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How to avoid becoming a “zombie business”

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According to recent research from Barclays, SMEs hit a growth ceiling after four years, and data from Begbies Traynor reveals that as many as one in seven UK businesses are ‘zombie companies’, barely generating enough cash to service the interest on their debts. So how can business owners avoid this stagnation and drive growth?

1. Who are your customers?

This is a question that all businesses would hopefully be able to answer confidently.

Many businesses spend a lot of time perfecting their product or service, asking their customers for their opinion and then marketing to what they believe people want. But as Steve Jobs famously said, people often don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

It’s therefore vital to dig deeper and truly understand who your customer is, what pressures they are under and what you can do to help them. Once you know this, you can then think about how you best implement the solution.

2. Don’t bottle it up

Remember to keep communicating with your team, rather than keeping worries to yourself.

The people ‘in the trenches’ doing the day to day work will have a good overview of what your customers are doing and may have ideas for driving the business forward.

As the business leader, it’s important to be open to new ideas and new slants on existing processes, products or services, as well as welcoming challenges, to allow the business to grow and evolve.

3. Work on, not in, your business

Always allocate time to step back and get an aerial view of your business. It’s easy to forget to do this, and to get stuck in with the day-to-day activity to try and drive sales.

However without the time to focus on your overall aims and strategy this can actually dig the business into a bigger hole.

4. Innovate

Many people assume that innovation and R&D are limited to businesses in the technology field.

However the truth is that companies of all shapes and sizes should give themselves space to think creatively. Giving people of all levels this creative freedom not only feeds internal ideas but motivates staff too.

5. Seek professional advice

Talking to an external coach or advisor for guidance or ideas can be invaluable for business leaders who find themselves stuck in a growth rut.

They can help with identifying the root of the problem but also provide targeted training on leadership, innovation, accessing finance or business development.

Focussing your attention on these key points will allow you to see the bigger picture and hopefully find solutions to start your business on the path to growth.

Edward Brewer is head of business development coaching at GrowthAccelerator.

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