13 Biggest Bottlenecks That Keep Your Business from Growing

Author's avatar Analytics UPDATED May 29, 2024 PUBLISHED Sep 21, 2023 15 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    Bottlenecks in business are like playing whac-a-mole.

    No matter how many moles you hit, there’s another one showing up always. With production and project management too, short-term and long-term troubles are common – slowing processes and annoying you.

    Want help identifying common bottles that slow businesses from growing? We’ve got the expert take on the matter for you.

    So, here’s what you’ll learn today:


    Dive in.

    What Is a Bottleneck?

    Bottlenecks in business are clogs in the work pipeline that slow down day-to-day production. These surface for two main reasons – either there’s an increase in the bottleneck’s output’s demand or the bottleneck is inefficient in itself.

    For instance, let’s say on Mother’s Day, you get more sales than expected – thanks to the whopping discount you offer. As a result, your website breaks or starts acting up for certain users. This is a bottleneck caused due to increase in the problem itself.

    On the flip side, if there’s a consistently poor-performing employee, your bottleneck is because of an inefficient bottleneck itself.

    Experts say 58.33% of the bottlenecks are due to inefficiency of the bottleneck step with 41.67% sharing that bottlenecks are often because of the increased input of the bottlenecked step.

    Cause of bottlenecks in business

    Plus, business bottlenecks can show up in any department, impacting its performance and subsequent output.

    According to our respondents, most bottlenecks, 22% each, show up in marketing and project management. 19.4% of the business bottles occur in operations management with the sales department seeing 16.7% of the clogs.

    What’s more, 5.6% of the bottlenecks occur in customer support with 13.9% showing in other departments.

    Departments that most often face business bottlenecks

    Due to the friction the bottlenecks create, business progress slows – often resulting in upset employees too. The impact of long-term bottlenecks is greater than short-term ones though.

    In fact, 52.8% of our respondents agree that long-term bottlenecks in business have the greatest impact on growth. These are bottlenecks that occur regularly, leaving a recurring impact. For example, a production machine consistently performs sub-optimally, slowing production.

    On the other hand, 47.2% of our contributors say short-term clogs in the pipeline impact business growth. Essentially, short-term bottlenecks are ones that occur once in a while such as an employee on a leave or a delay in quarterly content planning.

    Types of bottlenecks in business - short term and long term bottlenecks

    So, how can you identify bottlenecks?

    Essentially, when there’s a delay in the process or project whether in terms of the starting time or in terms of the delivery, you can tell there’s a bottleneck.

    At the same time, if there’s a consistently loaded backlog, you can spot a bottleneck. The same is true when the team is stressed or members are burning out back to back.

    Put simply, all these symptoms can be broadly divided into qualitative and quantitative ways of detecting bottlenecks in business.

    Of these, 55.56% of our experts analyze qualitative data such as piled work and increased stress levels. 44.44%, however, look to quantitative data such as checking business dashboards to pinpoint bottlenecks.

    How do you detect business bottlenecks?

    Different Types of Bottlenecks

    With that, let’s look at the different types of bottlenecks:

    • The owner. Oftentimes, the owner fails to adjust with the changing requirements of the industry or customers’ demands. Or, they might stick to their old ways of work.
    • Leadership. An empathetic leadership that focuses on human resources and employee wellness alongside business growth is essential for progress. Without it, the leadership can turn into a bottleneck itself.
    • Growing sales team. A small sales team with a lot of growing workload is another prime example of a bottleneck. The team not comprising of employees with the right skillset is another example.
    • Training and development. Employees not having the right skills or correct training can also result in a bottleneck. Bottlenecks also emerge when your team isn’t fully trained at using the needed tech or you don’t have a standard training process in place.  
    • Operational processes. Inefficiency in a workflow or department pipeline leads to operational bottlenecks. Left unaddressed, these can have start leaving impacts on other department progress.
    • Systems and technology. Not effectively using tech and software to maximize productivity and performance can lead to more bottlenecks.
    • In-house capacity. Growing demand often leads to this issue. Overloading employees causes bottlenecks in itself. Hence, knowing your maximum capacity is essential.
    • Productivity. Not using productivity-boosting software tools such as dashboards, project managers, and more can hinder growth as well.
    • New business mechanisms. With new tools, workflows/processes, and software it’s essential business review performance before fully implementing them. Otherwise, using the tool or trying to stick with the new process can also cause bottlenecks.

    Related: 9 Cost Reduction Techniques for Growing Businesses

    13 Common Bottlenecks That Keep Your Business from Growing

    Now let’s look at bottlenecks that other businesses have encountered and how they managed them.

    Keep in mind that all of our respondents shared that they’ve experienced bottlenecks at one point or another. So if you’re thinking you won’t encounter them – think again.

