The Secret to Getting Off the Small Business Roller Coaster Ride

Apr 25, 2012, Written by Sue Miley

I talk to so many small business owners who ride the roller coaster in every aspect of their business.

You know what I mean.

When sales start booming it is too late to staff up or even outsource in most cases.  It is almost like a tsunami.  And the thing with a small business is that the flood could be caused by one really big project or one new major client.  When you are small, high percentage growth rates are not all that surprising.

When this blessing happens…you know, the one you were praying for and working your self to death for, during the past year or so.

Well when it happens, you and all of your resources are immediately absorbed.

Do You Have The Resources To Climb The Hill?

You do not have enough people, enough space, enough cash flow, and absolutely not enough time!

The whole (albeit small) team comes in each day and starts doing, doing, doing…..

Is it the most efficient process?

Is everyone communicating to each other?

Are your systems in place so you can invoice timely?

I bet you aren’t sure, because you aren’t using the systems you do have……

You are in production mode.  You are making customers happy!


Are You Burning Out Yourself and Your Resources on Each Incline?

And hopefully you aren’t burning out yourself or your people.

The problem with this blessing is that soon enough the extra projects are complete.  Things slow down.

At first, you are actually thankful.  Now I will have time to re-group.  Tidy things up a bit.  Rest.  We all need a short breather.

The rest is well-deserved but stretches out a bit.  That is until the receivables are all collected and you start to worry about new revenue coming in.

And thus begins the work toward the uphill climb of the roller coaster again.

How To Get Off The Roller Coaster

But things can be different.  They really can.  It will be hard.  It will take some extra hours.  There may not seem like a direct correlation with sales to all of the effort you will be putting in.  But there is a direct correlation.  It just lags a bit.

So, what am I talking about.  Here are the 3 things you must put in place, or plan for, to get off of the roller coaster.

1.  People

If you wait until you are slammed busy then you try to get it all done with the people you have or some business owners get desperate and hire whomever they can to fill the hole.

However, a bad hire is almost always worse than no hire.  And most of us have experienced that before.  So we just work longer hours and try to maintain our quality.

This is what will keep you from growing.

Either your work quality will suffer and you will actually decrease in sales due to dissatisfied customers or you will be at your ceiling, as your resources are at capacity, with no room for further growth.

The only way to grow and be prepared to do the work if the growth occurs, is to have people available to do it.

Added to the stress is that if someone quits during one of the busy cycles you are in even more trouble.

I know it is difficult and sometimes impossible to know which positions you will need and when you will really need them.  However, it is worth the investment if you want to maximize your business potential.

If you can’t hire someone, you can identify who you would want to hire once the boom hits again.  That is why it is important to always be recruiting (I mean always) in order to know who you will call when the roller coaster is on the sales upswing.


I would recommend that all small business owners draw out their organizational chart today and then again in one year, 3 years and 5 years if sales continue to grow.  What positions would you need first?  Who would you add?

2.  Systems

I know it seems crazy to set up a system for a team of one or two….but think about how easy it is to set up that system when you are small.  It gets much harder when you are in the busy mode and growing.

If you don’t really have a method of invoicing on a schedule, with standard rates, and a process that you can teach someone else quickly, put it in place now.

When you are super busy, and spending your money on payroll and supplies, it is quite stressful to not have invoices going out.

When you hire the new employee and you are too busy to communicate, much less train them, you are going to be wishing you had some policies and procedures documented that they can follow to get productive quickly.

Seriously, it isn’t right to hire someone, not train them, and then be frustrated when they aren’t providing much help.

Action:  Look at online cloud resources to help you communicate, manage projects, collaborate, keep time, create proposals, and invoice.  Some recommended resources are:  Online project management, customer response, and internal communication systems. Online time keeping app.  Online quote and proposal development app.

3.  Marketing

Marketing and sales needs to happen consistently throughout the year.  It is the best way to get out of the roller coaster business model.  That is if you have the people and systems to do consistently growing work.

The idea is to have sales in the pipeline so that when that big project or two is complete, you have new ones closing.

There is such a variety of marketing levels that can be employed to grow and sustain your business that it really depends on your business and needs.  The starting place is to put a plan in place with a regular schedule and outsource the execution and maintenance of the plan if this isn’t in your skill set or interest.

An example would be to have a consistent schedule of direct mail pieces sent on a monthly or quarterly basis.  Or it may be writing a blog on a weekly basis if informational marketing is what your business needs.

Action:  Develop a marketing plan.  Regardless of your budget, there are things you can do.  Social media is inexpensive except for the time it takes. But it can be automated greatly with the tools available these days.  Put the plan in place while you are in a slow time assuming it will work and you will soon be too busy to mess with it.

It’s Hard To Transform an Airplane When It Is In Flight

I had a mentor who used to always say “It’s hard to turn a prop plane into a jet when you are in flight.”  (We had some pretty aggressive goals back then!)

Honestly, the difficulty arises because we are trying to make all of this happen while we are on the roller coaster.

When we have business, we are working hard climbing the hill.  When it starts to come down we have such a sense of relief and a short-term feeling of exhilarating success that we don’t want to ruin it by putting all of these pieces in place.  We want to enjoy the ride for a bit.

Then we are at the bottom with no prospects in site.  So let’s face it, we get bummed out.  The “after the ride depression” sets in and we begin to worry we won’t have another hill and that the ride is over.

Plus we are tired.  We want to rest.

And so the story of the roller coaster goes.

You Control The Ride

But you don’t have to ride the roller coaster.  You can be different and put the foundational pieces of your business in place so that you control the ride!

Hard work?  Yes!

Worth it?  Absolutely!

Reader Interactions


  1. David Rupert says

    The bad hire IS worse than no hire. I’ve seen single people completely derail companies and yet we were just ‘so desparate’ to fill the position.

    And I love what you say about systems. Flying by the seat of your pants just doesnt cut it for the long term.

    • S_Miley says

      Thanks for your comments David. I know in hindsight it is always obvious that a bad hire is worse, but I also do have empathy for those in the NO hire phase because of the immediate stress. Having seen these situations play out exactly as you say, so many times, I just try to pray for people to hang on until the right person comes along. Thanks again.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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