To survive in business you need to ensure that you keep adapting to the changing circumstances around you. This means different things at different times of the lifecycle of your business.
The key is to identify what you need to do at the right time, and then to execute.
However, I have seen many entrepreneurs shun key strategies that can drastically improve the fortunes of their business.
And the reason?
Excuses that business owners believe are founded on common sense but which end up harming their business, and at worst, lead to business failure.
I’m going to walk you through 10 of the most often heard excuses that I’ve come across when it comes to why business owners are not growing their business.
Maybe some of these resonate with you and your business. Let me know in the comments if that’s the case.
But today I will explain to you why you shouldn’t let these excuses get in the way of your company’s future growth.
So let’s begin.
“We’re Doing OK”
Complacency is a business killer that has lain to rest many behemoths of businesses in the past, and continues to do so every day.
The issue is that if you are in business, it is not ok to assume that everything is ok and that the status quo is sufficient for your business to keep growing.
It is exactly that attitude that led to the demise of the once market leading Kodak company that we are all familiar with.
The Kodak story
Once considered a technical giant in producing the right photography product for the market of its time, Kodak suddenly became a bankrupt institution in 2012 as it struggled to adapt and keep apace of the technological developments that competitors were taking advantage of.
An article in the Wall St. Journal shortly after its decline, clearly articulated the main reasons for Kodak’s demise.
Central to what happened was that the Kodak top management never fully understood how the world around them was changing.
The Wall St. Journal states that management
“Hung on to obsolete assumptions about who took pictures, why and when”
The issue was that Kodak thought people would want to keep hard prints as part of their daily lives and that people would always value film based photos for their high quality.
They did not consider that people would use digital in compliment to film-based photos, side by side as we do today. Instead, they thought digital was trying to oust film photography; a premise they couldn’t buy into.
But the fact is that digital had been coming for a long time despite Kodak crumbling overnight, or so it seemed. It’s just that Kodak chose not to acknowledge the fact; they felt they were insulated from its effects.
The chart below shows how this development was occurring in the market.
But Kodak was not alone in the face of digital onslaught that would alter the photography industry unrecognisably.
Where Kodak resisted from adapting to remain relevant, others were not so complacent.
Fujifilm was once of Kodak’s biggest competitors. As the challenges from digital were becoming ever too apparent, management at Fujifilm took the decision to diversify their business into other revenue streams such as document solutions.
The graph below shows the gulf in fortunes of the companies based on the strategies their management teams deployed to address what was on the horizon.
If such large companies can crumble at the hands of something as ever changing as technology, then it is totally feasible that many small businesses are also at risk if they decline to acknowledge the real risks they face.
Paranoia essential for success
Perhaps the best quote with regards how complacency can lead to failure in business is that of the late Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel when he said
“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive”
In fact, so important Grove thought this concept that he entitled his book of the same name: Only the Paranoid Survive.
To ensure your business keeps growing, it is imperative you maintain an element of paranoia and heed off complacency so you can move forward.
Ratmir Timashev, CEO of Veeam has said that you always need to be looking over your shoulder if you want to be successful.
Timashev says that one thing that leaders can be sure of is that change is coming. And although it may not be apparent what the change is right now, being prepared is essential.
So how can you identify the areas to be concerned about when it comes to your business and the market you operate in?
Do you have a sense of the changes that could be about to impact your industry or your company?
Well, a SWOT analysis is a good place to start to get some answers. This is a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis.
This is a great exercise to conduct on your business to give you awareness of the business and your market.
And some of the outcomes from this exercise will help you appreciate that you can always do better when it comes to the business you are building, and that it is important to always be challenging the status quo.
The infographic below highlights what the traits are that indicate complacency has set in. And how complacency itself is
“The dark side of business”
“We Have A Business To Run”
It’s easy to convince yourself of how busy you are with your business as an excuse for not being able to do much else.
But being busy and being productive are two very different things.
Being busy is doing activities that don’t materially change the game as far as your business is concerned.
Being productive is all about moving things in the business forward and conducting activities that are adding value to your business.
The key is to have the right focus in the business so that you, as the leader, can determine what to spend your time on and what to delegate or relegate in terms of priority.
The fact is that small businesses waste their time on so many useless things that the leader at least, need not worry about. Some of these are highlighted now.
Going through and sorting out all your expenses or reconciling bank statements are tasks that I imagine most of you either suck at, or abhor doing.
However, many of you probably do them anyway because you haven’t gotten around to getting a proper solution for this yet.
Some of these tasks can take hours and hours to do and distract you from the daily task of growing your business, as well as the job of strategically thinking about your business.
