Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

Jackie Nagel, Synnovatia

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business growth via systems thinking

As an entrepreneur in stage 2 of business growth—the messy middle—you likely need more time to grow your business. Yet sustained, scalable growth can be elusive. There are many moving parts to a successful business, and it can be difficult to see how they all fit together. Plus, wasteful tasks bog you down and don’t add any value to your bottom line.

That’s where systems thinking comes in. Systems allow you to grow and scale your business.  Without systems, your business will quickly reach a ceiling and be unable to expand. 

And, as more and more enterprises seek ways to create sustained, scalable business growth, this type of thinking is gaining momentum. Why? Because systems thinking is the key to unlocking sustained, scalable business growth. 

business growth via systems thinking

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

What Is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is a way of looking at your business that sees interconnectedness and interdependence rather than independent and isolated parts. 

In a traditional linear system, each part is separate and independent from the others. It’s a siloed approach that creates inefficiencies and stagnation. Additionally, linear thinking and its subsequent siloed approach lead to departments or divisions competing with each other rather than collaborating. 

On the other hand, systems thinking is a way of looking at problems that consider the relationships between different parts of a system. It’s a holistic approach that considers how each element of a system affects the other elements. And when you employ systems thinking to solve problems, you can see the big picture and more easily identify potential areas of improvement. 

When done correctly, this leads to increased efficiency, opens capacity, and spurs growth. 

Why Use Systems Thinking for Business Growth? 

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, it’s more important than ever to adapt quickly to new challenges. Systems thinking provides a framework for doing just that. By understanding how different parts of your business are interconnected, you can make changes that have a ripple effect throughout the organization. This allows you to be nimble and responsive to the ever-changing needs of the marketplace. 

There are many benefits to using systems thinking in your business. When this type of thinking is operating, you’ll be able to: 

  • See the big picture. When systems thinking is employed, you can see how all the different parts of your business fit together. With the big picture in mind, your decision-making improves.
  • Find inefficiencies. When systems thinking is used, you uncover inefficiencies in your business and correct them, which opens the capacity for more growth.
  • Create sustainable growth. With systems thinking, you can create sustained, scalable growth for your business, which is impossible with a traditional linear approach. 

How To Use Systems Thinking 

In its simplest form, there are four steps to using systems thinking in your business. First, define the problem you’re trying to solve. Second, identify the different parts of the system involved in the issue. Third, analyze how each part of the system affects the other parts. Finally, develop solutions that address the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. 

Using these steps, you’ll be able to see problems from multiple angles and develop creative solutions that will help your business grow sustainably. 

Systems thinking is about creating and using processes and procedures to automate your business operations. It eliminates the need for manual tasks, which are often time-consuming and inefficient. It also helps streamline your business processes, ensuring everyone is on the same page, services are delivered quickly and efficiently, and unnecessary duplication of work is eliminated. 

If you want your business to grow, start thinking like a systems thinker. Use data to understand cause and effect, look for feedback loops, anticipate what will happen next, create experiments, and be prepared to correct course when necessary. Encourage a culture of learning, keep an eye on the big picture, build resilience into your system, and be open to new ideas to embrace change as an opportunity for growth.

Systems thinking is a powerful tool that can unlock sustained, scalable business growth. It creates a ripple effect throughout the entire company and makes your business nimble and responsive in today’s rapidly changing business landscape. 

business results

We all have the same 24 hours daily, yet some entrepreneurs seem to get more done and achieve better business results than others. If you feel like you’re stuck in a productivity rut, there’s one thing you can do to change: stop doing the things holding you back! Sounds simple, right? It’s often easier said than done, but not impossible, especially when the “pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change,” says well-known author and speaker Tony Robbins. 

business results

Here are 5 of the most common result killers—and how to avoid them.

#1: Not Having a Plan

Lewis Carroll, the author of the beloved children’s book, Alice in Wonderland, was a modern-day entrepreneur when he penned, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Isn’t that the truth? But, unfortunately, regardless of longevity in business or the size of our organization, as true innovators and entrepreneurs, we still become captivated – and utterly distracted and pulled off course –  by “shiny objects.”

Using a growth plan is the first step to being focused and achieving better business results. What do you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years of your business? What actions are needed to achieve those goals? Then, knowing several approaches are available, you can select the most precise course to achieve your vision. 

Break down your big-picture goals into small, actionable steps — micro-movements, if you will — that are easily completed daily or weekly. Then, calendar your tasks into your schedule and stick to it! (BTW, adding days and times for task implementation into your calendar is a game changer if you want to avoid over-commitment.) 

And stay focused on the next 12 – 18 months! With a tighter time frame, you’ll find it much easier to stay on track. 

#2: Doing Too Much at Once

Remember when multitasking was a “thing?” Remember how excited we were to find that sought-after skill on a resume? Well, as my young godchildren remind me, ‘that was soooooo yesterday.’

At the time, and even in some minds of today’s entrepreneurs, multitasking still seems like an efficient way to get things done, but the opposite is true. A recent study at the University of Southern California (USC) illuminated many pitfalls stemming from multitasking, such as reduced IQ, low information retention, more mistakes, and brain drain. 

