Every company experiences ups and downs, but what should you do when you hit a plateau and can’t see the next source of growth? We asked some seasoned entrepreneurs and experts what you should think about:
Dive into metrics
“Some plateaus are normal and may not actually be a bad thing. When you’re growing, you’re often focused on top line. A plateau is a great opportunity to step back and examine other key aspects of your business. Don’t rush into a solution—it could make things worse. Hopefully you’ve been collecting data along the way to help guide your next steps. Decide on a few metrics you want to follow on a daily and weekly basis. A lot of people follow the number of sales that are closed, the number of sales in the pipeline, net income, the size of inventory or repeat business. You can use enterprise software, or it can be as simple as setting up an Excel document. When we visit well-managed companies, they understand the value of this monitoring and can show us their metrics right off the bat.”
Susan Rohac, vice-president, growth & transition capital, Business Development Bank of Canada, Ottawa
“You might look at complementary products and services to bundle with your other products in order to move them off the shelf. You could look at adding new products and services, or partnering with other people that you can combine products and services with in order to generate new revenue. Think of how telecoms bundle a phone with their monthly plan to add complementary products.”
Karen Fischer, RK Fischer and Associates, Uxbridge, Ont.
Recognize that you need to invest in expansion
“The biggest challenge about growth is actually knowing how to handle growth. A lot of small businesses with only one to five people can’t handle their business when they reach $250,000. They can’t see what they need to change to make the larger business work. When a one-person business gets to a bigger size, the owner doesn’t have enough time to do the additional work that needs to get done. What happens is they often sabotage themselves. I’ve heard small business owners say, ‘Don’t send me anyone right now. I’m completely full—I can’t take any more.’ Then they say it would be really nice to grow. You can’t grow if you’re sending your business somewhere else. They have to learn to overcome those challenges. And for most people it means figuring out how to get more time and more money, and leveraging yourself.”
Barb Stuhlemmer, business strategist, Blitz Business Success, Barrie, Ont.
Find new distribution channels
“We started out pretty small—doing trade shows, getting some of our product into small local stores and selling through our website. But there were two years in which our growth just plateaued. We discovered it was because clients wanted to purchase from us in a different way than we were selling. A lot of smaller stores carry our products, and clients prefer to go through a distributor. Before we worked with a distributor, we were in about 20 stores. Now we’re in about 80.”
Rose Creamer, co-owner, Sweet Leaf Bath Co., St. Mary’s, Ont.
Love the one you’re with
“The easiest way to increase sales is to sell more of your existing products to your existing customers. You don’t need to go out and spend marketing and sales money—all you need to do is have a better understanding of who your customers are and what their needs are. Simply look at your customer base and your existing products, and ask ‘Who have I not maximized in terms of what I’ve sold to them?’ Have a discussion with your customers to find out their needs. If you don’t have what they need, then bring in additional products and services to supply to them.”
Neville Pokroy, marketing partner, Mastermind Solutions, Thornhill, Ont.
MORE ENTREPRENEURSHIP ADVICE:
- How to recruit a great team of advisors
- How established companies can think like startups again
- How to make employee profit-sharing work for your company
- The right way to get media coverage for your company
- How to find a second-in-command you can rely on
- How to rebrand your company’s image the right way