So, you have been on the ride of your life growing your business.
You came up with a vision, executed it, and your target market loved it. It was certainly a rollercoaster process, but you accomplished what you set out to do nonetheless!
Then one day, things start to change. You stop making progress.
Growth slows down, and you can’t understand why.
If this sounds like your current situation, there’s a good chance you have reached a growth plateau.
Every business experiences one or two or ten plateaus in its life. You can get out of this!
In fact, every single business plateau ever reached can be traced back to one single culprit. It starts small, then manifests into other issues, and eventually leads to what feels like endless stagnation.
Understand the why behind your plateau if you want to get back to progress.
Here is exactly why you are in a plateau and the best strategies to return to growth!
What Does Reaching a Plateau Mean?
A business growth plateau is a period of time that your business stops making progress.
Plateaus usually occur during or soon after a business hits its maturity stage in the business life cycle.
Just as a reminder, the business life cycle includes five stages:
- Startup: Right when a company launches, they have little to no cash flow but are more focused on their unique value propositions and creating a deliverable
- Growth: Sales of the deliverable grow month-to-month, cash flows in, and the company gets closer to profitability
- Shake out: The company reaches a peak in sales growth, they are profitable, and well established in their market
- Maturity: Sales growth slows down or stops, so profit margins begin to thin out, and cash flow stays level
- Decline: The company loses its competitive advantage, fails to adapt or innovate, and exits the market
While the sales cycle outline is very straightforward, most businesses DO NOT go through it to a tee.
Every company hits random walls and makes huge leaps throughout its life.
And, some businesses take years to go through the cycle, while others seemingly do it overnight.
Moreover, while the business life cycle is a fair summary of how a business comes to fruition, it isn’t a mere copy and paste into reality.
How Do I Know If I Am Plateauing?
Plateaus are defined by stagnating progress.
But, what does progress mean?
Progress can be defined by several factors, including:
- Sales growth
- Customer feedback and satisfaction
- The feelings you get as a CEO of whether or not you are moving forward
If we go by these definitions of progress, you know that you have hit a plateau if:
- Your sales growth stagnates
- Your customer feedback turns lackluster
- You have a general feeling as the CEO that your company has stopped moving forward
The most common type of business plateau is a sales plateau. It occurs when your sales growth comes to a screeching halt.
During your start-up days, you were making ten sales per month.
Then, during your growth phase, your sales growth grew exponentially from month to month.
Last month, you made one thousand sales! It felt like life couldn’t get better.
But then, you spend several consecutive months sitting at a thousand sales. You realize you aren’t growing anymore.
The problem isn’t that you aren’t making sales, it’s that you aren’t making more sales month to month.
The second most common sign of a business plateau is growing customer dissatisfaction.
Or, at least customers aren’t feeling blown away by your product or service like they used to.
You may or may not be seeing increased sales growth, but your customers aren’t as happy as they once were.
Lastly, many CEOs can sense whether their company is moving forward or not.
Sales growth and customer satisfaction might be okay, but the CEO feels trapped or even out of control.
They aren’t exactly sure why they are getting the feeling, but it is there and it is real. Many times, that feeling is realized in slowed sales growth or weakening customer satisfaction.
In summary, a plateau = stagnating progress. Progress = some measure of business growth.
The Real Reason Why You Are at a Business Growth Plateau
So, you say, "my business is stagnant, what do I do?".
You cannot do anything until you understand why you are stagnating.
And, there is a single sole reason for business stagnation. It is at the core of all business plateaus. The core issue manifests into different problems, which then lead to flatlining results.
The real reason why your business is stagnating is that you have gotten too comfortable.
Comfort = complacency. Complacency knows nothing of progress.
When you first put together your business model, I guarantee that discomfort was pushing you forward. Feeling uncomfortable was your brain’s way of telling you that you were doing something different than everyone else.
Uncomfortable, unchartered territory is necessary to manifest an idea into an innovative product or service.
If it weren't for discomfort, you never would have gotten an idea off the ground in the first place.
However, once the business begins to grow up and out of the start-up phase and the vision you had in mind comes to life, something happens.
You start to get comfortable with the results. You're working to solve the initial problem, so what's the point of going any further? You're checking the boxes every day, so why do anything else? Your brain signals that you are back in the comfortable territory, and you should stay there because it is much safer to feel comfortable!
Before you know it, that comfort becomes complacency.
You become complacent with your business strategy, your marketing efforts, and your sales team to name a few.
You are no longer hitting those KPIs because your standards flatlined.