Instead of trying to do ten things at once, focus on one thing at a time and give it your full attention for a designated period. You’ll be surprised at how much more productive you are—and how much better the business results you’ll achieve.

Easier said than done but not impossible, especially when you want to feel more energized, be more productive, and achieve better results.

#3: Digital Distractions

My husband is a user of multiple digital devices — all simultaneously! For example, he watches TV in front of his iPad while responding to texts on his phone. Sound familiar? (Don’t get me started on his digital footprint during football season!) 

In our hyper-connected world, it’s easy to get distracted by technology. Every time a new email pops into our inbox or a notification pings on our phone, it’s tempting to stop what we’re doing and check it out—but resist the urge! Instead, turn off notifications.  Put your phone away so you can focus on the task at hand. You’ll be able to get more done in less time and without distractions. Trust me! I’m living proof it works.

Neuroscience is studying the impact of digital distractions on the brain. Besides interrupting the current task flow, digital distractions elevate one’s anxiety level. Plus, it comes with a high price tag. 

The Information Overload Research Group, a nonprofit consortium of business professionals, researchers, and consultants, reports that knowledge workers in the United States waste 25% of their time dealing with their huge and growing data streams, costing the economy $997 billion annually. Conquering Digital Distraction

The solution? Give yourself a pre-set amount of time to indulge in emails, text messages, social media, or whatever you decide, then turn off notifications and close programs for a focused amount of time (Nathaniel Kleitman recommends 90 minutes of focused time.)

#4: Procrastination 

We all dread specific tasks, but putting them off makes them worse.

Some experts recommend asking yourself “why” if you’re putting off a difficult or unpleasant task, but I find that approach is like a dog chasing its tail.  Asking “why” pulls us into a never-ending circle from which there is no escape.

A better starter word is “what.” For example, you can ask yourself, “what part of this project do I want to tackle first? What makes the most sense to address? What time frame am I willing to dedicate to it today?”

 ‘What’ questions move you to action. And once you finally tackle that arduous task, you’ll feel incredible relief and accomplishment and can move on to achieving results!

#5: Perfectionism

Egads! Perfectionism is a major productivity killer – not to mention a source of burnout and overwhelm.  Focusing on making everything perfect makes it easy to lose sight of the big picture. 

Instead of striving for perfection, aim for progress. Again, think micro-movement. What matters most is that you’re progressing toward your goal.  

Perfectionism is often about the expectations we set for ourselves and others — or the expectations we think others have of us, like our clients. If your perfectionism arises from what you think your clients expect from you, ask them. Like me, you may be shocked and surprised by what you hear. 

The Last Word

If you want to secure better results, stop doing the things that interrupt your performance. 

However, recognizing that these five common results killers decelerate your business growth,  you’ll find the inspiration and motivation to move past the productivity slayers to get more done and be on the path to better results. 

strategy

Strategy. It’s a small word with a big impact on today’s business. Often misused. Sometimes abused. And, it usually leaves the Stage II — The Messy Middle — entrepreneur more overwhelmed than is needed when growing their enterprise. 

And, as with the other stages of development, what got you here won’t get you there, and the strategy used to launch our organizations becomes outdated as we grow.  it adds unnecessary complexity and complication to day-to-day operations.  

It reminds me of the Southwest Airlines (SWA) – Continental debacle from decades ago. 

strategy

The Failed Strategy for Market Competition Between Airlines

As the story goes, SWA selected “short distance, no frills, and fun” as the strategies they would eventually use to build and grow their business successfully. 

Continental Airlines (no longer in existence in its original format, by the way) chose “fine and fancy” as strategies. They, too, began as a point-to-point airline, ultimately expanding operations to include transcontinental flights. 

After some time, Continental decided to re-enter the point-to-point market dominated by SWA. Continental failed miserably. The strategy that brought them success in the transcontinental market was not a good fit for the short-distance market. The lesson here? Before entering into a new market, you want to ensure its fit with your current strategy to avoid unnecessary complications and failure.

The Hardest Job You’ll Do 

When you spend your days putting out fires, there is little room to contemplate what your business needs to break through a business plateau. Thinking and planning is the most arduous job for any entrepreneur. It becomes even more challenging when your strategy is less than optimal for business growth and profitability.

Yet, strategy is influencing your daily decision-making —  for better or worse — whether you realize it or not. 

It impacts your choices, such as whether you should take on that complex client project on the fringe of your core offerings. Or, do you enter into a particular industry or space if you want to grow or scale? Is it a fit for your current strategy? Can you compete successfully in this space? These are just some of the many vital questions that influence the strategy you select to succeed. 

Unfortunately, discovering the strategy that will take you to the next level is messy, unpredictable, and multi-faceted. 

The Complexity of an Effective Strategy 

Strategy requires more today. Creating value, identifying and monetizing opportunities, and addressing unexpressed client needs are only a few elements to consider when selecting a strategy with the highest growth and profit potential for your business. 

Who else poses a threat to your existence? How do you differ in reality and the eyes of your audience? Situations like these, and others, change as you and your business grow. As a result, your business may be a more significant threat to your competitors. Knowing that, do you have a plan to disrupt your competitor? (That’s a fun idea, isn’t it?)

And there are trade-offs! 