For many such administrative tasks, software exists that makes it much easier to process such tasks in a quick and efficient manner.
From accounting, to HR, to scheduling and more, there is no longer an excuse for you to be spending hours and hours trying to do it all yourself.
The other option of course is to outsource such tasks to professionals who can ensure such admin work is done effectively and correctly.
For a fee you can be assured that not only the work is getting done to the right standard, but also that you are saving time to allow you to do other things that are much more worth your while.
Putting off quick tasks
My dad always says don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. And his logic makes sense.
Every time I have put off a task, particularly an important or difficult one, not only does it continue to play on my mind, but it ends up taking me longer to do, and in the process, prevents me from doing other work I could be doing during this time.
As an entrepreneur you need to adopt the habit of getting through tasks, particularly potentially quick ones, quickly.
Human behaviour is about stalling some tasks until you have enough time to “do them right”.
We all know there is no such perfect time.
I bet that email is one of the biggest drains on time of most people.
When we respond to an email it always seems like we are doing “real work”.
The chances are though that we are just distracting ourselves with something new and less mundane than whatever task we were occupied with until then.
I’ve personally found that closing Gmail or Outlook for blocks of time does me no harm at all and actually helps me get important stuff done.
It’s a little hard to get used to because you’re always thinking that something urgent will be coming through in my inbox.
But just think – when was the last time that something super urgent came in your inbox that you had to deal with straight away and which couldn’t wait a few hours?
If anyone wants you urgently they will most likely call you.
But email is definitely a key “work” category that many entrepreneurs waste time on and can afford to do without in order to grow their business.
Putting out fires
Linked to the email is the furore entrepreneurs get themselves in with regards fire fighting problems.
Managing a business reactively is not a strategy for success and is not something that can last.
It’s all too easy to operate in a manner that leads to batting away problems, irrespective of how minuscule, as soon as the problems arise.
But as the leader of the business, this means you disproportionately get distracted from the important things that actually require your attention for the long-term growth and survival of the business.
Unclear social media strategy
With the advent and advice of utilising social media to grow your business, many entrepreneurs get into a whizz with all the platforms that are available, and end up spending huge amounts of time doing not what they do.
The irony is that despite allocating all this time to a range of social media, their return on time is difficult to quantify, but generally very low.
This is because dominating social media does not mean having a presence on all channels (unless you have the resource or a social media marketing team working for you).
Most people can only really execute on one or maybe two social media channels for their business.
In order to get the best out of time you allot to social media, identify the one, or maximum, two channels that you believe your target audience will be using. Then learn to use them well – really well.
That way you can actually have a chance of maximising your return on the time you spend on social media, whilst at the same time, saving time to apply to other tasks.
Procrastinating over decision-making
Procrastinating in general is a big suck on your time. But when it comes to procrastinating over making business decisions, entrepreneurs can very quickly find themselves losing days, weeks or even months.
With many decisions you will make in your business, you will know what you need to do.
With other decisions, you will know what you cannot do, hence this will drive you to a possible solution set that you need to decide from.
The only other circumstance is that whereby you have no idea what to do. In this situation, doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing. At least that way you can save time and money by finding out quickly if what you decided to do works or not.
By addressing these time warps, you can find time where you didn’t even know it existed, and in so doing, can open up availability for you to be able to address other more pertinent issues and areas in your business.
“Sounds Good In Theory, But Won’t Work In Practice”
Starting a business requires self-belief and action but it is surprising to see how many business owners, once having started their business, lack that self-belief in moving their business forward.
There is a lot of evidence of practices and strategies that have worked for all types of businesses in all sectors and of all sizes.
One sensible growth strategy is to adopt some of those practices and tailor them to suit your business.
However, some business owners make it a self-fulfilling prophecy when they utter something like
“That worked for them but it won’t work for me”
Logic would suggest there is every reason that the same strategy could work for your business as well if you give it a try wholeheartedly.
The caveat would be that you assess the quality and applicability of the idea to your business, and conduct at least some research to understand how to execute on the idea.
Take for example, Facebook Ads.
Along with other types of social media paid advertising, Facebook Ads have the potential to boost the lead generation of your business significantly if you use the platform properly.
And I’m talking from personal experience. Facebook Ads have worked immensely for me where I have been able to almost 3x my money invested on ads through my businesses.
But there is still a perception out there (particularly amongst offline businesses) that Facebook Ads (or other paid social advertising) are a waste of money.
Business owners on Facebook’s advertising platform have spent billions. In fact, $6.2 billion was spent on the platform in just one quarter in 2016.
