We are the change

5 reasons you’re not growing your business

To expand your business you need help. There’s only so much you can do on your own, and only so far your own skills will take you. What’s more, moving to a new level often means taking a big step: starting a new project, changing how you operate or opening up a new market. That means you have to bring in support, whether it’s the occasional freelancer or full-time staff. And that’s a huge block for many entrepreneurs and can stop you from growing your business. Learning how to find, delegate to and trust other people isn’t easy, but there’s no alternative if you want to beat your own limitations of time, knowledge or skills.

The first step to getting help is to realising why it’s so hard. If you’re struggling with finding ways to expand, you’re probably stuck because of at least one of the following five reasons. Change is all about altering your habits and your mindset, so here are some next steps to grow your business to match the size of your vision.

1: You don’t know what you want.

The first rule of getting in help is to know what you want from it. If your goal is ‘someone to do marketing’, or ‘help to get more sales’, you’re never going to succeed. You need absolute clarity.

What to do: focus on the outcome

Articulate the outcome you want. That might be: ‘I want to find a venue for my workshop’, or ‘I want 20 new clients in the education sector’. That means that you can then start to work out, very specifically, what you need to do to get that. When you’re hiring someone, you both understand exactly what you want them to achieve.  That’s much more motivating for anyone, and gives them a greater chance of success from the beginning.

Don’t worry about being restricted by your goal. You can always change it as you go along, but if you don’t have a clear goal, any path you take will be fuzzy.

2: You can’t let go

Entrepreneurs succeed by being fussy about the detail, but there’s a point when it gets in the way. You’ll never find the time to grow if you want to be hands-on about everything. Letting go doesn’t mean releasing all control of something, but it means focusing on the outcome, and learning to find the right people to manage the processes.

What to do: start small and practice

You need to build up your own confidence and delegation skills, and so you need to practice. Start with a small, low-risk task. That might be entering 50 business cards into a database or creating a banner for your website. Write down exactly what you want someone to do and find someone to do it. If it works, repeat it with something a little bigger. If you don’t get what you want, ask yourself how you could have made your brief clearer, or been more specific about choosing someone. The key is to see this as a learning experience for yourself. Each time you bring in help, you’re improving your ability to do it, so eventually you’ll have the skills and confidence to outsource and manage big projects.

3: You don’t value experts

Now, you probably say you do. You respect your web designer, or accountant. But entrepreneurs tend to think they can, honestly, do everything themselves, unless they know it’s totally beyond them. This is great while you’re in a bootstrapping phase. However, if you’re going to get bigger, you’ll be competing with people and companies who probably have a lot more specialist experience. The other downside with doing everything yourself is that you’re probably taking a lot longer to do things than a specialist would. It’s amazing how quickly someone can work when it’s something they’re great at.

You might feel that you need to understand everything your business does, but if you’re going to grow, you will need to bring in people with different skills and learn to trust them.

What to do: prove yourself wrong

Again, start with something small, and something you know you’re not great at, or something that you don’t enjoy. That might be research, copy writing or admin – it doesn’t matter. If you know the text on your website is clunky and long, find a copywriter to improve it. If your marketing is stalled, book a session with a marketing consultant. Again, be clear about the outcome, brief as thoroughly as you can, and keep it low risk. You’ll probably be quickly astonished at what a difference it makes to have a specialist contributing.

4: You don’t know how to make big decisions

Business owners often get dazzled by opportunities, and hate to turn their back on what they feel are possibilities. But you need focus to succeed. Doing one thing really well will always beat doing several things half-heartedly (or not at all).

In reality, few opportunities are as straightforward as they seem once you’ve examined them. The fear of that reality too often stops entrepreneurs doing the hard analysis they should. Launching into something on a rush of enthusiasm is the reason why so many businesses get stuck in a frustrating, unsuccessful rut.

Great entrepreneurs make big, hard, rational decisions. Frustrated small business owners don’t. Which do you want to be?

What to do: work out the information you need

Write down an idea which has various options in it. Say it’s getting established in a new market, but you’ve got three different ones in mind. You need to decide which of those three markets gives you the best chance of success.

Consider what information you need to decide. That might be, for instance, the current size of the market, who the customers are, who your main competitors would be, what channels you would need to use, what new skills you’re likely to need, what it would mean for production or servicing that market, any regulations in that sector, and what connections you currently have. Focus on top-line information early on. You can narrow down your options as you get more in-depth.

If you don’t have the time or the skills, this might be a good chance to start commissioning an expert to do some of it. You don’t need a top-level business consultant: you might even find a good business student to work for you. Again, start small so you limit your risks and can keep an eye on it.

If analysing the information and making the decision is the challenge, consider taking on a mentor to help you work out the most suitable path.

5: You can’t break your vision down into practical steps

So you’ve got a great vision. You know exactly what your goal is. But it still doesn’t mean you know how to do it.

Maybe you know that writing and publishing a book will push you to the next level, but unless you know exactly what you need to do to make it happen, it’s not going to. Maybe you want to launch a new product range, or series of webinars: the same things apply.