Once you find a strategy you can embrace and believe in, you’ll say “yes” to some clients, pricing, and services, which means saying “no” to others. Are you ready for that mental exercise? Saying “no” to services or clients that no longer fit with strategy can be challenging. 

The Remake of Your Strategy 

It was easy for SWA to develop its strategy, IMO. They were new and shiny. There was no history to overcome or bad habits to conquer. So, where does the seasoned entrepreneur begin to modify or adjust their strategy? 

Taking a page from Dr. Michael Porter, a well-known researcher and author in the field of Strategy, it’s likely that an established business already has many appealing elements unique to its core. 

You can identify these fundamentals from which to revive your strategy to accelerate growth and profit by asking a few questions, including

  • Which of your services are the most distinctive?
  • Which of your services are the most profitable? 
  • Which of your clients are most satisfied? 
  • Which clients or channels are the most profitable? 
  • Which activities within your value change are the most different and effective? 

And, I might add, which clients are most fulfilling with whom to work? After all, there’s much more to business satisfaction that extends beyond measuring growth. Plus, as we mature in our business experience and understanding, the days of being everything to everyone are no longer satisfying or profitable. We often get to the point where striving for the operational efficiency of serving everyone contributes to significant burnout. 

From Michael Porter’s exercise, you’re a short jump away from accessing what’s next to upgrade your strategy for what’s ahead. 

One of my favorite resources for clarifying strategy is Verne Harnish. He and his team have done an exceptional job of scouring the field of strategy and distilling the information to make it practical for the Stage II entrepreneur to apply. 

Verne and his team recommend asking yourself and your team the following questions.

  • What word(s) do you want to own in the minds of your audience? 
  • Who and where are your core customers?
  • What are you really selling them?
  • What are your three brand promises? And, what methods do you use to measure whether or not you’re keeping your promises?
  • What is your brand promise guarantee?
  • What is your one-phase strategy that will be key to making money?
  • What are your business’s 3-5 differentiating activities? 
  • What is the X-factor that gives you a competitive advantage? 
  • What is your profit per X, your most profitable service?
  • What is your BHAG for the next 10 – 25 years? 

The Doable Path to Upgrade Your Strategy

It’s a lot to take in. And it’s even more overwhelming to realize the impact of upgrading your strategy and are challenged with finding white space to consider such essential questions. 

Searching for an adaptive strategy is an ongoing, incremental process — especially in today’s quick-to-change marketplace, which is why one of my favorite implementation tools is the micromovement. Use your “cracks of time” to answer one weekly question. You’ll discover a more robust growth strategy in four (4) months or less. 

Unearthing and upgrading your strategy is often complex — particularly for a Stage II enterprise. However, it doesn’t need to be — nor do you want it to be. 

growth plan

Most businesses experience a plateau at some point in time — especially those in The Messy Middle. And, believe it or not, it’s somewhat predictable.   

Stalls in business growth generally occur around specific revenue markers such as $350K – $500K, then around $750K to $1M, and approximately $3-4M.  Why? That’s an excellent question and one that many entrepreneurs have battled to answer. 

Over two decades of business coaching and strategizing with the Stage II enterprise revealed common components contributing to a plateau. In most cases, it’s a combination of factors unique to the entrepreneur and the enterprise. 

There are some universal elements, however, impacting the majority of entrepreneurs who find themselves stuck in the messy middle. 

Let’s take mindset, for instance. Do you quickly become overwhelmed by the day-to-day stressors of running a business so much that you shut down strategically? Or do you feel pessimistic about future possibilities? 

Finding the right talent — not an easy feat in today’s competitive market — is another significant stressor for most entrepreneurs that often contributes to a sticking point in revenue growth. 

One’s ability to delegate is another potential component. If you’ve identified the talent, are you comfortable entrusting tasks to others? How confident are you in your delegation skillset if you’ve functioned independently for any time? 

Your rate of business growth, and a potential stall, are also influenced by your strategy. Strategy, in turn, affects pricing, impacting cash flow and ultimately determining your ability to invest in profitable growth. (For more details, read Scaling Up: How a Few Companies make it…And Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish.) 

One thing we know for sure — what got you here won’t get you there.

The Conundrum of the Missing Growth Plan

The growth plan is perhaps the most crucial component in moving beyond any stall. 

There is a prevalence of the glaring absence of a growth plan, so if your growth plan is unaccounted for, don’t waste time agonizing over it. 

Growth and strategic planning are often a part of a successful business’s rise to success. Why? We have time on our hands to do the things most successful companies do. 

As we grow, day-to-day operations quickly inundate and overwhelm us. For example, we get busy putting out fires. Plus, the number of hours we work leaves little time or energy for thinking clearly and strategically. 

Often, critical elements of business growth are placed on the back burner for a point when we hope to have more time. But, sadly, it never comes. 

Growth slows to a trickle until, finally, the business stalls. It plateaus. 

That usually gets our attention. But, although it might be too late for a quick turnaround, it remains highly probable to gradually regain a resurgence in growth. 

growth planning
Photo by Vadim Bogulov on Unsplash

The Top 7 Questions to Craft Your Growth Plan  

To address the commonly shared components contributing to a stall, as stated above, let’s consider how you may address each element. Although it’s not practical or professionally responsible to give you an exact blueprint for your business growth plan, given your unique enterprise, I can pose some questions for your thoughtful consideration as you design your plan. 

