Small Business Not Growing? Here’s Why

If the business you’ve started is small, the only way to go from there is up, right? If you put in the work, you’re bound to grow from a tiny seed of an organization to a flourishing one! Unfortunately, it’s just not always that simple. And you might be thinking, “I don’t need (or want) to be the head of a huge corporation, so do I really need to worry that I’m not growing as much as I’d like right now?” Well, here’s the thing: if you’re not growing, you could end up stuck in an uncomfortable spot between being the owner of a very small business and a very large one. Being wedged in there means that you’re probably going to be doing all the work to keep things running, while still not seeing much of a return. So it might be time to examine why you’re stuck where you are, and look for solutions to your problem of stagnant growth.

Going in Without a Plan

empty agenda page in a book
If you do not have a plan, then your business is bound to fail.

When experts tell you you need a solid business strategy, listen. Your business strategy should include a clear set of plans, actions and goals that outlines how your business is going to compete in your market – and it needs to be written down! If you haven’t done this, you’re basically jumping in with a “fire, aim, ready” approach, hoping that you’re somehow going to achieve your goals. 

And speaking of goals, it seems like a lot of small business owners are treating them as simply a buzzword, which can be a huge mistake. According to the Staples National Small Business Survey, 80% of small business owners don’t keep track of their goals! And, you know what, it turns out that, according to some studies, 77% of small business owners fail to achieve their visions. Think those stats might be related? 

The solution, according to a Dominican University study, seems to be writing down your goals and making yourself accountable. In the study, 5 groups of business owners set goals and followed increasingly detailed steps; for example, group 1 only thought about their goals, while group 5 wrote their goals down, rated them, formulated actions, and sent their plans to a supportive friend along with weekly progress reports. The result? 76% of participants in group 5 achieved their goals, or were at least halfway there. 

“Growing” It Alone

We’ve already covered how you should never ignore advice about creating your business strategy and setting goals, but the same goes for any advice that you’ve sought from trusted sources. We get that you’re protective about the way you run your business, but sometimes you need to hear straight talk from someone who’s been there.

And ignoring sound advice isn’t the only problematic way for you to go it alone. There’s a whole community of entrepreneurs out there, all at different stages of their business journeys that you could be speaking to. We’re not saying you have to seek out and fraternize with the competition; what we are saying is that interacting with like-minded business owners in any field can foster creativity, help you identify blind spots, and build self-confidence.

Not Having the Right Team

illustration of two people with graphs in front of them
Having the right team is important in order to grow your business. You can’t do it alone.

Not seeking advice from pros or talking to your peers can hold you back, and so can trying to do all of the day-to-day work of your business alone. You might be a one-man band when you first start your business, but if you want to grow, you’re going to need to hire a team, or at least outsource some of your tasks. No one can do everything – and even if you think you have 25 hours in the day to get everything done, remember that no one can do everything well! You’ll need to set up a process for hiring and training high-quality employees, and you’ll need to be comfortable with making changes in your team as needed along the way.

Lack of Investment

Growing businesses are like cash vacuums. As you grow, you might need to invest in new technology, a bigger space, more employees, or more equipment, and that means constantly finding ways to pump cash into your business. That could mean seeking out more investors, applying for business loans, or using up any cash you have on hand. If that sounds exhausting, well, it can be – and if you choose to jump off that hamster wheel for a while, you could find that the growth of your business slows down.

Cutting Corners

Yes, it’s tough getting the constant flow of cash that your business needs. But that doesn’t mean you should be pinching pennies at every opportunity. For example, hiring inexperienced vendors, not investing in necessary technology, not putting in the resources necessary to hire the right staff, or skimping on health and safety can all come back to bite you, and could end up costing you more in the long run. Instead, try cost-cutting (not corner-cutting!) strategies like negotiating with your landlord or vendors or outsourcing or making some employees remote.

Having the Wrong Attitude Towards Customerswoman with a blue button up with a rude look on her face

Since we’re talking about cutting corners, another thing that should never fall by the wayside is customer support. No customers, no business, right? But it can be easy for them to get lost in the shuffle with all of these other considerations. Make sure that everyone associated with your business always treats customers with respect and never dismisses them as impossible to please. Because you know what? Even “difficult” customers have lots of friends and family, and word can travel fast. Remember, dissatisfied customers will tell between 9 and 15 people about their negative experience!

Ignoring Branding, or Failing to “Look the Part”

One more thing you shouldn’t skimp on? Branding. And that’s not to be confused with a marketing strategy; you need to think about branding your business, or establishing a powerful message surrounding your business, before you can begin spreading that message. Remember, your messaging will determine if your message actually gets seen. You need to have a compelling message that proves to your prospective clients or customers that your product or service is the solution to their problem.

Looking the part goes hand-in-hand with creating the right brand and message. And what do we mean by “looking the part?” Well, think of it this way, if you want prospective clients or customers to take you seriously, you have to project the right image. That means not making your business look amateurish with a poorly designed logo, a low-quality, DIY website, or inactive social media accounts. 

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your brand, then you can begin to implement an effective marketing strategy, which should include social media marketing, SEO, content marketing, and email marketing. 

Undervaluing Your Product or Serviceprice tag on a lap top screen

If you’re afraid of overpricing your products or services, you could end up underpricing them. Sure, when you first start out you might want to competitively price your products or services to attract customers, but as you get more established, you should reflect your know-how, experience, or the quality of your products in your prices. Overcome fear-based pricing; remember, when you declare the value of your products or services, that is the value people believe it has. 

