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  • Mitchell York

Four Factors that Keep Small Businesses Small—And What to Do About Them

As hard as it is for a business to get to $2 million in sales, it’s often an order of magnitude harder to double to $4 million. Having coached business owners and leadership teams in many industries for 17 years, I can point to many common denominators that prevent some entrepreneurs from breaking through this ceiling, and some potential solutions. Here are four, and there are more to come in my next article.

1. Unwillingness to Make Choices

Many entrepreneurs want to do everything at once. New ideas come to them fast and they want to execute them immediately. They often whipsaw their teams from yesterday’s priorities to today’s and back again. Like this:

· They think of a new product/service and it needs to be launched immediately—even if human resources aren’t marshaled to get it done properly.

· They read a particular book and boom! Everyone needs to embrace the new flavor of the month.

· They see a competitor’s booth at a trade show and wham! we gotta have that.

· Someone in their EO group is using a new productivity app so we need to switch too.

A solution: Have a small number of company goals for the quarter—Professional EOS implementers (I am one) believe the ideal number is between three and seven. Work on those goals and make sure they’re locked in before introducing anything new. Ninety days is a short time. If some silver bullet appears, it won’t tarnish in a couple of weeks—consider saving it for next quarter.

2. Inability to Delegate/ Desire to Control Everything

We all know business owners who are micromanagers at heart. They believe they can do anyone’s job better and faster than the people they hired. That may be the case, but the most important thing an owner can do in that situation is to figure out how to delegate and elevate to their unique ability.

A solution: Draw a box with four quadrants. Label them (clockwise) Love/Great, Like Good, Don’t Like/Good, Don’t Like/Not Good. At EOS we called this exercise“Delegate and Elevate.” List all the various job functions you have as an owner in one of those boxes. If you’re like most people, there are a hefty number of items in the Don’t Like/Good box.


· You don’t like writing copy for the website, but you’re good at it and you know what you want to say, so you save your marketing department time by doing it.

· You don’t like handling tough customer service issues, but you resolve them better and faster than others, so you take those calls.

What functions do you perform that you’re also great at? Even if there are vastly fewer items in that box, your business will be rewarded if you increase your time on those functions and allow others to do everything else.

3. Lack of Discipline and Accountability

Many small business owners believe that, in an entrepreneurial company, everybody does everything. What they usually mean is that there’s no such thing as “it’s not my job” in a growth-oriented business. But when more than one person is accountable for a functional area, then no one is really accountable. And if someone takes on a task that is not their core function, it may well reduce their capacity to do what’s really important. One client of mine has a key salesperson that also is skilled at search engine optimization, and there was not enough budget to hire a marketing person. So the salesperson pitched in to do SEO. Is that a good thing? At best it’s a Band-Aid.

A solution: With resources like Upwork providing access to freelancers that any business can afford, it makes sense to let skill workers focus on their area of critical accountability and best use.

4. Lack of a Long-Term Vision

Many successful business owners get to $1million-$2 million in sales a bit by accident. They had a good idea and muscled their way to a huge accomplishment. But they don’t necessarily have a strong belief in where their business will be in 10 years (or five, or 20). That’s a big problem. The long-term vision has a direct bearing on what you do this month, this week and today.

A solution: Create a target number (you can always change it). If you’re at $2 million now, can you imagine reaching $5 million in 10 years? Or 500 customers? Or 20% market share? Whatever the metric of true success might be looking into the distance, pick it and let everyone in your company know that’s where you’re all going. Then you’ll be able to set many shorter-term goals – three years, one year, next quarter.

If your small company is hitting this or other ceilings, visit this link to take an organizational check-up and find out how to break through.

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