Are you ready? 

#1: What’s your exit strategy? When you’re ready to hand over the keys to the kingdom, what do you want to do with your business? Do you want to sell it or pass it on to a family member? Hand the keys to a long-term employee? (BTW, this happened to a client. He gifted his seven-figure business to a colleague. Nice boss!) 

#2: Based on your exit plan, what do you want your business revenue to be in 3-5 years? Don’t wait until you’re near the end of your business career to decide. Starting today with a clear vision adds significance to other decisions to achieve your vision.  

#3: What service(s) will you be offering? Again, when you’ve taken the long view, you may find that your current product or service offerings hamper your ability to hit your targets. 

#4: What products or services are most profitable? As you consider the products or services that will most likely support your growth trajectory, you also want to consider what products or services are most profitable for you to deliver.

#5: What client or customer is most profitable for you to serve?
And, while you’re at, identify the clients or customers that are most enjoyable to work with for you and your team.

#6: What talent is required now that you precisely understand offerings and clients?  Will support talent be needed to achieve your growth numbers effortlessly? You will, after all, no longer be “doing it all” as you move things off your plate to that of others to free you up to focus on the strategy. 

#7: What costs are involved in your growth projections? First, consider the cost of your labor and operating expenses. A reasonable estimate of business expenses ensures your service is priced for profit and cash flow. 


It’s a lot to take in at one time, I know! Again the questions posed here are generally designed to trigger your creative thinking.  

As you begin drafting your growth plan, avoid adding too much detail to your long-term plan. Not only is it overwhelming, but, as we often learn, the business economy and marketplace change quickly. Focusing your attention on the next 12 – 18 months will allow you to regain control of your growth.

Uninterrupted time to think, draft, and design your growth plan is a luxury. However, if you effectively use the cracks of time (like during our Mastermind 350), you can create your entire plan one piece — one micromovement — at a time. 

growth planning, entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs want to conduct proper growth planning for their businesses and even understand that doing so is essential to their success. Unfortunately, growth planning is continually interrupted and often falls through the cracks. This disruption is not caused by a lack of desire or a cavalier attitude to ‘wing it.’ So what is the problem? And how can it be solved?  

Before discussing the factors to include in your growth plan, we need to understand and eliminate the roadblocks interfering with its development  — otherwise, all the compelling advice will go to waste.

growth planning

The 6 Common Hurdles to Growth Planning 

Some prevalent challenges to planning are predictable, especially as your business enters Stage II of operations. 

Common Hurdle #1: The Time Quandry 

You spend your days like other CEOs –  putting out fires. It’s a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. Given the volume of client projects and demands, it’s challenging to carve out additional time for plotting your future. As a result, the opportunity to think strategically about the outcome of your business is rare. 

Common Hurdle #2: The Inadequate Insight into Trends and Competition 

The inability to keep up with industry intelligence, trends, and competitors also relates to time. Insight into where your clients and competitors are heading is vital for strategic decisions. Unfortunately, finding time to garner these understandings is difficult. 

Common Hurdle #3: The Fatigue Factor 

Decision fatigue is real. The more decisions made in a day, regardless of size or consequence, the more we exhaust our ability to think clearly. 

Often stress and worry about the future of the business occupy our sleep. Sadly, restless sleep also makes it challenging to awake rested and rejuvenated, ready for the day ahead. 

Common Hurdle #4: The Misplaced Perspective 

The adage, “too close to the forest to see the trees,” aptly applies to business. Unfortunately, we’re often too close to our situation to think decidedly or objectively to see the possibilities. An objective business advisor who understands your business and best interests can be instrumental. 

Common Hurdle #5: The Disorganized Data 

Missing data often ties back to a lack of time. Digging into our data can also be challenging. There’s frequently much of it that it is difficult to know what string to pull that unravels the information to make it user-friendly. 

Yet, data removes emotion from decision-making. Subsequently, we make better-informed decisions to keep our business healthy and growing.

Common Hurdle #6:The Second Shift

Commitments don’t stop when you walk out of your office. Personal obligations are other barriers to the energy and clear thinking required for effective planning. In addition, caring for elderly parents or managing a busy household with kids in school and homework are often factors outside business hours that alter our capacity to plan. 

Attempting to carve out time is a brain drain, and the second shift is real. Unfortunately, you’re not alone in your time crunch challenge. 

The Solution? Micro Move Your Way Around the Obstacles.

It’s a bit of a pipe dream to expect any busy entrepreneur to carve out a large enough chunk of time to complete an entire 5-year growth plan in one sitting. You are, after all, not a corporation with hundreds of employees who can ensure the organization’s work continues while you’re off on a 3-day planning retreat. Plus, complete and exhaustive planning is not an activity we recommend for the already busy and overwhelmed entrepreneur. It’s time-consuming, draining, and quickly obsolete, given the pace of change in business today. 

However, we have found a highly effective solution for devising your road map. It is influential not only in creating your plan but also in executing your desired intention. 

Enter the mighty micro-movement!

Coined by a gifted entrepreneur, the micro-movement is a short stroke of activity. It’s one minor step in the right direction, one rung up the ladder. To repeat a well-known phrase, “it’s eating an elephant one bite at a time.” It’s baby steps toward your goal. 