Paid social media advertising is a critical driver of growth for many of the world’s biggest companies and the fastest growing companies.
To omit this from your growth strategy because you believe it will not work for you is a very dangerous move indeed.
Have belief in strategies have worked for others. They may not work straight away, but remain persistent and persevere and you will see the positive effect on your business.
“We Are Not A Startup”
Many small businesses have a skewed view of startups, particularly tech startups. Somehow, they believe that the rules that apply to startups do not apply to other businesses and vice versa.
And some use this as a reason why they cannot grow their business at anything like the kind of pace that many startups grow at.
The truth is startups, including technology startups, are, at the end of the day, just simple businesses like yours.
The fundamentals that drive your business are the same as those that drive your business; offering a product or service that meets market requirements; acquiring customers; dealing with competition; raising money; and scaling growth.
Startups want customers and want to make a profit like any other business.
So rather than scorn these companies, all businesses can learn a great deal from how startups achieve massive growth in customers, and in revenues and profitability.
The reason why some startups grow so fast is because they develop a product that fits the market fast, they are able to disrupt markets by doing things differently, and they raise money fast. I previously wrote an article about this.
Product market fit
Startups get to understand their target market very quickly and waste no time in developing a product that suits their exact purpose. In this way, they have an engaged audience.
But they take advantage of a ‘lean’ methodology. That is, to give your chance the best chance of success with the company as a whole, or individual product launches, do the minimum that is required to ensure there is a strong market need for what you are developing.
But that’s not all. Many startups engage in customer surveys to understand the ins and outs of their target market so they can target their efforts in the right way that they know will add value to their customer, hence encourage more of them to buy.
Doing things differently
Startups, by definition, are market disruptors. Look at what companies such as Airbnb and Uber have done to the hospitality and travel sectors. That is a big part of the appeal of such companies, and also the reason that these companies have been able to grow to be some of the biggest companies in the world, in under a decade where it took their competitors generations to achieve.
But being disruptive, or different, is not only the domain of startups. Small businesses in all sectors and of all sizes can also disrupt to propel their growth.
Identify what your unique selling proposition is i.e. your USP and you can begin to demonstrate disruption in your market.
So ask yourself the question: what makes you different than your competitors?
For a local restaurant, it could be that you also provide a take-away service that your competitors don’t provide.
For a flower shop it could be that you source the widest variety of flowers in your area.
Whatever the angle, make sure you have one, and make sure your customers know about it.
Ideally it should be something that adds value to your business, and is not something that can be easily replicated.
So “being the cheapest” is seldom a USP as it deteriorates value from your company and makes it harder to stay in business, and is easily something that can be copied from a competitor, leaving you high and dry.
Doing things differently is a technique that stays in the minds of your customers, and allows you more flexibility in how you charge customers, and generally run your business.
Startups are great at raising money. Although the fundraising atmosphere and the sheer amount of money some companies raise is staggering, the approach is noteworthy and illustrates what can be achieved.
Funding will not be right for all businesses, but too many businesses shun this valid growth strategy before they even give it proper consideration.
The fact is there is a wide range of funding options out there that suit all businesses in all sectors, and of all sizes.
Venture capital is not the only show in town.
But you need to make the change in attitude with regards what business funding means to you and what it can mean for your business.
Then prepare in the right way in order to take your share of the funding pie in order to really accelerate your business like the startups do.
“There Are Not Enough Of Us In The Business”
As a business owner it is imperative you determine where your time is best spent rather than spending time doing all sorts of random things.
Some go to the extent of calculating the value of their time to ensure they make the best use of their minutes.
Being short on human resource is something many businesses face when they are looking to grow. This is particularly the case for small businesses.
The problem with most businesses is that they are run in a very ad-hoc, mixed up manner. This makes it difficult to track what’s working and what’s not working; where to focus going forwards and how to actually improve things.
This makes it look as though you are shorter on people than you actually are.
One of the biggest reasons business owners cite not having enough time or people as a reason for not being able to grow their business is because they get involved in lots of the nuts and bolts detail of the business.
Clearly there are times when this will be required for you to understand the product or service you are offering and deliver something to customers that is of high quality.
But the problem is this has become the modus operandi for too many entrepreneurs. And that’s an issue.
As the leader of the business, you need to identify the strategy and work to get the strategy implemented in the business.
For many smaller businesses, coming up with the strategy and implementing it are done by the same person. But what’s important is identifying the transition between one activity and the next as opposed to just implementing a strategy all the time without even reviewing if the strategy actually works or not.
