The plateau phase can happen when a business stabilises after the initial survival struggle, and growth becomes static.
The company may be at break-even or making a small profit; it falls short of its sales forecast and cash is tight. The entrepreneur is frustrated, customers pay late and suppliers are demanding. All of this has a bad effect on the staff.
If you are in this position or have been there you will know about searching for ways to solve the problem. How-to books, mentors, motivating speakers and training will be considered. Sales people will come under pressure and some will succumb and leave.
Some entrepreneurs will blame the economy, the government, the banks, trade unions or suppliers, and become helpless.
The simple answer
There is a simple answer to the problem. Cast your mind back to when the business launched, when making the next sale was a life and death issue for the business.
You would have walked on hot coals to satisfy a potential customer, you would have tried desperately to anticipate their needs. Carelessness or laziness affecting a prospective customer would see the perpetrator in real trouble.
A mistake in an order or a telephone that was not answered promptly would have been cause for a tantrum. You would celebrate with the entire company when you got orders that today seem trivial, and the enthusiasm would have spread.
Every time you saw a competitor’s products you would worry that your products were inferior or too expensive by comparison. You would lie awake at night redesigning products or finding ways to reduce costs. The business operated at peak competitiveness because it had to.
Where did it go?
What happened to that drive, innovation and creativity? It may have been lost in VAT returns or website design, or in frustration with banks or staff.
You may be tired from the long hours, constant worry and excessive paperwork, or complacent, with an established business, functioning relationships with your customers and a steady income. Or maybe you have just forgotten about how wonderfully well you performed, and how exciting it was.
Carl Bard said: “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” You can start from now and take your business off the plateau into vigorous growth and development.
Apply the same determination and energy that got your business off the ground. Reprioritise, separating the urgent from the important and focus on important issues. Talk to all your customers, and assess your competitors. Make changes based on what the customers want and need, and make your products and services more competitive.
Put the fun and excitement back into getting new customers and making big sales. Find and reward people doing good things. Make high standards non-negotiable and subject to peer pressure.
Show optimism; your staff, customers and suppliers will come to share your enthusiasm. See every lost sale as an opportunity to improve and every win as a champagne occasion.
Is all of this easy? Absolutely not, it is very difficult because you will have to change the way you and your staff work. The good part is that it brings rewards and an immense feeling of success and pride. Can you do it? Absolutely – after all, you’ve done it before.
Remember when you were the underdog in the fight with competitors. They were more established and had good relationships with their customers. You worked out ways of winning business from them, and you can do it again.
Apply the energy, creativity and customer centricity you used then. Find other ways to handle the administration and distractions, ignore negative talk.
Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.