“How can my business avoid flatlining?”
I’m running into this question all the time lately. An even more common question is, “My business has been stuck on the same plateau for a year. Does this mean I’ve reached my limit? Is this the best I can do?”
If you read my column regularly, you know how I feel about limits.
Limits are lies our mind creates out of fear. They’re not real. Human beings are creative, imaginative beings, capable of ongoing growth and improvement.
The only thing that can possibly hold you back is you.
So what’s really going on when you can’t seem to hit that next stage of growth? And how can you keep moving forward?
Well, first, you have to understand one thing: Every Business is Going to Flatline
You can file this insight alongside “you can’t succeed without failing” and “you won’t know until you try.”
Like missteps and unpredictable obstacles, flatlining is another beat in the rhythm of the business owner’s life. You will have thrilling growth spurts, and you will feel stranded on a plateau.
I’ve seen it in my own career, and I’ve seen the pattern repeat for every entrepreneur I’ve worked with. You work relentlessly as one guy with one truck until you hit $500,000. You add a couple guys and a couple trucks. You bring on a secretary. Your team is bigger, but it takes a while to push beyond $750,000. Once you reach $1.5 million, you’re putting together a small operation.
It’s exciting initially, but then it happens again. You’re flatlining. You have the manpower to soar, but you’re… not soaring.
It’s frustrating. But it’s natural. And when you understand why it happens, you can overcome the issue more quickly.
At some point, it's time to start hiring people who are better than you.
Defeating the Flatline
When you hit a plateau, that’s your signal something needs to change. Most likely, that something is you.
As business owners, we tend to look at growth in terms of numbers. We have this many trucks and this many techs so we can now handle this many jobs. That translates to this level of revenue and this much more money to pour back into equipment and advertising.
What we often forget is that growing a company isn’t just about how much we can do; it’s about the strategy through which we do it.
Say, for example, you now have three trucks. You have a new office manager and you have a salesperson. These details should signal continuous advancement for your business, right?
The problem is that for the past three years, you didn’t have these resources. You have been the technician and the person dealing with the paperwork and the guy making the sale. And because that’s your habit, you can’t fully let go of those responsibilities. You’re micromanaging the office manager and taking over leads and gravitating back towards the truck.
In this hypothetical situation, you’re interfering with everyone else’s productivity and neglecting your new responsibility: overseeing the big picture.
I know this happens because I see it and I’ve lived it. When our businesses are stuck, we are the bottleneck.
When the company grows, we have to grow. We have to focus on innovating, creating bigger opportunities, and inspiring our team members to take ownership of their roles in the business.
This becomes the difference between growing and scaling, between linear growth and exponential growth, and between advancement and flatlining.
So Seriously, How Do You Get Out Of This?
To move beyond a stubborn plateau:
- Accept that this was going to happen. It’s part of the process. There is no crisis here. The only way flatlining spells “doom” is if you refuse to grow.
- Be honest with yourself about how you define your self-worth. Seriously. This is a much bigger issue than many entrepreneurs realize. If your confidence is linked to your excellent tradesmanship, you will always be drawn back to the job site because that’s where you feel good about yourself. Learn to value yourself for your ability to grow.
- Empower your team. Trust them to do what you hired them to do. If any of them still need a little training or oversight, that’s fine; just remember that your long-term goal is to nurture proactive leaders.
- Ask yourself what the next phase of growth looks like for your company. Do you want to expand your territory? Add services? Whatever it is, determine what you need to do and what skills you need to develop in order to push that plan forward. This growth is your new priority.
- Look at how you spend your time now. Are you involved in areas where you’re no longer needed? Where can you step back and turn your focus to that big-picture project?
In business, flatlining never has to signal the end. You can always go further and create more.
Because you are, by your very nature, unstoppable.
Be true. Be you. Be great