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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Breaking out of stagnation to growth

Many companies start out strong but then plateau. Staying stagnant may not have an immediate impact, but it could impact your profitability down the line, particularly if your competitors are growing and you're not.

"It's normal for companies to get comfortable and complacent in what they do," says Jeff Levy, president of Janusian Insights Inc., Plainview leadership and strategy consultants. They can even be doing well but not growing, he explains.

Focus on growth. To consciously decide to ignite growth, they need to change their mindset, he notes.

Instead of just focusing on the numbers, incorporate "growth thinking" into your business, Levy says. Consider what you're routinely doing that will give you new ideas for new customers and new sources of revenue, he notes.

What to weigh. Specifically, Levy suggests you ask:

"What new customers would be interested in our existing products?"

"What new products could we offer our existing customers?

"What new products or services could we offer to a totally new segment of customers?"

This is what Greg Demetriou, president of Lorraine Gregory Communications, a Farmingdale-based marketing communications firm, had to do following the 2008 recession.

Back then his firm only provided printing and mailing services, but he knew if he wanted to grow he'd have to diversify and find new revenue streams. So over time the company added marketing, social media and website development to its in-house mix, transitioning into a full-service marketing company, Demetriou says.

"We had to ask ourselves 'What does the future look like?' and the future wasn't very bright if we did not change our business model," he notes.

Long-term gains. For many plateaued companies, management has already tried different things but in the long term ultimately ended up with the same result, says Patrick Lee Jr., co-founder and CEO of The Spark Business Institute in Annapolis, Maryland, which provides coaching and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

They may even see growth spurts as they try new initiatives, but they're not resulting in any significant annual net gains over time, he notes.

"A plateaued business is not a business that hasn't seen growth in seven months," he explains. Rather it's generally one that has had 18 months to five years of stalled growth.

Most of these companies have already tried things that they're comfortable with or good at, when what they really need to consider are areas of the business that have not had a lot of infrastructure built in or have been neglected, he notes.

Outside help. It helps to have an outside set of eyes, says Lee, such as an advisory board of experts.

In most cases what has plateaued is the business owners' creativity, says Thomas W. Shinick, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, marketing and management at Adelphi University in Garden City and president of Corporate Development Partners in Merrick.

Perhaps they've tried various efforts but did it halfheartedly, he notes.

Options. To break through a plateau, you need to increase your market share, customer base and/or sales, Shinick says.

There are various ways to do this: developing new products in different segments of your business; offering an ancillary service to the same customer base (for example, a landscaping company delivering oil in the off season); or aligning with another company with a customer base that doesn't compete with yours.

Look at your customers and consider what unmet needs they have that you could fill, adds Levy: "By doing that it opens your eyes up to opportunities."


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