What To Do When Your Small Business Doesn’t Go As Planned

So you’ve been working on growing your business for a while now. You’ve poured your heart and soul into it. You’ve read tons of marketing books, subscribed to business blogs, listened to podcasts and spent an enormously large chunk of your “free” time trying to do what it takes to succeed. (If you’ve gotten paid by the hour at this point, you’d be an extremely rich person.) But now for whatever reason, you’re business doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as you’d like (or at all).

frustrateYou thought by this point that all this would be easier. You thought you’d be able to quit your 9-to-5 job (or at the very least, take a break). You imagined your business past the tipping point with money consistently rolling in. You might have even considered taking an extended vacation. But instead, you’re still working countless hours with the tiny voice in the back of your head constantly getting louder: “What the hell are you doing? If it hasn’t worked by now, it’s never going to work. Why can’t you just be satisfied at a regular job like everyone else???”

Now you’re getting burnt out (check out my post How to Deal With Burnout) and second guessing every decision you make. All of sudden you’re not so sure of yourself. You always felt like you have what it takes to succeed, but now you have no idea what that “it” might be. What works for other people doesn’t seem to be working for you. You’re questioning whether you’ll have to suck it up and work a job FOREVER.


Well, first let me say: I’ve been in this situation many times (more than I like to admit). And yes, it sucks…A LOT. It’s painful, uncomfortable and sometimes flat-out depressing when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here’s what I’ve learned though—you are MEANT to be at this juncture in your business. It’s at these times—the painful, uncomfortable, depressing moments—that you are learning the most about yourself, your business and your life. Nearly EVERY entrepreneur out there trudges through these tough times (whether they like to talk about it or not) and it’s what they learn in the process that gives them the knowledge, fortitude and resilience that they need to become a smashing success in the 9th inning.

It’s almost unavoidable to feel doubt, hopelessness, and just plain broke at some point in the process of growing your business. That’s just the nature of entrepreneurship for you. Think about it—if it was easy, everyone would jump off the bus and do it. But, alas, entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

If you’re currently in a situation where you feel stressed and uncertain because your business isn’t thriving the way you want it to, here is a 3-step process to get through the tough times and get back on track towards success…

#1: Don’t panic

Sounds simple right? Well, it’s easier said than done, but it’s critical to take a step back from the situation and not panic.

The first thing you need to do is to accept that it’s normal to feel distressed when your business isn’t working out exactly the way you wanted. Plus, understand that this is time during your business growth period when you are going to learn the most, so you better perk up and pay attention.

Once again, every entrepreneur goes through these tough times and most make it out in one piece on the other side, so take a deep breath and use this time as a learning experience instead of time for a coronary bypass.

#2: Ask yourself: Is it time to fail?

Most successful entrepreneurs “fail” at one or more business ventures before they succeed. (I put “fail” in quotes because there are no real failures in business—just great learning experiences.) Failure is a scary thought when you’re in the middle of your business, but sometimes is necessary if something isn’t working out.

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to fail fast and fail often. If you haven’t failed at something yet, it’s probably because you haven’t jumped in with both feet. (Check out my post: Have You Failed Lately? to learn why failure is important). If your business isn’t going the way you want, ask yourself if it’s time to “fail” and let it go so you can move on to the next best thing.

This does NOT mean you need to throw up your hands and go back to being a slave at your 9-to-5 job. But you might need to tweak your current business or even completely change your business in order to get back on track and succeed. Whatever you do, don’t cling to the idea that it HAS TO be a certain way—be flexible instead. If you feel like you need to stick with it and step up your game, great. If it’s time to move on to another business, also great.

For me, I’ve gone from a retail store owner to a health coach to a photographer over the years. Every time I let go of one business it kind of feels like I’ve failed for a short time, but down the road, I realize it was a critical stepping stone in my success.

#3: Do what works

Whether you decide to stick with your current business or do something else, it’s time to focus on what IS working within your business.

When I was listening to an interview with Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, she was saying that when she invests in a new business, she asks the owners to make a list of every single way they made a sale or got a new customer. Even if they’ve made hundreds or thousands of sales, she wants to know how each transaction was arrived at. In other words, was it through an advertisement? Networking? A friend telling a friend? A corporate connection?

Once they make the list, she tells them to go out and do more of what works…over and over again. Instead of using all her money and resources to conjure up elaborate (and potentially expensive) marketing strategies that may or may not work, she just wants to them to repeat what’s working.

This sounds logical, right? But all too often, we’re focused on finding the next great marketing tool or strategy that we forgot to focus on what’s working. (How many marketing podcasts and blogs are you subscribed to?)

When things in your business aren’t growing as fast as you’d like, focus on the things that ARE working and do them over and over again. Spend all your time on these things and forget everything else. Once you get back on track with making money, then you’ll have more freedom to experiment with other options.

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Tony - 5 years ago

Ah man, I felt like you were reading my mind at the beginning there! I’ve felt that way SO many times and I think that even if you didn’t give the steps, just knowing I’m not the only one who’s feeling that way is encouraging. Loved the post!

    Laurel Staples - 5 years ago

    Hi Tony! Thanks for your comment! So glad you liked the article. It can feel outright depressing sometimes when you’re business isn’t matching up with the perfect vision you have in your head. But I think knowing that other people have been there and pulled through is definitely encouraging.

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