How do you productively apply a micro-movement? First, you use the “cracks of time” currently existing in your day. 

“Cracks of time” are micro periods. For instance, it may be 15 minutes between meetings while you’re waiting on hold or when a project concludes on budget and ahead of schedule. 

One of our favorite “cracks of time” at Synnovatia is when a meeting reschedules at the last minute. So rather than fill our calendar with minor tasks, we use the opportunity to march one more micro movement closer to the finish line. 

You’ll be astonished at how quickly you’ll have sketched out your future by breaking down your growth planning into one question — one micromovement — at a time. 

In addition, the seemingly slower pace of development will help you gain perspective. When you stand back and look over your projections, you can decide, with greater certainty, if your blueprint will bring you the joy, fulfillment, and goals you want to achieve.

The mighty micro-movement. It’s how you get from where you are to where you want to go — and it’s a game changer for entrepreneurs. 

entrepreneurs growth strategy

Ahh, you’ve arrived, but it hardly looks like the destination you thought it would be. Instead of smooth sailing and fewer hours as a reward for years of hard work and dedication, work hours extend beyond what is possible, and it feels like the business is being held together with duct tape and glue. Frankly, it’s a little chaotic and a lot stressful. 

How did you get here? Like most entrepreneurs, it was likely by default, not by plan, even though you had your sights set on a brighter destination from the beginning. One thing you’re sure of — it’s not what you thought it would be. 

Welcome to “The Messy Middle.” 

entrepreneurs growth strategy
Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Defining The Messy Middle 

The Messy Middle is the time in your business between start-up and smooth sailing. It generally occurs at around $350K -$500K, then about $750K to $1M, and once again at approximately $3-4M.   

It’s often punctuated by stagnant or slowed growth, dwindling cash flow, a withering talent pool, and missed opportunities. 

The exhaustion experienced by you and your team from what was once temporarily extended work hours is now untenable. 

Not only is there no time to pause to think strategically to make clear, data-based decisions, but the cracks are widening, and critical pieces of the business are vanishing. 

At this point in your business, you realize that what got you here is no longer working. The strategies you use to build your business won’t get you to the next level. 

Surviving The Messy Middle 

Even though you’re drowning in seemingly unsolvable complications and problems, The Messy Middle is survivable. 

Start with a deep breath and realize, first and foremost, that you’re not alone. Even though it may not be reassuring given your current situation, every business enters this unavoidable phase of growth and development. Whether or not an organization passes through to the next level depends on the decisions and actions going forward.  

Muffling The Messy Middle 

You might think you could have avoided this — if you had only known. But unfortunately, the sad truth is that there is little information available about this stage of business growth and development for most entrepreneurs.

Frankly, I don’t understand the lack of knowledge in the business environment, which is why I’m starting the conversation. It’s one we need to have that is long overdue.

Most business journals focus on larger organizations, but only 6% of all business enterprises fit that profile. Even as a member of The Messy Middle, you make up 19%, with the remaining 75% comprised of stage one organizations.  

The Messy Middle is a natural part of the business growth and development continuum. But, sadly, a colossal information gap exists between startup, stage one business growth and development, YOU, and the corporate behemoths. Moreover, it’s vital for solving your enterprise’s problems.

Plus, most entrepreneurs who are members of this elite club known as The Messy Middle are either too busy or utterly exhausted, with little time to learn, study, and share their dilemmas. 

You want proven strategies to stop the stall, turn the momentum around, and get to the next level.

For further insight into The Messy Middle, read: What No One Tells An Entrepreneur About Breaking Through a Business Plateau.

Thriving The Messy Middle

Interrupting and moving through a stall requires new knowledge and skill for entrepreneurs. You can no longer rely upon the know-how and expertise that got you to this point of business growth. This challenge is especially true during difficult economic times. 

Although your chosen strategy is business-dependent, there are several situations to address, such as: 

  • Insufficient access to resources needed to succeed, like money and talent. 
  • Missing growth plan
  • Limited cash. 
  • Inadequate deployment of resources such as staff, time, and money.
  • Burnout and fatigue, yours and your team. 

Regardless of the underlying factor contributing to your plateau, you can elevate your business above the current chaos. It’s a balancing act to test the boundaries of what is possible, understand the limits of your business, and maximize its potential. 

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We’re here to help you make the most of your business. If you need advice on where to grow next or just a listening ear, we’re happy to chat.

entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is fun and exciting — until it’s not. 

There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s journey when you realize that the skills, abilities, industry knowledge, and personal know-how are no longer the right components to take your business to the next level. 

They served you well for a time. Finally, your entrepreneurial skillset got you to a point where you’ve survived the dreaded start-up phase, proven your business model, and are maintaining revenue. And yet, growth has stalled.

What do you do? 

Many entrepreneurs work harder. They invest more hours into their business. They worry about tomorrow. Stress and overwhelm punctuate their day.  Pushed beyond what is humanly possible, they develop a distaste for what they love. Why? 

They doubled down on the tasks, actions, and plans that got them to where they’re today, yet nothing seems to budge the numbers.  

What’s going on?!

