to address and surpass hurdles that your company encounters.
What do you mean when you say a business is stuck?
You’ve hit a level where you’ve just plateaued. It’s typically a revenue or profitability measurement, something financial. It could also be technology or controls, or you have lost sight of why you’re in business, your core services.
How do you identify the obstacles and bottlenecks causing the problem?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you stuck because everything has to flow through you or someone else at every step?
- Are your products and services clear?
- Do your people understand purpose and pricing?
- Have you built an environment of empowerment?
- Is there a fear of mistakes that stifles creativity or reasonable risk taking?
Owners of small and mid-sized businesses usually know there’s a problem but sometimes don’t want to admit it because of a founder’s pride or an unwillingness to look outside the forest and see what’s out there. The No. 1 cause of getting stuck is that the leaders of the business get in their own way — ‘I built it. I know it. Therefore, everything must come through me.’ That stifles the company and it stifles people.
What can you can do to overcome obstacles and grow your business?
First, employees want to have some authority and to know that not every little thing they do has to be run through an approval chain. You can use the analogy of raising children. When they’re young and small, you have to take care of them and feed them. As they get older, you have to let go a little bit and trust you’ve taught them and empowered them to do the right things. This really isn’t a lot different. That’s why when companies hit various growth stages, they’ll bring in a different person, someone with experience in operating a company of that size. In a small business, you’re not going to do that. You just have to look in the mirror and trust the people who helped you get to where you are today.
What role can employees play in moving the business forward?
It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, employees not only want to be heard, they actually care and have something to say. Sometimes you just have to ask. The second thing you can do is ensure your environment encourages feedback, input and ideas. Have an informal gathering and engage employees. The simple act of asking can uncover some wonderful things and help your culture. They see things on an everyday basis that you wouldn’t necessarily see.
Once you’ve asked the right questions, you can create an environment where people want to engage, which is the third step. If they think you’re asking and are going to throw the ideas away, or they worry that if they say something wrong they’re going to be fired, that’s not creating the right culture and environment.
How can customers help move the business?
Customers are a fourth way to overcome obstacles and grow your business. Ask them what they are seeing with your business, how you are perceived, and what is working and what isn’t. Ask them why they decided to use you or to no longer do business with your company. Involve them in improvement by asking what they need and want. Remember, without your customers, you have no business. You should be able to find two or three that you can sit down with and start trying to address what they might be thinking about.
Could the solution be branching out into other products or services?
So many times, small businesses just want to get money, which you can understand, but they get stuck by spreading themselves too thin. A customer wants something, it’s not exactly what a company does or what it’s good at, but the business tries it. Before long, you’re trying five or six things that you’re not really good at and you forgot what got you here. Understandably, when you’re small it’s all about making payroll and keeping the lights on, but losing focus is such a big risk. You don’t want to abandon your core.
The final way to grow your business is to look at the core business to see if it has plateaued. If it hasn’t, that’s when you need to look at your competition and what your opportunities are. If you’re in a market that’s shrinking, it’s a whole different question. But if that’s not the case, you need to find out the elements that are making people chose a competitor, whether it’s a better product, price or service.
That’s not saying you shouldn’t look at new product lines or services, but there has to be some thoughtfulness to what you go into and don’t just jump into something that may be more than a few degrees from your core business.
Josh Klarin is vice president of Business Development, Consulting at Sequent. Reach him at (614) 410-2368 or JKlarin@sequent.biz.
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