What to do: create a road-map

Work out what you already know, and what you don’t. For a book, you’ll need to work out how you’re going to find time to research and write, how to find a publisher or self-publish, how you’ll get it edited and proofread, and how to promote and sell it. And how you’re going to fund all that.

Create a road-map of the project: a list of things you need to do, and when. You don’t need all the answers before you start, and it doesn’t mean you won’t change it. However, it means you can focus on the next step without worrying that something is going to be forgotten.

With the book, for instance, you should probably be trying to build up your own mailing list well in advance. If you’re aware of that, you can plan it into your workload and work on it gradually (or get help) so that it’s ready when you need it.

You might decide that in order to find time, you need to find someone else to help with your current workload: maybe your client admin, or updating your website. Maybe you could to commission someone to research how to self-publish, or track relevant blogs for important updates.

Buying in help is an essential way of allowing you to focus on what you do best and grow your business. If you’ve invested money in buying in help, it also provides you with an additional incentive to make something happen. Start small, start now, and watch the results as you learn how to make it work for you and your business.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  1. Sally Mayor says

    Hi Joanna,
    Thanks very much for a great article, I can recognise a couple of your points in action!
    I remember reading an in-depth analysis (I wish I’d kept the reference) of what enables some businesses to thrive while others don’t grow. The central conclusion was that those that delegate / work with others early on blossom. Still tough to do in practice though!
    Thanks again.

  2. Joanna Pieters says

    Hi Sally
    I totally agree about how hard it can be to do! When we’re snowed under, the last thing we often have head space for is to work out who to bring in and how to manage them. I have to regularly and consciously remind myself of the cost of not doing so – so the article you mention sounds like great food for motivation!
    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Jillian Hardcastle says

    Hi Joanna
    I’m just getting started in a home based business and am probably still at the stage where I don’t know how much I don’t know. I found your article very practical and plan to follow through with you rides.
    Thank you.
    Jillian Hardcastle

  4. Joanna Pieters says

    Congratulations on your new business, Jillian. You’re at a great stage to set good working patterns from the beginning. If you’re not in a position to outsource work straight away, it’s worth keeping it mind as a goal and setting up systems that you could hand over to someone else easily when the time comes. Good luck!

  5. Connor Harley says

    I totally agree with all your points and call of action here Joanna. In business, you have to set a very specific goal and vision to follow. And of course, get ideas and tips from the expert. Being good in business is a long learning process and we can get a lot of wonderful ideas from those who have quite long and tough experience in this field.

  6. Joanna Pieters says

    Great point, Connor. I know I learn so much from other people all the time.

  7. Sarah Watson says

    Hi Joanna
    I really enjoyed reading this from a personal viewpoint and from the viewpoint of my clients.
    I’m a freelance PA and researcher, specialising in helping businesses grow through the research and customer contact services that I offer, as well as taking admin tasks off their hands so that they can focus on what they do best.
    I agree that being focussed – both on desired outcomes and on the steps needed to achieve these – is so important. It enables us to ‘see the wood from the trees’.

  8. Joanna Pieters says

    Hi Sarah – I can imagine you see a lot of both sides of this: the clients who know exactly what they want, and those who aren’t sure. Do you find there’s a link between the ones who brief you best and those who seem to be most successful?

  9. Sarah Watson says

    Hi Joanna
    I’d say there’s a definite link between the clarity of the brief and the time it takes to achieve tangible results. I try to achieve as much clarity as possible at the start of a project, but the work sometimes changes and develops to adapt to the market; and is likely to take longer if the client isn’t certain of what they want.

    The philosopher inside me struggles with the definition of success – as everyone has different goals and sometimes the journey itself can bring successes even if the end result was not fully achieved. As Connor above said, there is a long learning journey, and this kind of forum is a really useful part of that.

    Kind regards

  10. Joanna Pieters says

    Hi Sarah
    That’s a really interesting observation about unclear projects taking longer to get to the right result. It’s a good reminder of another reason I encourage my clients to be as clear as possible from the outset when they’re outsourcing: things that drag on or need changes usually end up costing more or resulting in potentially uncomfortable negotiations about price and scope.

    I agree too that the journey is often valuable, and ‘success’ is rarely a fixed point. One reason that business owners delay taking the plunge to bring in someone else is that they feel they need to be in a stable position first – which often never arrives. There’s always a balance to be struck between finding someone who can support you on that journey, and making a firm commitment to do something with someone here and now. It’s a great point – thank you.

  11. Nikki says

    Awesome article. I too am still learning and this helps alot! I’m printing and keeping for future reference. Thank you!

  12. Joanna Pieters says

    So glad it’s useful, Nikki! Thanks for your comment.

  13. Rachel Key says

    Thanks Joanna, my vision is being clouded by fear about the level of investment needed to grow a business we bought in February. As a seasonal catalogue retailer the delay between our spend and customer purchases is many months. Only 15% of our business is online as most of our existing customer base are 65+ and the cost of print/postage is rising…I just need to get past the fear!

  14. Joanna Pieters says

    Hi Rachel, I can imagine that’s a scary situation, now you’re over the excitement of having taken it on. Believe in yourself! Good luck with it.