One thing we know for sure — what got you here won’t get you there.

entrepreneur

Moving Beyond the Stall 

Unfortunately, every business passes through a somewhat predictable and unavoidable growth pattern. 

Stalls in growth generally occur around $250 – 350K, then around $750K to $1M, and approximately $3-4M.   

Several components contribute to a plateau. However, in most cases, it’s a combination of factors. For example, mindset, confidence in delegating, finding the right talent, and implementing the right strategy are only a few factors influencing the business’s evolution to the next level. 

Mindset 

A trusted colleague and friend once said, “If you can leave your business for three weeks and not have a drop in income, you have a business. However, if revenue grinds to a halt in your absence after a few days, you’re merely self-employed.” 

The collapsed definition between entrepreneur and solopreneur is a common dilemma, especially among professional service providers who launch their business based on their skill set. But, whether it’s your legal acumen, accounting, bookkeeping, human resources, training, or coaching skillset, there’s a limit to where your business can grow when you’re doing it all yourself. 

It takes a village — and often a crowbar — to dislodge a business owner from the day-to-day delivery of core services. 

Talent 

…and its evil twin, delegation.

Talent acquisition is a tricky area to maneuver for the entrepreneur. Often, one’s confidence in engaging talent, whether it’s through employment or subcontractors, is multi-faceted. 

Considerations include budget, cash flow, sourcing, and learning about an entirely new industry, human resources, with its many rules and ramifications. 

Primarily, however, is the entrepreneur’s ability to strap on a new skill set of locating, identifying, interviewing, onboarding, training, delegating, and most importantly, trusting the talent you’ve hired. 

Strategy 

Often we outgrow the strategy with which we have launched our organizations. Whether it’s the primary driver of profitability, a refinement in services you provide, or the core clients for whom services are delivered, when you begin to bump your head against the growth ceiling, an upgrade in your strategic approach to the future of your business may be necessary. 

Often, a niche within an industry holds a disproportionate percentage of the profit.

Growth plan

Growth plan? What’s that? 

Often our days are so packed full of fires that the notion of planning, even for a week, feels unachievable. And yet, the actions we take today will determine our tomorrow. 

Your growth plan doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticated to redirect your efforts in the direction you want to take your business. Instead, a simple framework of what you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years with a detailed drill down for the next 12 – 18 months is most effective. 

Gone are the days when a detailed plan painstakingly developed over an extended period is of use. Instead, with business rapidly changing, you want to keep your plans flexible. 

Execution

You can’t execute on a nonexistent plan. I know it’s common sense, but it’s worth saying. 

The internet is full of tools, tips, and experts willingly sharing their know-how on how to be more productive and efficient. However, until your growth plan is on paper, information on improved efficiency might lead you down the wrong path – only this time more quickly. 

Execution is driven by your priority, revealed in your growth plan, and informed by data. 

Cash

Not much happens without it. The larger your organization grows, the more critical money becomes to finance your growth. Did you know Microsoft keeps a year’s operating expenses in the bank? 

“Growth sucks cash,” and “cash is the oxygen that fuels growth,” says Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t. 

Cash flow, budget sheets, profit and loss statements, balance sheets — I can hear the wheels of your brain grind to a halt. Don’t panic. Your accountant can help you understand your financial numbers and their impact on making strategic decisions. 

The Right Tool to Bridge the Here—There Gap

My Dad was a diesel mechanic in a small farming community in North Dakota. At the time of his retirement at age 65, he had amassed the most extensive equipment possible. He had tools for hay bailers, tractors, trucks, and combines. He also had specialized tools from various brands like John Deers, International Harvestor, and the occasional Case that wandered into his business. 

I doubt he secured all those tools and the accompanying skills to use them initially. But, over time and one by one, he added to his toolbox his understanding, his skill, and his business growth. 

Your situation is not unlike my Dad’s. 

And, like my Dad, you can start with identifying the best tool for the job and secure the intellect to apply it appropriately and strategically. 

Recognize that the work habits, beliefs, and attitudes — the tools that brought you to this precipice in your business are not the same set of equipment that will elevate your business to the next level.  

What got you here won’t get you there. 

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We’re here to help you make the most of your business. If you need advice on how to break through your plateau or just a listening ear, we’re happy to chat.

business growth

Life is hectic, especially when you run or manage a small business. Business growth is challenging. Of course, profitable, sustainable growth is your goal, but how do you get there with all the distractions thrown at you every day? You’re speeding down the highway at 90 miles per hour, windows down, music blasting, kids screaming. Sounds fun, right? Hardly!

business growth

But what about all that scenery you took the trip to see? It’s gone in a flash, just a blur in your rearview mirror. Likewise, running a business can sometimes feel hazy and vague without the proper strategic intention.

So how do you take the time to stop and smell the symbolic roses, all while continuing your day-to-day tasks? How about having time to do what you know you should do to grow and maintain your business? Simple!

Determine which of these four stages of business growth your company currently resides, then focus your efforts on the suitable business development activity. 

  1. Core Business Development
  2. Expansion
  3. Professionally Managed Enterprise
  4. Organizational Maturity.

 Common characteristics, growing pains, and a primary focus define each stage of developing your enterprise. To know your specific goals, you first need to know and understand your business’s growth and development stage. Awareness of each step’s obstacles allows you to prepare better to overcome them – with the least amount of stress possible.

