Despite the courage it took to start their own company, many business owners eventually reach a point where they fear growing it any further or taking it in a particular direction. In fact, fear of concentrating on the wrong venture is one of the biggest fears entrepreneurs face, according to the Young Entrepreneur Council.
That fear is also a big reason why many companies wind up in a rut. Maybe you’ve become too focused on tweaking product quality and customer service — both of which are important, but neither of which drives the sort of innovation required to actually grow. Or maybe day-to-day tasks make you feel like you’re constantly in firefighting mode and unable to really think about the big picture.
Fortunately, there’s a ladder out of every rut. The most important thing to remember is why you started your company in the first place. It succeeded because you were driven, and that drive gave you the courage to risk whatever you needed to in order to get your company off the ground. That same drive can help you climb out of any rut and continue to grow your business. These three strategies will help:
1. Surround yourself with the right people
Being an entrepreneur takes a certain degree of individualism, but the most successful business leaders are surrounded by strong support systems. That means more than just having friends and family in your corner to cheer you on; it also means filling up your network with experts from different spheres of influence, especially in areas where your skills are weakest.
Martin Stein, founder and managing director of Blackford Capital, stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people when considering PE investments. “Finding the right manager is critical to a long-term view of PE investing success,” he says. “Go with someone who can present his investment process in clear language that is relatively easy to understand.” That means you’d want to find someone who avoids complicated jargon and has a strategy for keeping up with rapidly changing markets. Consider areas in which you could use some mentorship and develop a support system for yourself that shores up those weaknesses.
2. Reconnect with your first fans
Getting out of a rut is challenging, but it is doable. The first step is to realize that you’re in one! You may find that you’ve been essentially selling the same product or service for years, albeit with a few (probably beneficial) tweaks here and there. Your customers’ expectations have likely grown in that time, and if you don’t adapt, you’re going to lose them.
Reconnecting with customers is essential, and it can be as easy as setting up a focus group to elicit and collect their feedback. If you’re a small business owner who lacks the resources to host a focus group, set up a virtual one instead. For instance, Etsy offers a guide to help its members host shop critiques, which give shop owners a “fresh perspective on how to improve their shops.” Hosting a similar opportunity for your customers online can help give your company the insight you need to innovate.
3. Give yourself credit (and space) for creativity
Companies often get stuck in place when everything seems to be going fine. Sales are steady, and customers are happy, but the numbers aren’t growing, and there are few new faces in the customer base. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle doesn’t apply when it comes to breaking out of a rut. To grow, you can’t operate with a business-as-usual mindset.
So stop trying to find the ideal path to your company’s growth and approach the puzzle with divergent thinking. In this approach, you gather your support group and lay out every potential solution that comes to mind, no matter how off-the-wall it seems. A single answer to pulling your business out of its rut might not emerge, but there may be pieces of multiple suggestions that fit together into an innovative solution that will propel your business forward.
Taking the next step in your company’s growth can be even scarier than the initial leap of faith you made to build it. However, a rut is no place to stay. Surround yourself with the supporters you need, bring your customers in on the journey, and fire up the creative juices that made you the entrepreneur you are. Before long, you’ll find that you’ve made it out of your rut in much better shape than you entered it.