Stagnated water is gross. It doesn’t flow; it just sits there getting smelly and attracting bacteria. A stagnated business is even worse because we’re talking about your future. Something is wrong — your business isn’t growing, you’re not attracting new customers, you’re not trying out new products or new approaches for old products.

Business Stagnation Definition

Small business owners are the busiest people in the world. You work long hours, and you work hard. Your eyes are always on the bottom line. You're constantly at the ready to put out fires, like a shipment not arriving on time or a couple of crucial employees quitting at the same time.

With all of the daily demands, it’s not surprising that you can lose sight of the bigger picture, and before you know it, business stagnation has crept in. When a business has stagnated, it has stopped growing and innovating. Stagnation doesn’t necessarily mean your business is failing. Your business can be stagnated and still making an income for you.

However, stagnation is a huge red flag. If your business isn’t evolving and adapting, you’re setting yourself up for stagnation that can lead to failure. If you haven’t added any new products or services for years, your business could be stagnating. If the words “that’s the way we always do it” come out of your mouth or even enter your thoughts, your business is stagnating.

Complacency Can Cause Business Stagnation

Stagnation synonyms are "dullness", "stasis" and "sluggishness," none of which are good for anyone or anything. Some reasons behind business stagnation are:

  • Complacency
  • Burnout
  • Depression

If your business is doing well, it’s easy to become complacent about it. Why fix what isn’t broken? The problem with this attitude is that while your business remains the same, everything around it is changing.

The economy changes, your market changes and new competitors arrive on the scene. Existing competitors come up with new products or services. While you’re standing still, they’re coming up with creative new ways to attract more of the market they share with you.

Stagnation From Burnout or Depression

Burnout is the arch enemy of the small business owner. Most of us thrive on running our own show, or we wouldn’t have opened our own business in the first place, but it can get lonely at the top. Being responsible for everything is exhausting.

Burnout can precede depression, or things going on in your personal life might lead to depression. One of the most common symptoms of depression is inertia. When we’re depressed, we can barely do what’s minimally required of us each day.

Even thoughts of change and innovation can feel like thoughts of climbing Mount Everest — without sherpas and without supplemental oxygen.

Ways to Beat Business Stagnation

If your business has stagnated, you need to first understand why. If you’ve become complacent and you’re not close to retiring, you’ll need to inject some energy and new ideas into your business. Joining groups and forums for small business owners can help immensely. For starters, look into entrepreneur coaching, subscribe to Entrepreneur and check out Lifehack as well as your local branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Burnout can happen when the demands placed on you and the ones you place on yourself consistently outweigh your ability to handle them. If you’re like most small business owners, the last thing you can imagine doing is taking time away from your business to refuel, but that’s exactly what you have to do.

Give yourself a spa day. Start scheduling one half day off during the week. During your massage or free afternoon, think about what you can delegate, and do it. If you’re depressed, run — don’t walk — to your doctor’s office. Medication can help. Counseling is a good idea too.

How to Prevent Stagnation

As a small business owner, you have to stay agile. You should be implementing changes and updates before they’re needed. Let employees and customers know that you want to hear from them – what they like about your business, what they don’t like, what products they think you should carry or what services they think you should offer.

Once a year, ask yourself, "If I were starting my business today, what would I do differently?" Keep a close eye on the competition and what’s going on politically and economically. Be like Jack who jumps over the candlestick: nimble and quick.

Be open to change. Change is exciting. It creates pressures, but it can also help prevent burnout. Even if you’re doing well now, that doesn’t mean it will continue, and it will definitely not continue if you allow your business to stagnate.