8 Ways to Foil Small-Business Stagnation

These tactics are sure to spark progress.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that nearly half of all small businesses fail within the first four years. While there are many 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 a surefire sign an endeavor is in trouble. The good news is that a stagnated organization can take measures to turn the tide. Here are eight that entrepreneurs can employ right now to spark progress. 

  1. Be a better “bosspreneur.” An entrepreneur is a person who takes a risk, by starting a business or enterprise. Bosspreneurs do the same, but also have written and quantifiable targets, goals and actions. They focus on self-improvement and believe they can and should learn from anybody. Bosspreneurs accept responsibility. They’re open to change and want others to succeed. They consistently break down barriers. Bosspreneurs don’t just own a business; they own their behavior.    
  2. Promote ingenuity with immediate impacts. Ask employees, customers, partners and vendors: “What three things would you change right now that would impact the company this month or quarter?” No group is too unimportant to offer valuable advice, opinions and perspective. Hold weekly brainstorming sessions with staffers to come up with creative strategies, such as ways to streamline your processes. Create a task force to document, analyze, prioritize and take action on those ideas you feel will have an immediate impact and then segue to those where the benefit will be realized longer term. When things stabilize, continue to do this at least once a quarter.
  3. Be a stickler for staff accountability. As a business owner, it’s important to 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. If performance does not improve, it’s time for an accountability conversation.     
  4. Identify and resolve conflicts and unsavory politics. Conflicts, whether they’re between personnel, staff and vendors, or even within the supply chain, can affect your bottom line. Resolve them so the company can come out even stronger. Don’t forget, everyone is watching what you, as a leader, will do or not do. Taking a “wait and see” approach or hoping a situation will pass isn’t not a solution, but rather is more likely to foster a toxic work environment.
  5. Master different communication styles. Small-business owners should understand the four critical thinking styles: the Analyzer only seeks the facts without the emotion; the Organizer – detail-oriented, structured and procedures-oriented; the Synthesizer – big-picture people who are imaginative and excel at holistic thinking; and the Harmonizer – the always empathetic, emotional and expressive person seeking ways for people to get along. As the leader, to get the best productivity, you need to be able to play all four of these communicating positions.
  6. 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 reinvigorate the team, fostering a renewed fighting spirit. Rewards don’t have to cost money. They 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 for developing ideas and solutions that have a tangible impact.  
  7. Invest in top talent. According to research by Salesforce.com, growing small businesses prioritize talent retention at a much higher rate than large enterprises. As a business owner, surround yourself with the smartest and best talent possible. 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.
  8. 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 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.   

Becky A. Davis is a leadership expert, motivational speaker and dynamic entrepreneur coach. She founded and is president of MVPwork LLC, which helps women catapult their small business. She can be reached online at www.BeckyADavis.com.