Even worse, there is a contagious feeling in the air that you, your team, and your business are not living up to their potential.
The truth is that there is no way you can progress unless you are constantly seeking new opportunities for growth. Moreover, you cannot make progress unless you feel at least some sense of discomfort.
Discomfort makes its home in a growth mindset.
And, when you are in that growth mindset, you do not plateau.
You surely will go up and down, but you won't be stagnant.
Growth comes to people who are growth conscious. And, growth consciousness only comes to those focused on seeking it and acting on it.
How do you know that you are growing? When your brain tells you that it is uncomfortable.
Run diagnostics on your mind right now.
The feeling of hitting a plateau is certainly worse than the discomfort of growth.
Get back to being uncomfortable to get out of complacency. Once you are out of complacency, you open countless doors to break out of your cozy coasting box.
What Is The Importance of a Plateau?
Any business owner who has chosen to undertake the journey of entrepreneurship understands that it is a process.
More specifically, it is a process with amazing breakthroughs, challenging stagnations, and devastating pitfalls.
And, this is what makes entrepreneurship exciting!
The secret to entrepreneurship success is learning to love the climb to the top of the hill just as much as the view from the top of it. It's about feeling just as much enthusiasm from the difficulties as the wins (if not more)!
How can business owners go from despising the stagnation and pitfalls to learning to love them?
It's all a matter of perspective.
Like in life, nothing is good or bad in business until you put a label on it.
Therefore, you can benefit from a period of stagnation IF you choose to see it as a positive.
Not only that, but we would argue that you can't reach the next level in business without a period of stagnation!
Moreover, stagnation is not only a positive, but a necessary step you must take to reach a higher peak with more new opportunities than ever before.
Business growth plateaus don't need to be bad for your business. Not only that, but they are an essential part of business success. They can positively change the future trajectory of your business if you choose to see them in a positive light!
What Are The Benefits of Reaching a Plateau?
So, you've decided to see your stagnation as a potential benefit?
Plateaus are there to point you in the direction of new business opportunities!
Here are three key ways you can use your plateau trend as beneficial guidance for new opportunities:
- You can revisit or redefine your business vision (specifically the "why")
- You can strengthen your existing customer base and expand to new customers
- You can improve relationships with your team members, particularly the salespeople
First off, when you see a plateau trend, it is the perfect opportunity to check in on the "why" or "purpose" of your business.
Ask yourself if you and your team members have lost focus on your business purpose.
As you already know, the business purpose is the foundation of everything. The business plan means nothing without purpose.
Reflect on whether you and your team have lost sight of the "why" OR if it needs to evolve.
Second, a growth plateau is a perfect time to check in on your existing customer base. Are they better off since having purchased your new product or service?
Understanding whether or not customers truly feel satisfied with your delivery will give you a better idea if you need to change up your product or service.
Not only that, but it will allow you to improve your existing business relationships and expand to new ones!
Lastly, challenging times have a way of bringing people with a shared purpose together.
Take the opportunity of the plateau to check in on your team. Are they happy where they are?
While you may be exceedingly passionate about your business, is your team? Even more importantly, are your salespeople passionate?
Take this moment to ask yourself if your team needs a shot of enthusiasm, a break, or if you need to make organizational changes.
These are just three of the potential benefits of reaching a plateau!
Whatever you do, use this time as an opportunity to discover new opportunities!
How Do I Get Over a Business Plateau?
Once you come to terms with how you got to the plateau and have made the decision to view it as a benefit, you are ready to overcome it.
Consider each of the following strategies for overcoming your business growth plateau, then get moving immediately!
1. Revisit Your Vision (Everyone Should Start Here)
Regardless of what kind of plateau you are at or where you are in the business cycle, EVERY CEO should start moving forward by revisiting their “why”.
Specifically, you should take time to reflect on the original vision you had for your business when you first got started.
What problem were you trying to solve?
What internal pull did you have to solve the problem?
What was your true “why” or purpose for choosing to solve the problem?
When business heats up, many CEOs lose sight of that original “why”.
Their schedule gets full, people knock on their door all day, and their purpose slowly fades into the background.
Go back and revisit that original plan you had. The one that made you feel uncomfortable yet enthusiastic at the same time.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I need to update or redefine the “why”?
- Are my team and I living out that “why”?
- Am I still passionate about the “why”?
If your vision needs some updating or you realize you have lost sight of it, forget all else until you reorient your actions back on that purpose.
Then, make any organizational or structural changes necessary to get back on the track of living out that vision and purpose.
