03/12/2013

By Edward Brewer, Head of Business Development Coaching at GrowthAccelerator

Running an SME can be hugely rewarding, but it comes as no surprise that it can also be a tough task. Whilst start ups often experience an exciting few years of rapid growth, there are phases in the journey of small businesses where the growth seems to stagnate. So how can SME owners avoid this stagnation and get their business out of a growth rut?

First of all, really get to know your customers. Many businesses spend a lot of time perfecting their product or service, asking their customers for their opinion and then marketing to what they believe people want. But as Steve Jobs famously said, people often don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Can you diversify or tweak an existing product or service so it better meets their needs? Or is an idea you’ve long held close to your chest worth pursuing as it is exactly what your customers want? It’s vital to dig deeper and truly understand who your customer is, what pressures they are under and what you can do to help them.

It’s also important not to keep your worries to yourself – keep lines of communications open. The people ‘in the trenches’ doing the day to day work will have a good overview of what your customers are doing and may have ideas for driving the business forward. As the business leader, it’s important to be open to new ideas as well as welcoming challenges from your team, who may have ideas they haven’t shared that could be incredibly useful and profitable

Working on, not in, your business is another recommendation for business owners. Always allocate time to step back and get an aerial view of your business. It’s easy to forget to do this, and to get stuck in with the day-to-day activity to try and drive sales. However without the time to focus on your overall aims and strategy this can actually dig the business into a bigger hole, and lead to lack of understanding or recognition of your role as a leader of the business amongst your team

Businesses can also dig themselves out of a rut by innovating. Many people assume that innovation and R&D are limited to businesses in the technology field. However the truth is that companies of all shapes and sizes should give themselves space to think creatively. Even if it’s just making small changes to the way you do things that save time and money- this still counts as being innovative. Recognise this and reward it within your team, it will be hugely motivating and you could just generate that big idea to drive your growth forward

Finally, get advice. Talking to an external coach or advisor for guidance or ideas can be invaluable for business leaders who find themselves stuck in a growth rut. They can help with identifying the root of the problem, having honest conversations about things that aren’t working, and taking a very objective view of a business that the leader themselves might be too immersed in to spot where challenges or barriers might lie. Coaches can also provide targeted training on leadership, innovation, accessing finance or business development.

Focussing your attention on these key points will allow you to see the bigger picture and hopefully find solutions to start your business on the path to growth.

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