When it comes to small businesses, growth is never a guarantee. It takes hard work, reaching out, and taking risks. It also takes constantly evaluating what you’re doing, recognizing the mistakes you’re making and having the ability to change course. Use the above tips to help you get that critical eye, and move forward towards your goals!

Your Growth Goal Matters! How to Pick the Right One

Is growth the goal for your small business? If your answer is: “Of course!” that’s great, but you should also take a step back and think about the answers to some other questions. Questions like, “What does growth look like or mean for your business?” Or “What does success look like?” or “What is your plan for achieving your goals?” In short, having a vague goal for growth is not enough; you need to have more specific growth goals so that you can plan out things like your marketing strategy. There’s not much in life you would jump into without a plan – you wouldn’t even step up to a diving board without thinking through your next step! – so let’s look at what it means to plan ahead and have the right growth goal for your business.  

Picking a Growth Goal

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make when they’re trying to grow? Not knowing what that growth means or what it should look like for their unique business. Without a clear growth strategy, you won’t know how to focus your efforts or measure your successes (or failures). Before you sit down and map out your business growth strategy, you need to actually pick your growth goal

While revenue might be one of the most common growth goals, it’s not necessarily going to be the right goal for every business in every situation. Your growth goal should always align with what you’re generally trying to achieve as a business. Yes, that might mean profit margin, but it could also mean increasing your subscriber base or followers, impressing investors with exponential growth in your customer base, or getting a bump in brand recognition so you can spend less on marketing and use those funds for product innovation and service expansion.

Set your growth goals around one of the following:

  • Revenue – Think: sales, net profit, total recurring revenue, average contract value, etc
  • Subscriptions – Think: monthly recurring revenue, annual recurring revenue, etc
  • Units – Think: total units sold/processed, customer base, new contracts, follower count, etc

Once you consider what you’re trying to grow, you’ll need think about:

  • How much you want to increase it by – This can really vary based on your business and your goals. It’s easy to say, “We want to increase revenue by 20%,” but things can get a little more murky when you’re thinking beyond immediate profit. For example, how would you measure growing your customer base? If your goal is simply to build your customer base, ending with one more customer than you started with is technically a success, but is that the right goal for you? If you’re a freelance photographer, gaining one major client might be all you need. But, if you sell thousands of units of a product each day, acquiring one new customer will be almost meaningless.
  • How you approach growing it – This can be tough, as well, because your approach might change over time, and you might switch back and forth between goals. After all, the unfortunate truth is that being laser-focused on one area of your business can mean other areas don’t perform as well – and you’ll need to be prepared to roll with those punches. For example, if you run a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, you might want to increase your user base, so you might offer free trials or even free plans to reach that goal. But, with this strategy, you’ll get more users but not necessarily any more money. On the other hand, if you’re looking to specifically increase revenue, you can choose to switch to a premium service model to get free customers to start paying. You could make more money this way, but you could actually see your customer base decrease. 

Getting Specific: Writing a Business Growth Strategy

Now that you’ve really thought about what it means for your specific business to grow, and what your unique successes would look like, you need to get specific in order to achieve your goals. That means creating a growth strategy, preferably in writing, so you can effectively (and with accountability) share it with others in your organization. Start with the following steps:

the word goal with a red bullseye as the O and a dart in the middle

  • Define Your Long- and Short-Term Goals – Now that you’ve thought about all of the above, the first step is to make a record of the goals you hope to achieve – say, in the next 5 years. Write them down to keep yourself on track! When considering increasing revenue, subscriptions, or units think about making goals like:
      • Increase sales by 15%
      • Grow organic site traffic by 35%
      • Increase subscription trial conversion rate by 2%
      • Add new product lines, expand into a new market, or open a second store
  • Prioritize Your Goals – Once you’ve made a list of your goals, put them in order of importance, thinking about which ones:
    • Are most vital to your business’ growth
    • Offer the highest ROI
    • Are achievable with your current resources

Remember, too, that some goals with need to be met in a certain order, while others

could be worked on at the same time.

  • Figure Out Your Strategies for Meeting Your Goals – Now you need to take your goal and break down the steps you’ll need to go through to meet it. Let’s take a very concrete goal as an example: opening a new store in the next 6 months. You’ll need to take the following steps:
      • Research a location
      • Make sure your current revenue can support the initial costs
      • Hire the necessary personnel and have a training strategy in place
      • Start marketing a grand opening
  • Check Out the Competition and Make Sure There’s Market Demand – Did you know that 42% of failed startups said that they failed because they overestimated market demand? Making assumptions could be devastating for your business, as could not adequately researching your competition. If you’re offering something new and innovative, it’s crucial to conduct market research to make sure there’s enough demand. If you’ve got a lot of competitors for your market, check them out thoroughly, asking questions like the following:

    illustration of a man in a suit holding a clock going up piles of coins
    Focus on setting an attainable growth goal timeline.
      • Who are your competitors and what exactly do they offer?
      • What are their pricing models?
      • What is their marketing strategy?
      • What are their customers saying about them?
  • Set Timelines – You need to make sure you have a set time period for achieving your highest priority goals, but you also need to know the sequence of achieving those top goals. For example, if your goal is to increase your user base by a certain amount in the next month, you might first need to work on the goal of launching a new service or create a new free trial offer to entice them.

While most small businesses are looking to grow, the specific goals and strategies for reaching those goals are going to be different for every business. It all boils down to really knowing your business and having a clear understanding of where you are and where you want to be in a specific amount of time. Doing your research, backing up your assumptions, and documenting your goals will take time and effort, but it’ll all pay off when you start reaching your growth goals!