2. Refine Your Marketing Strategy
Hitting a growth phase is an extremely exciting time for a business!
However, one common mistake that businesses make during that growth phase is deviating from their initial product or service marketing.
For example, an SEO software company grows from 100 to 10,000 users, then randomly shells out a new feature in their software geared towards content marketing.
Then, they all of a sudden see flatlining results.
While SEO and content marketing go hand in hand, the marketing of the company skews. Are they an SEO software company or a content marketing software company?
When you hit a plateau, ask yourself if you’ve deviated from your original marketing strategy.
With your strategy, you need to be able to answer in one short sentence what the mission of your company is.
For example, the SEO software company creates the best SEO software in the world. Plain and simple.
Nail down the one thing that you do and stick to it.
The more random features and elements you throw in there, the more challenging it is for new customers to get on board.
Moreover, refine your marketing strategy to fit the one thing that you do best! Optimization = success in marketing.
3. Re-Draw Your Ideal Target Market
Business is all about creating solutions for people with a problem.
However, problems, the ways to solve them, and the people facing them change over time.
If a business doesn’t shift its solutions to meet the changing times, it will surely hit a plateau and eventually fall over a cliff.
With that said, if you hit a plateau, go back and revise your business plan to fit the times. Take a particularly close look at your:
- Sales forecasts
- Competitive analysis
- Target market research
First off, are your forecasts realistic with the times? Perhaps your deliverable was helpful three years ago, but does the market demand it anymore?
If you find your forecasts off, that is a sign that you need to shift the “how” and “what” of your business.
Second, is your competition outdoing you? Return to your original unique value proposition, and ask yourself if it is still relevant today and helping you stand out.
Lastly, staying up to date with your target market is particularly important!
Ask yourself the following questions about your customer base:
- Has our original ideal target market outgrown the problem?
- Have the viewpoints of our original target market shifted?
- What does our target market value today?
Take out a pen and re-draw your ideal customer! Literally, create a character of that ideal customer that includes every demographic feature.
If the picture you draw today isn’t the same as the one you drew at the onset of your business, then you either need to shift to a new market or update your deliverable to serve your evolved market.
When updating your business plan, you don’t necessarily need to change your “why”. But, you may need to shift your “how” and “what”.
Stay on track with your vision, but update the delivery to meet the changing needs of your customers!
4. Monitor Your Metrics
When you first decided to create a business, you had a vision.
And, that vision involved creating some type of measurable change.
If your company is stagnating, ask yourself whether or not you are generating those measurable changes that you initially set out to make.
Look specifically at the metrics that define your company’s impact.
For example, Starbucks’ vision statement is “To be the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world.”
Today, Starbucks sells more cups of coffee per day than any other coffee chain in the world.
Cups of coffee sold per day is a solid metric that can be used to measure the impact of the Starbucks vision.
Is your company meeting its metric goals? More importantly, are you even focused on the metrics at all?
Businesses often lose sight of those measurable impacts.
It’s easy to get swallowed up by other KPI metrics like pricing and conversion rates.
While those other metrics are crucial to success, they don’t send as clear of a message about whether or not you are creating the impact you set out to create.
Moreover, if you aren’t looking at the right metrics, you could slip up on your business plan tactics and end up stagnant.
With that said, if you realize that you’ve lost sight of your metrics, return to them. Or, if you realize you don’t have any metric to tackle, immediately shift your focus to creating one.
5. Build Up Your Team & Outsource
Last but not least, ask yourself these questions about you and your team:
- Is everyone 100% in on the company’s purpose?
- Are you all equipped with the tools and knowledge you need to accomplish your goals?
- Has the business grown so much that the team is overwhelmed?
In the end, your company can have the best solutions in the world, but they mean nothing if you don’t execute them. Proper execution comes down to having the most competent team!
If need be, make the necessary organizational changes.
Invest in a sales training program, or even bring in reinforcements from a CEO coach.
Much of the time, the team is committed but is burnt out following a period of rapid growth. In that case, make the investments in bringing on additional team members.
With a larger, stronger, and more competent team, you can overcome a plateau that stems from a lack of or lag in human resources.
Final Thoughts on Why You Are Coasting
All business plateaus start in your mind!
Get too comfortable, and you will no doubt face stagnating growth.
Identify the comfort, refuse to accept complacency, and make the necessary changes to get your business back on the growth track!
Take things to the next level by getting your entire team in on the mission!
This plateau could be the best thing that has ever happened to your business.