A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed nearly half of all small businesses fail within the first four years of their existence. While there are many proven causes, including owner incompetence, inexperience, fraud and neglect, one killer culprit often flies under the radar: stagnation. Indeed, losing momentum—with respect to revenues, market share and other mission critical indicators—is one sure fire sign that an entrepreneurial endeavor is in grave trouble. The good news is that a stagnated organization can take a number of proactive tactical measures—many fairly easily instituted—to turn the tide, spur change and, in doing so, kick the growth engine back into gear.
Below are eight such strategies that entrepreneurs can employ right now to spark short-term progress, all of which are also highly effective within the framework of 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. Bosspreneur’s 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 accountability. 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. Accord ing 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.
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