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How to Go From 'Plateau' to 'Grow'

"I know this isn't the final stage of my business. I definitely want to grow but I don't have time to figure out how. I'm fully staffed and can't afford to hire anyone to help in any area of the business."

This was part of a conversation I was having with a small business owner who reached out to me to help with marketing. He's been in business for 6 years and after experiencing the natural business life cycle stages the first 4 years - introduction and growth - his business has plateaued the last 2 years.

I am completely honest in these conversations. Sometimes marketing isn't the answer. That's why I always want to have a conversation with someone who says they need marketing. Asking questions, listening and really digging into the conversation helps me understand why they need marketing. And it's not always marketing.

Experiencing a plateau too long in your business can be really frustrating - especially when you are doing all the right things, have the right people in place and STILL aren't growing.

So, how can you change that?

First, it's important to own the feeling associated with this. I get it - the struggle is real. Acknowledge it. Own it.

Now, let's identify the issue causing your business to plateau. Most often it's one of the following 5 reasons. So let's start there:

  1. Business model

  2. Lack of people

  3. Money

  4. Market saturation

  5. Outdated marketing strategy

Let's dive deeper on each and review how to become a growth company again:

  1. Business model: The business model hasn't evolved with the business OR it isn't built to scale. Your customers, industry, technology - it all changes over time. Your business model may have been your guiding light when you launched but it may be what's holding you back now. Growth tactic: It's time to re-evaluate your business model. Look at the changes in your industry, your market, your products and your employees. Compare today's business with the original business model. What's working and what's not? What's changed? Going through this exercise will help you identify ways to modify or scale different aspects of your business. Evaluate the process in your business as well as it could be customer on-boarding related.

  2. Lack of people (or lack of the right people): you may be fully staffed but if you aren't stacked with the right mix of people and talent, it's going to keep you from growing. If you are under-staffed, the stress and anxiety with keeping the business running will keep you from growing. Growth tactic: Focus on being the executive and leader first who works on the business and delegate the inner working of the business to your team. You'll need to evaluate the staff and determine 1) if you have the right people for delegating so you can grow and 2) need to hire and for what roles (think part-time or temporary as well - it's less costly and you have the opportunity to see if they are a good fit for what you need!) When you have the right team in place, you will focus on strategy, growth and behaviors that drive results. What do you need to learn to evolve? Who do you need to connect with to expand your network and build relationships? How can you streamline your process to be more effective with your time? Talk with customers and learn more about them, what's missing and how you can better serve.

  3. Money: you need money to grow and even scale your business. If you are cash strapped and not able to re-invest the profits you are making in the company, it's time to evaluate how and where you're spending your budget. If you can't re-invest, you won't be able to grow or expand. Growth tactic: Over 80% of small businesses fail due to cash flow problems. Money matters. Tracking how it's accrued and expended is really important to growth. If you don't know where it's coming from or where it's going, it will create problems for your business. The biggest contributor to cash flow problems is lack of awareness (over spending, unneeded spending, not tracking spending). Consider what expenses can be trimmed or eliminated then evaluate the financially health of your business.

  4. Market saturation: you are in a market or industry that's maxed out on the number of players. There are too many choices and you haven't figured out how to stand apart from all the others. When you're constantly competing for mind share, it can become debilitating over time. If you're too worried about the market health, you aren't focused on business growth. Growth tactic: There's good news and bad news. The good news is there's demand for your product or service. The bad news is there's too much demand for your product or service creating limits to your pricing. Let's focus on the good news which will take care of the bad news. The key to attracting product demand is differentiating your brand. This involves 2 major things: 1) getting to know your customers and prospects better and 2) over delivering on customer service (this is always the easiest and best way to gain traction and market share - because so many other companies aren't good it yet it's one of THE most important factors for doing business with a brand. Getting to know your customers is going to take time so create a plan for how you will tackle this. Creating a 5-star customer service process is only limited by your team and your creativity.

  5. Outdated marketing strategy: if you're operating with the same marketing strategy from 5 years ago or even last year, it's outdated. If there has been a change in where your audience is spending time and you haven't updated your strategy, you're likely missing out on opportunities. An outdated or ineffective marketing strategy will keep you for not only business growth but leads, sales, profits and customers to serve. Growth tactic: According to a Hubspot 2019 report, at least 50% of your prospects aren't a good fit for your product or service. This is likely a reflection on marketing in the wrong places - and operating on an outdated marketing strategy, wasting money and time. Evaluate where your customers and prospects are spending time and revisit your marketing implementation. If you're spending money on trying to generate leads from a 30-second commercial and your target market has moved to Facebook, you can save money and reach a much wider targeted audience with a Facebook ad. Also, from the same Hubspot report, 80% of prospects have done all their research before considering a purchase from you. That means all the resources they referenced before making the initial contact happened without your direct involvement. This reinforces the need to know where your target customers are spending time so you are providing answers to their questions and the information they seek when they need it.

Which one of these five created that 'aha!' moment? If you've figured out what's holding you back, I'm so glad this helped!

Circling back to the call from the beginning of this article, his plateau was due to not having the right people on his team. This is a good example of how a business may think they need marketing to grow but in reality it was something completely different.

If you're stuck and not sure where to begin, let me help you. Any and all my contact information can be found on this website page.

Vicki O'Neill is a fractional CMO in Ohio with over 20 years of marketing leadership experience. She's the founder of KenKay Marketing, a marketing solutions company founded in 2011. Vicki hosts Connect the Dots a marketing and sales educational podcast for entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes. She recently launched a new podcast with her Gen Z daughters, The Power of 3X, to help individuals who want to learn about the youngest generation. You will find Vicki on most social media platforms but you'll find her mostly on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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