One of the most important things to remember about growing your small business is that your growth and development stage is not defined by how long you have been in business. Instead, revenue is a better definition of your developmental stage. Not accurately identifying your growth stage is one of the biggest mistakes when strategizing and planning for growth.

You risk focusing on the wrong activities by misdefining your business’s growth and development stage. As a result, you go around in circles rather than streamlining your activities to overcome the obstacles and leverage the opportunities you’re facing in your current stage.

The first two growth stages are when most business owners feel the highest amount of pressure and discouragement. They involve finding your niche, developing your products or services, getting your business up and running, learning to manage your resources, and creating functional operational systems. These steps set the tone for the rest of your business’s lifespan.

 

business growth

Picture this. You’re traveling down the road at breakneck speed. Music is blaring. Kids are hanging out the window. And, the scenery? Frankly, it’s all a blur.

The road has potholes, the engine’s knocking, and Bobbie is missing – all clear indicators that this trip is in trouble. Plus, if you’re honest, this terrain isn’t the least bit familiar.

You’re moving so quickly that there’s little time to ensure you’re moving in the right direction, let alone recalibrate your GPS to determine if the “you are here” is accurate.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it – with one exception. This isn’t a scene ripped out of National Lampoon’s Vacation; it’s your small business journey.

Where Did Things Go Wrong

Toddlers, teens, and tweens share common developmental characteristics that help the often-befuddled parent successfully maneuver the various pitfalls and perils of raising children.

So, too, business growth comes with its distinctive stages of development, complete with growing pains. Ahhhhh!

As a parent, you don’t want to coach or parent your kids beyond their developmental capabilities. The same philosophy applies to your business.

When you thought the diaper stage was over, you’re right back to sleepless nights and sh*tty jobs no one else wants to do. Plus, you want to ensure you’re not jumping over the stages that your business needs to mature to “adulthood.”

It’s enough to make the most stoic of us break down in tears – or at least a cold sweat.

business growth

What’s Your Stage?

It’s common to misidentify the stage your business inhabits. For example, some entrepreneurs categorize the period of growth and development on years in the industry rather than revenue. The miscalculation is a colossal mistake as growth initiatives and precious resources fail proper allocation.

In a nutshell, the most common phases are:

Stage One: Core Business Development

This period ranges from startup to approximately $500,000 in annual revenue for a service-based business. Stage one is the time to prove your business model, find your place in the sun, and build a strong foundation.

During this stage, business coaching focuses on client acquisition with an emphasis on creating predictability in marketing, sales, and planning. (We love predictability.)

Stage Two: Expansion

Whew! You’ve made it through the proving stage. Breathe a bit of sigh of relief, if for only a moment. Then, it’s time to engage the clutch, shift gears, and formalize your operational system.

If your business is in the service industry, this phase generally occurs between $350,000 – $1 million in annual revenue, give or take.

Are you feeling overcome with chaos and overwhelmed? Guess what? You’re not alone! You can thank the clash of resources between client acquisition/sales and operations for this anxiety-inducing moment.

The entrepreneurial spirit that carried your business thus far continues to fuel innovation.

With the addition of staff, you are no longer the “lone wolf.” Therefore, learning to delegate, communicate, lead and coach your team effectively is vitally important to free you up to focus on more of the strategic aspect of the business.

In addition to executing the critical operational structure needed to bring calm and consistency to the chaos of growth, coaching your business includes guiding you through the development of operational, strategic, and leadership skills required for the uphill climb.

Hang on! There is light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s not a train coming at you.)

Stage Three: Professionally Managed Enterprise

From approximately $5 – $40 million in annual revenue for a service-based business, business coaching focuses on strategic planning, development, and performance management. This emphasis allows you, as the owner, to keep your eye on profits as you expand your products and services.

Stage Four: Organizational Maturity

When your organization soars about the $40 million annual revenue mark, culture and management are the primary focus of business coaching. Who knows! At this point, you may be looking to succession planning with the near retirement destination.

Shift Into the Right Gear for Business Growth

You haven’t lost your mind (although we all question our sanity on occasion.) In this fast-moving information age, it’s easy to get distracted by other activities outside the primary focus of the stage our business resides. This lack of focus pulls us off course and sends us careening into obstacles. It’s feeling like a human pinball that constructs a crisis of identity and drives us to grab at straws – any straws – to get us back on track.

If you’re looking for the super highway of predictable growth for your business, identify your business’s stage of development, shift gears, and align your daily activity with the correct focus.

Trust me. It’s a trip worth taking!

entrepreneurial

It’s true what they say — time flies when you’re having fun — especially when on an entrepreneurial journey. 

It was Friday afternoon in April 1997 — following three margaritas — when Synnovatia officially peaked its head over the horizon.

Sprawled on the living room floor among laptops, dictionaries, magic markers, and reams of paper sat my web designer, marketing director, and a creative muse. What happened next was legendary!

The coaching industry was in its infancy. There were 5,000 professionally trained coaches internationally. (Today, that number has swelled to more than 53,000 professionally trained coaches worldwide — not counting those “coaching since birth.”)

