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The early days of starting and growing your company can be exciting, but what happens when you find yourself in a ‘business rut?’ (Sergey Mironov/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The early days of starting and growing your company can be exciting, but what happens when you find yourself in a ‘business rut?’ (Sergey Mironov/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Business stuck in a rut? Five tips for new ideas Add to ...

The early days of starting and growing your company can be exciting and terrifying and exhilarating, all at once. Over time, however, as you solve problems, build systems, markets and supply chains, the tempo can slow down and eventually you find your rhythm.

The deceleration can come as a bit of relief at first, but it can also cause your company to stall when it should be growing. I call this the ‘business rut’ and there a a few key symptoms and solutions you should be aware of.

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The symptoms can be subtle, but the first place to look is at yourself. Do you still feel inspired, creative, anxious and impatient? Or are you pacified with the status quo?

What are your financial statements saying about your business? The numbers don’t lie and you should be seeing year over year growth in comparative periods, sales leads and incoming orders that support a upward trend.

What hours are you and your employees keeping? I want you to run your business, not have your business run you, but if there is never any overtime, late nights or weekends, then are you really stretching towards a better future? Maybe you and your team have grown accustomed to punching the clock and letting the results fall into place as they may?

If these or other symptoms suggest to you that your business may be in a bit if a circling pattern, you need to shake it loose and get some torque back in your shop.

First, if you haven’t done so in a while, spend a day to two with your team off-site, away from familiar surroundings and habits, and draft a one page strategic plan for each of the core aspects of your business. What you focus on will vary based on your business but for sure you’ll want to review:

  1. New product and service development
  2. Brand building, investments and timelines
  3. Sales channel and customer expansion
  4. Cost saving opportunities
  5. Financial goals

Second, do a serious, but informal, competitive analysis. You need to be sure that you aren’t so busy running your own business that you aren’t paying attention to, or discounting, the potentially disruptive creativity of your competition. Keep in mind, whatever you see your competitors doing now, they are working on even more behind the scenes. You should be as well.

Third, as the entrepreneur, you need to shake up things inside your head. As the ultimate source of leadership and inspiration, your team won’t be any more enthusiastic than you are, so you may need to recharge your owner’s batteries. Unfortunately for you, I’m not recommending a vacation. Quite the opposite. I am suggesting more work in the form trying new things. If you want a different result, you need to do something different.

When I’m in a rut, I set up a meeting with another entrepreneur that I think is successful, whether I know them or not, and I request a meeting to learn their story and see their operation. Next, I read a biography of an entrepreneur that I admire to see if that can inspire some ideas. Last, I ask for a second opinion. Whether a consultant or mentor or family friend, I open my business up to objective, third-party opinions on my strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. I know that I am likely too far into the forest to appreciate every tree.

The good news is that falling into a business rut every now and then is natural. So long as you recognize it, and follow the suggestions I made earlier, it’s possible to snap out of it. Furthermore, my ideas are low-cost – if not free – and the alternative is to do nothing (and we both know the outcome of complacency). And even if your business isn't in a rut, try the ideas out anyway – they’ll be good for you as an entrepreneur and good for your business.

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Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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