My business is not taking off - what can I do?

If you've ever built a business, or you're building one, you will know the feeling: it's not taking off. As hard as you're working, your sales are just not picking up. You're getting drips and drabs coming in, for sure, but it's nowhere near enough, and as far as you can see there's little prospect of steady income in the near future. Your credit cards are approaching their limits, you're missing payments here and there, and you're scrabbling every month to make ends meet. This takes a toll on us. There's a constant, gnawing worry in the back of your mind. Everything you do is coloured by that feeling of dread, and the pit in the bottom of your stomach just doesn't want to go away. You get withdrawn, your relationships with your family is taking a strain, and you're not even enjoying your own company.

And believe it or not, it gets worse. When you have employees depending on your business success to give them a livelihood, the worry quadruples. Making payroll at the end of the month is more than a drag - it literally causes sleepless nights and getting up like a rocket before everyone else; not because you're eager to get to work, but because you have to do something, anything, to make it work.

Been there, done that

I've been there. I've been through the pit and out the other side again. Sometimes, coming out of the pit, I've dragged the feelings of impending doom with me and never became the happy person I would have liked to be. Other times emerging from the dark has been like a rebirth, with the world new and promising and almost anything seems possible.

Like many entrepreneurs, I've had to declare bankruptcy once. When I speak to other entrepreneurs who went through the same thing, it almost seems as if it's a rite of passage. But I don't wish it on anyone. Although some people seem to be able to use it like a strategic weapon, I did not enjoy it and I don't recommend it - and I certainly don't intend going there again.

But still, the pit sometimes pulls all of us in.

Why this happens

It would be small consolation to say that this is part of every growing business, but as far as I can see it's true. The first time you build a business there is so much you don't know, and it seems that with all the knowledge and information out there, we still have to go through this painful learning curve.

Of course there are reasons we go through this dip. Something is broken, not quite working right, and somehow we're not able to pinpoint the problem. Often, we're too close to the problem - we believe that we've made the right decisions in how we package our products or services, we believe that our website will attract the right people, and we believe our pricing is right. But we know something is wrong, and we just can't pinpoint it.

We know that finding and fixing that problem is the key to success. But still, we struggle to find the cause (or causes). We're so busy trying to do everything at the same time we don't realise that we're not doing anything well; and the days tick by and the stress takes its toll.

When I work with struggling businesses, we know that there's something wrong in their Revenue Engine - the sequence of marketing, lead nurturing, sales, delivery and follow up that generate revenue for your business. Most business owners will point the problem at sales - if only we could get more sales everything would be fine.

But you're not getting more sales because something along the sequence of the Revenue Engine is broken. So we start with marketing, and see whether you're generating enough of the right kinds of leads. And if you're not, we have to dive a layer down into the building blocks of your business - your business model, brand and product ladder.

What you can do about it

The very first thing you need to do is realise that this is part of the journey every entrepreneur goes through. I know this is not a lot of consolation - and it doesn't help you solve the problem - but it will help you realise that you're not the only one, just about every other business owner has gone through it (in fact, every single business owner I know has gone through it at least once).

And when you realise it's not just you, you will also realise that literally millions of other entrepreneurs have made it, and millions more have failed. You now need to decide which side of the statistic you're going to be on. You need to decide whether you're going to give up and chalk one up to experience, or whether you're going to put everything you have into becoming successful.

This does not help you solve the problem of course, but if you know you're going to give it your best you're off to a good start.

Once you've made that decision, you need to make some decisions based on your circumstances:

I need sales now. Right now.

If you need sales right now, there's only one thing you can do: drop everything. As difficult as it is, drop everything, take a step back and do the following:

  • Decide which route is likely to get you revenue the fastest, even if it is short-term, not yet enough and not quite something you would like to do.
  • Determine what you need to do to get that revenue. This may involve things you don't like doing, like cold calling - but you don't have the luxury of being picky about what you need to do.
  • Drop everything else and focus on only those things that you decided are necessary to get you that revenue. Your website can wait, your marketing campaigns can wait, that online course you want to develop has to wait.
  • Start working on an emergency plan. If you need to get a job, start working on it. It doesn't mean you've failed to build your business, it just means you're doing whatever is necessary to make it a success.

You're trying to buy yourself some runway, so you need to focus on only the things that are going to bring you revenue the fastest. When you're under stress, your ability to focus is compromised - you end up doing lots of things but you're not moving in the right direction. So force yourself to focus on only those things that will bring you revenue in the short term.

I'm limping along and I don't have much runway left

You're in a slightly better spot than the entrepreneur who needs revenue now. You can afford to do a little more investigation into your Revenue Engine and Building Blocks - the key elements of the Tornado Method that determine how you generate revenue, and the underlying foundation.

You've not been able to solve the problem on your own, so it's time to pull in some help. But you have to get someone you can trust - someone who has a track record, no vested interest, no ego to satisfy. Your rich uncle may sound like a good idea, but not every rich person will know how to analyse your business and find the root cause(s) of your lack of revenue.

If you can afford a business advisor, get one. But do your due diligence - ask for references and look for testimonials. Not all business advisors are born equal, and you may not work well with all personality types. Ask for a free consulting session to see if they know their stuff, and if you think you can work with them.

If you can't afford an advisor, the best solution I know of is a mastermind group. Get three or four people you trust to start meeting on a weekly or bi-weekly basis (monthly meeting are too far apart). Get people from diverse backgrounds, thinking styles and personalities - but most of all get people who have at least some experience and who will be brutally honest. You're not there to pamper each other - you're there to find the problems and fix them. I can trace just about every single breakthrough in my business back to something that happened in my mastermind group.

Keep pushing forward

If you're in the pit, you don't need me to tell you that building a business is tough. You already know this. But I hope that knowing you're not alone will help a little bit, and the advice will at least open up some possibilities.

Knowing what every entrepreneur has gone through has given me a ton of respect for business owners. Very few of us (if any) were able to build a business from the ground up without going through dips. As much as I would have liked to, I can't offer you a magic wand to make all the problems go away. You may even fail at building a business - this time. Or you may not have an option of failing - in which case you just have to solve the problems.

If you're in a corner, you will survive and you will be successful. It may take longer to get there, but you will. I know you're on a mission to create a better life for yourself and a better world for others. That's why I believe in you, even if I don't know you by name.

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