Growth / Planning & Strategy

5 Reasons Your Small Business may be in a Rut

Jessica Thiefels

Updated: Sep 14, 2019 · 6 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

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Lack of growth, reduced productivity, decreased company morale—these are all signs that your small business is in a rut. What’s less clear is how you got there in the first place, which means your first step in getting out is identifying the issue.

There are many reasons why businesses fall into a rut and these five are at the core of almost every single one. Consider if one of these is the epicenter of your problem, and then take the next step: work toward getting out of it.

1. You’re afraid to grow

Many business owners reach a point where the business is doing well, it’s making money, but it’s time to scale up. It’s at that point that one major issue comes into play: fear of failure. This fear is so strong that, in a recent poll, Fighting Fear: A 7 Billion Dollar Price Tag, 13.4 percent of respondents reported losing a job and 6 percent gave up a promotion out of fear of failing—and business owners are not exempt from the effects of fear. In a recent study by TSheets by Quickbooks, 53.2 percent of small business onwers surveyed said one of the biggest challenges they face is uncertainty of the future.

In fact, the specific fear of failing to grow as a business can take many forms—you may be avoiding opportunities to work with larger clients, not willing to funnel more money into sales and marketing, or avoiding talking with angel investors or VCs so you can get the funds necessary to scale your business.

When you avoid taking these steps to grow your business, you fall squarely into a rut.

Get out of it: Find a mentor, if you don’t have one already. They can provide insight on big changes so you feel less nervous about making them. Vetting ideas with this person may boost your confidence, allowing you take more risks—which, of course, are necessary to growth and getting out of the rut.

2. You don’t have the right staff

Every business is only as good as its staff: “Get it right and your business's growth trajectory is likely to continue or accelerate. Get it wrong and your tentative step forward might lead to the proverbial three steps back. It's costly, stressful, and time-consuming to manage the consequences of a wrong hire,” says Jonathan Jordan, for The Guardian.

Without the right staff, your business is bound to fall into a rut. People lacking passion, strength, and the ability to be agile will only hold you down. This is especially true for small businesses, where people aren’t numbers, but critical members of the team.

Get out of it: Start by evaluating your current employees over the period of a few weeks. This could include discussions with HR and team leads, and maybe even chats with the employees themselves. Make sure every employee exhibits at least one of the following signs of a great employee, as highlighted by Nichole Spaight, Vice President at Adecco Staffing US:

  • Knowledge seeking
  • Multi-skilled (can wear many hats)
  • Morale boosting
  • Unafraid to challenge co-workers and leaders
  • Capable of mentoring

Not every employee will have all of these qualities, but a mix of staff that fit into these general buckets ensures your business is equipped to grow. Keep these in mind as you grow and hire more staff.

3. You need a change

You may not need a change in the way your business is run or even in your business plan. Sometimes the change is small and seemingly unrelated. “It could be as simple as moving your desk or working from a remote location. Or you could relocate your entire office to a more inviting space,” says Clate Mask, Keap co-founder and CEO.

He continues, “When you think about the daily routines of working life, it's no surprise we get stuck in ruts. The time you wake up, the route you take to work, your favorite parking spot—it all creates a routine. Sometimes that routine is helpful, but it often blocks creativity as well. That's where changing the scenery comes in.”

Get out of it: Take Mask’s advice and make a few small changes. Move your desk to a new spot or tweak your morning routine, whatever you think will be most effective at boosting you out of your rut once and for all.

4. Remember your “why”

Your small business may be stuck in a rut because you are. You started this business for a reason, and over the years, stress, frustration, and false starts may have gotten in the way of your “why.” It’s easy to forget that you’re passionate about your industry, and at one point, were so fired up that you were happy to put in 12-hour days—just because you loved what you were doing.

Get out of it: Your goal is to re-find the meaning in your work. To do that, sit down with a pen and paper (or your computer, if you prefer typing) and start writing your “whys”—there are likely many of them: to follow your passion, spend more time with your family (eventually!), take control of your career, etc. Be as specific as possible, citing examples whenever you can. Keeping it specific to you makes this exercises significantly more powerful.

5. You’re too focused on the failures

If you’ve had a long string of losses, it can be easy for you—and your employees—to fall into a rut. When you’re so focused on the failures, you forget about the successes and how to be successful. This affects everything, from productivity to employee confidence because employees, and perhaps even yourself, no longer feel that their best is enough.

Get out of it: Hold a company-wide Success Story Summit. Use this time to discuss each department’s number one biggest success in the last year and what they anticipate to be their biggest success in the upcoming year. Simply talking in these terms, and changing the focus to past wins, may be what everyone needs to get out of the rut and start seeing success again.

There are dozens of reasons why your small business may be stuck in a rut, and chances are one of these five are at the center of it. If any of these rang true to you, consider how you can move past it, with the suggestions offered or your own methods. Either way, simply identifying the problem is the first step in overcoming your rut and thriving again as a small business.

Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a freelance writer, small business consultant, and owner of Honest Body Fitness. She spent the last two years working tirelessly for a small startup, where she learned a lot about running a business and being resourceful. She’s been featured on Forbes and has written for StartupNation, Manta, Glassdoor, and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 and connect on LinkedIn.

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