You’ve done the research and put in the time. You’ve finally built a business that you’re passionate about. You have a loyal following, social media loves you and there’s industry buzz about your brand. Editors and buyers are actually calling YOU. You’ve officially arrived. All seems to be going exactly as planned until it isn’t. Sales begin to slow, your social presence is not as strong, people stop buzzing quite as loudly and a slightly different reality sets in. Not much seems to be happening …at all. You question what went wrong and how you arrived at this place. Your business stagnated and you aren’t quite sure when this happened or how to get out of it.
The truth is, this is a part of the entrepreneurial growth process that we hardly ever hear about. Your thriving creative business has reached a plateau. As a small business consultant, I work with a lot of creative business owners and have worked through this issue many times. Recognizing that your business has plateaued is often the most difficult part of getting unstuck.
Whether you’ve lost inspiration or just gotten too comfortable, the first step is to accept that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By nature of it being a plataeu, you’ve experienced a high level of success in order to get you where you are. You’ve already launched a successful business so you already know what’s possible. The key is in recognizing where you are in your business and taking actionable steps to move beyond the plateau point. Taking action means pushing boundaries and allowing yourself to be uncomfortable in an effort to move forward.
Step 1. Answer the following questions (and actually WRITE the answers down)
I know this sounds time consuming but it really does work.
1. What do you hope to accomplish in the next 6 months?
2. What is holding you back from taking action?
3. When were you most satisfied with the success of your business?
4. What are you most afraid of in the growth of your business?
These are fundamental questions that we usually bypass. By getting clear about where you are, where you want to be and then understanding why you’ve arrived at this plateau point, you’re freeing up the space to move beyond it. Understanding what drives you as an entrepreneur builds a much stronger foundation for the sustained growth of your creative business as opposed to just creating a “one-hit wonder.”
Step 2. Seek developmental feedback
This isn’t run of the mill “Am I doing a great job? “Yes” “Super, thanks!” type feedback. This is much more deliberate and specific feedback that requires asking the appropriate audience. Generally speaking, this is feedback you’re not asking from your friends, loved ones or even well intentioned fellow entrepreneurs (at least, not yet.)
Instead, ask for feedback from your customers and loyal followers; the ones who use and know exactly what they want from your business. You may not agree with what they ask for but it will enlighten you on what others hope for and expect from your business. Having that knowledge is invaluable in aligning your vision with that of your biggest fans.
Second, speak with a business consultant or coach. They understand the pitfalls and patterns of businesses and have an unbiased perspective that you otherwise don’t have access to. Though you do have to pay for their services, the feedback and support that you receive is invaluable to help re-invigorate your business and move beyond the plateau. To put it in perspective, just as you wouldn’t risk your health by acting as your own doctor, why risk the health of your business by remedying all problems on your own and not consulting someone else?
Step 3. Create a growth strategy
List out small steps that will get you beyond the plateau point. With clarity of vision for your business, you’re creating a clear plan to get unstuck. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself:
1. What do you need to do right now that represents growth?
2. What small successes can help you feel as though your business is shifting?
3. While still staying true to your art, what can you create to cause an immediate boost in sales and/or interest from press?
Getting stuck is part of the growth process: it is the motivation to consistently evolve your creative business. Shifting, changing, and creating are all uncomfortable but they are the necessary actions for moving forward. The ability to be flexible and the willingness to shift quickly are what set your thriving business apart.