Since our launch, we survived a significant move (Washington state to Los Angeles), a husband’s short-lived retirement (an event any women-owned business with an in-home office can appreciate), an extensive home remodel, the devastation of 09/11, the stock market crash of 2008, menopause, Guillain-Barre, a pandemic, and we’re still standing.

In 1997, launching a website was worthy of a press release; Microsoft was the world’s most valuable company, and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t yet born.

Lead generation took place the old-fashioned way — face-to-face.

A lot has changed in business — mainly how business is conducted. And, a lot has remained the same.

After growing a business for 25 years, here is the advice I would share with my younger entrepreneurial self (in no particular order):

entrepreneurial self

1. Don’t select a company name that is easy to pronounce to make others feel comfortable. With a name like “Synnovatia,” the naysayers crawled out of the woodwork to share their well-meaning opinions. Point taken! Yet, no other option in all our iterations truly captured our philosophy and approach to business development and growth.

syn•no•va•tia (sin’u-vA’sha) 

a. the process that one uses to create a new or different result

b. mashup of synergy + innovation

c. when two or more people collaborate to create something new and different

2. Stay your course. With the vast amount of information to sift through to find answers to your questions, it’s easy to get caught up in conventional business wisdom. But you’re an entrepreneur. That, in and of itself, says you’re unconventional. Believe in your dream even when conventional business wisdom says you’ve lost your mind.

3. Push yourself away from your desk. Entrepreneurship is exciting. It’s also stressful. Don’t wait for weekends or vacations. Be good to yourself every day.

4. Work with clients you loveNo! You don’t have to take on every ill-fitting client to succeed. However, working with clients who aren’t a good fit with your values, beliefs, desires, and skills will show up in your performance in ways visible and invisible.

5. Don’t work with struggling clients. If your clients are struggling financially, so will you. Enough said!

6. Control your calendar. You have much more control over your schedule than you would like to believe. Take charge. Set up your work schedule to make it work for you or suffer the consequences of being held prisoner of your own business.

7. Don’t compare yourself to others. The entrepreneurial path is different for each of us. We each have a journey to take. Walk your journey with confidence, not questioning your course (unless you’ve wandered.)

8. Take the path less traveled. Most days, you’ll feel like a salmon — swimming upstream and going against the grain. Resist the temptation to conform. Rest, if you must, but carry on.

9. Remain relevant. The saying goes, “you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” You’ll have to make some seemingly risky moves if you’re going to keep one step ahead of being obsolete.

10. Trust your gut. Did you know there are more brain cells in your gut than exist within your skull? Fact! Don’t underestimate the power of your gut to guide your decisions.

11. Never stop learning. The moment you’re sure you know what you know, you cease to be competitive.

12. Treat people as you want to be treated. You’ll likely cross paths which others who play loose with simple business protocol. Don’t let it jade or compromise you. Be courteous. Return phone calls, respond to emails promptly and send handwritten thank-you notes regularly. Doing so speaks volumes about who you are.

13. Develop the art of listening to others. Don’t just listen for your turn to speak. Instead, tune in, be present, and hear what the other person is saying and what they’re not saying.

14. Don’t make it about you. No one likes a know-it-all or braggart. It’s one of the quickest ways to tarnish your reputation. Instead, demonstrate your interest in others by keeping the focus on them.

15. Finish what you start. Sometimes, you’ll want to disconnect from a vital initiative to move on to other, more exciting, shiny objects. That is the entrepreneurial path, right? Unless data shows you’re moving in the wrong direction, learn to complete what you start.

16. Don’t give up. Change is hard. It’s uncomfortable and ugly. So even though a job at Starbucks is tempting, persist during these anxiety-producing times. It’s these times that hone your most tremendous success.

17. Make time to think and plan strategically. Although this seems like common sense, it’s challenging to apply when people, places, and things are vying for your attention. Yet, it’s in these quiet moments that dreams hatch.

18. Execute. Again, seemingly a no-brainer, but a word of caution — don’t fall in love with strategic thinking and planning without learning to embrace the strategic execution of your well-thought-out goals and plans. Executing strategic plans is the difference between success and struggle.

19. Surround yourself with good people. Armed with the precious resources of a small business entrepreneur, align yourself with vendors, contractors, and partners who are in your corner, pulling for your success.

20. Lead with your strengths. It’s tempting to save money and run a DIY business. Resist the seduction. It comes at a considerable cost. However, engaging others to fill the gaps is one of the quickest paths to success.

21. Hold yourself accountable to your commitments. This means doing what you said you’re going to do long after the mood in which you said it has passed. Holding yourself accountable to your commitments enhances your formula for success.

22. Listen to the expert within. The marketplace is exploding with self-appointed experts. Trust that you know what’s best for you and your business. 

23. Upgrade your assets to grow. The skills, talent, beliefs, and mindset that developed your business to its current level will unlikely take you to the next. So advance your resources to expand your business. 

24. You’re more resilient than you think. Although headwinds might be substantial, they pale in comparison to your tenacity. Never underestimate your ability to rise above any challenges you face.

25. Believe in yourself, your dreams, and your capability. Don’t confuse capability with capacity. And, remember, you’re not limited to one dream. 


Knowing that you know now, what advice would you give your younger entrepreneurial self?

Core Business Assessment

Testimonial

Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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