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Over the last decade, the U.S. has seen unprecedented growth in the private sector as compared to large companies. The number of smaller companies grew 79 percent from 2000 to 2010. The number of larger companies decreased 2 percent for the same period.

Despite all this growth in the middle market, many if not most of its companies will stagnate or go out of business. Statistics show that only 1 in 10 will ever grow larger than 100 employees and 7 out of 10 will eventually disappear. Why?

Emerging middle-market companies tend to falter when they reach “No Man’s Land,” the phase of development where their growth slows or stops for a variety of reasons:

  • MARKET – the management team struggles to do for customers what the founder had successfully done by himself or herself in the company’s early days.
  • MANAGEMENT – the company has been unable to develop a high-capability management team that can take the business to the next level.
  • MODEL – the company does not have a profitable economic model at a higher level of volume, and has not created infrastructure to support growth to compete with larger companies.
  • MONEY – the company does not have capital to fund its anticipated level of growth.

Companies can often move past the stagnation of “No Man’s Land” with a 5-step approach:

Step 1: Engage Your Management Team with Probing Questions

Assess where you are today and where you want to go:

  • Where is the business today? Why is it where it is? Is the team satisfied?
  • Where does the business go from here?
  • Is it on track to get there? What resources or tools are needed?
  • What do our newer customers need and expect from us that’s different from what our original customers expected?

Step 2: Adopt a Market-Driven Approach

Companies can often avoid stagnation by adopting clear and precise growth strategies.

Too often it takes a crisis such as the loss of a major client to force this to happen. Consultants are brought in, people are replaced, costs are cut, and more mistakes are made — which tends to produce a result opposite to what was intended.

Companies that eventually reach the next level of growth generally follow three rules:

  1. All teams within the company (top management, R&D, finance, marketing, service, and production) adopt an urgent customer-focused strategy to stem the loss of clients or the perception of bad service.
  2. The company gets objective information that provides perspective and insight about the company’s position and prospects in its market. Internal finger-pointing, disillusionment, and failure to acknowledge responsibility are fatal.
  3. Using this information, the team changes the direction of the company and refocuses on the customer.

Step 3: Adopt a New Growth Strategy

Many companies fail to adapt their product-and-service mix and business model to meet the challenge of producing growth. Often they have a product that is selling well but they fail to innovate and find that a new competitor has taken over the market. New growth strategies are needed, including:

  • Core Strategy – a basic strategy to expand your core product offering either geographically or to new customers and markets.
  • Adjacency Strategy – are there “adjacent” areas around the company’s core products or services that are natural extensions of the core?
  • Extension Strategy – Strategies that reach beyond natural adjacencies to variations or extensions of the company’s products or services that might position the company for growth.
  • New Market Strategy – consider entering new markets through new models like alliances, channels, partnerships, mergers or acquisitions, or even franchising your product or service.

Step 4: Consider New Ways to Finance Your Business

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About Michael Evans

Michael Evans is Managing Director for the Newport Board Group, a partnership of board directors and senior executive leaders with deep knowledge of business strategy, operations, and capital markets. Previous to Newport, Michael L. Evans had been with Ernst & Young since 1977 and served as a partner since 1984. During his 34 years with the firm, he served as a tax, audit and consulting services partner, specializing in real estate companies and publicly traded entities. Michael served as the firm’s Global Director of the Real Estate and Construction Industry from 1988 to 1998, serving many of the largest international real estate organizations in the U.S. and the world. Michael is a frequent writer on business topics and has authored two books. He can be reached at (415) 990-1844 or via email at mievans@msn.com.


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