Automating your business in certain areas is an excellent way in which you can limit your dependence on man hours (or woman hours!) and gain the freedom to develop growth activities as opposed to just delivery activities.
There is popular opinion out there that suggests the smallest firms will face the biggest threats without automation.
Without doubt the best productivity hack is having an email list that allows you to engage with and update your customers. Get away from doing it ad hoc across your business and use an email system that allows you to communicate to everyone with the right messaging at 1% of the time it would otherwise take you.
Another solution is outsourcing activities that need to be done but are not the best use of your time.
It will cost money for sure, but in the long run it will be cheaper for you than spending time on these activities yourself. This also gets around the longer-term cost and hassle of hiring someone.
Sites such as Upwork are a great resource to identify and use people of all backgrounds for all nature of tasks big or small.
Don’t go for the cheapest all the time though. In my experience, going for a mid-tier provider has more value than going for the person who is lowest priced as you get the quality and the value.
This should show you that there are workarounds that can eliminate or minimise the need for you to employ personnel to be able to grow your business.
“Don’t Have The Creativity To Come Up With New Ideas”
Growing your business often needs you to do something different as mentioned above.
Disrupting a market or developing a USP may require some creativity depending on the market you are in.
But we’re not all born equal and some of us have no creative bone in our bodies.
I’m an engineer by background – it’s largely about the numbers for me.
And there are some tricks that can work generally when trying to get your creative juices flowing as in this video.
Many businesses have been described as being creative despite the fact that they have copied what has worked for others.
Copy and paste
The notion that you need to develop something entirely unique and original to succeed in business is flawed. And this is no better articulated than when it comes to highlighting the creativity to help spur growth, whether it is a marketing campaign, product development, customer service or anything else.
There is a great phrase from Pablo Picasso that says
“Good artists copy, great artists steal”
Watch this video of how copying plays a crucial role in fostering creativity in your business.
The right networks
Another great way to increase your creativity of ideas for what you can use for your business is by joining a Mastermind group.
Mastermind groups are small groups of people that can provide honest feedback, help you refine your ideas and share insights and leads. Hence, they allow you to copy ideas that are working for others in their business.
The power of Mastermind’s clearly depends on you joining a high quality group. The more appropriate the Mastermind for you to more you will get out of it, and the more that your business will benefit from it.
On a similar vain, you could also attend local Meetup groups to interact with local entrepreneurs in a range of sectors and businesses.
Seeing what works in different sectors may be the thing that gives you the competitive advantage to try new approaches in your own industry.
Not being creative enough to deploy new initiatives in your business can never be an excuse for not growing your business.
There are lots of answers in front of you in terms of what you can do if you know where to look and persevere to implement them in your business.
“Don’t Have The Right Skill-set”
Beyond creativity, there are other skills that may be required for you to make use of to grow your business.
This could include a combination of financial, marketing or product skills. And whether you are comfortable with them or not depends on your background and previous experience levels.
However, there are many resources to help you build the skills you need to grow your business if you cannot hire someone to do them, or outsource them for whatever reason.
Websites such as my own Growthologie.com provides an intense amount of material that is free and there to help you develop the right skill-set to grow your business.
Having some level of financial aptitude is essential for any entrepreneur. To that end, being able to forecast growth with numbers is a skill that I believe every entrepreneur needs to have.
To help, this financial model template has been set up so as to allow you to properly forecast growth in your business, and have a strategy you can work towards.
Check it out and let me know what you think.
Beyond resources you can find online, find people in your network that can help you in areas where you are weak. If you don’t know anyone with a particular skill-set take advantage of meetups or make a polite introduction through LinkedIn.
You will be surprised how willing to help people can be.
In many cases you may also have skills that you can share with them, and this barter can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship.
Using these approaches ensures you can dispel the excuse of not having the right skill-set by taking advantage of what is at access to you.
“It Sounds Too Risky”
There’s a strange phenomenon at work whereby business owners are open to taking a risk in starting a business in the first place, despite the fact that failure rates are extremely high. However, they are unwilling to take some risks when they are actually running their business.
Taking a level of risk is part and parcel of starting and running a business. There is no guarantee of where the next customer will come from, or if existing customers will remain with you.
Even risks come in different forms.
There are the calculated risks; there are the reckless risks and risks where much of the information is unknown. I call these the blind risks.
Taking reckless risks with your business is clearly careless and not advised. You may have heard of some businesses that took risks, which looked reckless, yet came back winning. The odds are in your favour in a very small percentage of these cases
Calculated risks are the type of risks most entrepreneurs can afford to take because the calculation has been made in terms of probable chance of success and downside risk. There is usually minimal fallout from such risks given you have assessed potential outcomes.
Risks that determine how quickly you grow are blind risks, but they can also be detrimental to your business.
These risks require judgement and making use of all data points that are available. They differ from calculated risks in that sufficient data is usually not available for you to make a conclusive decision; usually some data points are missing.
That’s where your judgement comes in.
No one knows your business better than you. And over time, you will get to know the nuances of your target market, your products or services, and your competitors. This is the experience you can use to take blind risks.
But if you’re starting out new and don’t have the benefit of all that experience then do what Picasso did: copy.
That’s right. The concept of copying is, as previously mentioned, grossly under-utilised in business.
Maybe Steve Jobs can help change that view.
A relatively benign risk a business can take is operating online when it thinks that online is not a model that will work for them.
The downside of trying is relatively low. You get someone to build a website (or do it yourself), and then drive traffic to it through online advertising and see if you see a return.
The most you can lose is a bit of money and some time of seeing if this works or not.
This is a blind risk because you don’t have all the information to understand if your target market transact online or not but can make a reasonable judgement on a course of action to determine what an outcome could be.
For risks where there is still uncertainty, a cost-benefit analysis is a useful exercise to carry out.
This entails understanding the cost you are incurring with a certain line of thought, and the potential benefits you could gain.
I find that writing these things down often make it easier to understand what you should do with more confidence.
“I Don’t Know How To Build A Successful Business Plan”
Growth is predicated on having a strong business plan in place.
Well fundamentally, this is because a business plan can help you think out potential areas for growth and allows you an opportunity to think how you will achieve that growth.
The difference between a powerful business plan and a weak one is how succinct your plan is and how actionable it is. Theory in a business plan means nothing.
I wrote an article previously on how to go about building a powerful business plan from scratch. You can check it out here.
The thing that most people mess up about a business plan is making it too theoretical and not customising it for their specific business.
At the end of the day, no one knows your business better than you. As such, no one can create a better business plan than you for your business.
However, you need to make your business plan a live document that you can work off and that you can iterate as things change in your business.
My complete step-by-step guide on writing a powerful business plan will help you in this regard.
“We Don’t Have The Money To Grow”
The final excuse that is common with entrepreneurs is not having enough money to grow.
This sounds paradoxical at first.
You are trying to grow your business so that you increase revenues, profitability, and cash flow.
However, to argue that you need money to create money may sound strange.
In reality, it’s not that strange a concept.
For many businesses, there’s a limit to how much you can grow your business (or even if you can start your business) without having access to money in the first place.
Having access to funding can help a great deal to accelerate your business’ growth. Whether it allows you to make better use of marketing, hire people in your business, or launch new products, funding can do things for your business that would otherwise take you months or even years to attain.
But if you don’t have access to that money what do you do?
Well there are many external funding sources available out there and a solution that will fit any business at any stage of its lifecycle, looking to raise any amount of money.
And providers of finance need to lend, as that is how they make their money.
This is why I get surprised when entrepreneurs think it is so hard to secure external funding.
Firstly, it is the job of funders to lend to you, and secondly, there are thousands of businesses every single day that are succeeding in securing the funding for their business.
It just requires a planned approach and some persistence.
There are fundamentally three steps to securing funding for your business:
- Find the right funder for you
- Pitch them the right way
- Share your business plan and show them the opportunity
And in order to execute on all three aspects correctly, having a powerful business plan is key.
No doubt you will have spoken, or at least thought about the common excuses highlighted here as reasons why you cannot grow your business.
This article shows that you are not alone.
Hopefully what it also shows is that these excuses are false misconceptions that result in businesses not growing, and at worst, going out of business.
These are excuses you cannot afford to make.
Having a healthy sense of paranoia to avoid complacency is essential in your business.
A business is a business is a business. If it can work in one sector, it can work in another. At the end of the day everyone is in business to make a profit. Don’t be afraid to make use of short cuts or strategies that are working for others in different environments.
Beyond this all skills and resources can be gained and attained – after all many other entrepreneurs like you have done so in the past and others are doing so right now.
Taking risks is important to success but you need to balance the right kind of risks to take – challenging yourself is a good thing.
Overarching all of this, however, is having the belief that you can change the fortunes of your business and that changes you make, no matter how small, will eventually with some perseverance and persistence, lead to great things for your business.
If you would like my guide on exactly how you can accelerate the growth of your business for success then click the button below to download my comprehensive free guide.
Are there any other excuses you’ve come across that have prevented you from growing your business? What strategies have you used to overcome some of these common excuses to business growth? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.