    Here’s a list of bottlenecks that others have dealt with:

    1. Learning to be a leader
    2. Learning to delegate
    3. Having a lack of process
    4. Unclear communication
    5. Failure to acknowledge the problem itself
    6. Lack of employee training and development
    7. Taking on too many processes
    8. Shortage of staff
    9. Spikes in workload
    10. Scaling operations with increased sales
    11. Lack of technical knowledge
    12. Recruitment issues
    13. Scaling online presence

    1. Learning to be a leader

    This goes back to our point on how leadership can be a bottleneck. Kevin McGuire from Metro Precision Painting shares, “the biggest bottleneck I’ve encountered would have to be learning how to be a leader.”

    “Like a lot of first-time entrepreneurs, I thought I’d be a great boss and simply delegate tasks,” McGuire admits. “This has not been the case. Learning how to lead a team has been one of my biggest obstacles since I started my business two years ago.”

    Some questions and doubts that McGuire had were:

    • “How do you lead without being a micromanager?
    • How do you make sure everyone knows what is expected of them?
    • How do you let people fail and yet learn from those failures, without letting it stop the company from moving forward?”

    So how did McGuire overcome this bottleneck? “In terms of solving this issue, I’ve been reading a lot of books on leadership concepts and I’ve been really lucky to have some great mentors in my life. They’ve helped me a ton with problem-solving and adapting what works for my business.”

    “A big thing that really helped me was going into our weekly staff meetings with a plan,” adds McGuire.

    “I give each member of my team a week’s worth of goals that they need to accomplish, based on the larger strategic plan we have set out together. That way, they start thinking about what they need to get done early on so there is less back and forth at the end of the week. It’s great to see how much they have grown from being responsible for their own tasks.”

    2. Learning to delegate

    Although delegation is an essential way to boost productivity, it’s never easy to execute. Identifying the right person to delegate the work to and clearly communicating the job to the person are two common hurdles.

    “It doesn’t matter how good you are, there is a limit to your abilities,” comments Zeitholz’s Sam Santa. “You may take up most of the work on your own, believing that no one else can perform as much as you but this is only true until your business begins to grow rapidly.”

    “At that point, you need to stop thinking about doing everything yourself and start delegating responsibilities to maintain the efficiency of your operations,” Santa writes.

    Related: Improve Marketing Agency Operational Efficiency with These 17 Tips & Software

    “This doesn’t just involve finding the right people to do the job, but also entrusting them with the opportunities they need to do their job. By choosing delegation over micromanagement, you encourage a healthy work culture, you’re growing your business in a healthy way.”

    3. Having a lack of process

    “One of the biggest issues that we found growing our company was a lack of process,” admits Sasha Matviienko of Citadel.

    Admittedly, not having a well-defined, optimized process often slows things down. You might even miss an important step in the process, impacting the overall product/service quality.

    “As a service provider, our main objective is to make sure our clients are happy,” Matviienko highlights. “However, in order to scale the efforts, you need to standardize your delivery so that you can better train employees and streamline the process. For us overcoming the lack of process issue was a real bottleneck that prevented our business growth.”

    Wondering how to create your own processes? Sit with your team and write down every step involved in the process. Then, work out which of the steps are unnecessary and how you can optimize others.

    Once done, create a checklist and a process map so everyone knows what their responsibility is and when they’re to play their part in the workflow.

    4. Unclear communication

    This can be a serious bottleneck.

    At Relic, in particular, Adam Stoker shares “the biggest bottleneck in our business has been the difficulty in making sure that context is transferred in its entirety when information changes hands between multiple people and departments.”

    To solve this, Stoker outlines they’ve “implemented training guides and processes to ensure smooth transitions within projects.”

    Besides, documenting processes using nothing more than Google Docs and Loom videos can help improve communication, context-setting, and productivity on the whole.

    Related: 10 Agile Marketing Leaders Quadrupled Their Productivity With These Exact Steps

    5. Failure to acknowledge the problem itself

    Dripped Coffee’s Krista Haws notes, “being in denial about processes that don’t seem to work” is a serious bottleneck. After all, when you can see the problem, you can’t solve it.

    “A common bottleneck in any business is the failure to acknowledge that a business process has failed to accomplish its set targets,” explains Haws.

    “Most businesses put to work solutions that seem workable and optimal at first. However, not all of them are sustainable in the long run. Even after several rounds of trials and errors, the logical course of action would be to accept that the process isn’t delivering the desired results and take a new approach.”

    “But few businesses will proactively work out ways to do away with the solution that is now a problem,” writes Haws. A few reasons why this happens according to Haws are:

    • “A fear of acknowledging failure
    • The lack of alternative solutions to replace an existing one
    • A lack of commitment to undergo short-term inconveniences in favor of long-term solutions”

    A simple yet effective solution here is to get your team’s input on how well a process is working. If problem-identifying is left to one person, there’s almost always the risk of that person brushing off the issue for later or not seeing its shortcomings at all.

    6. Lack of employee training and development

    “The most important bottleneck that I have encountered in my business was the lack of training and development of employees,” pinpoints Steve Anevski from UpShift Work.

    “This has drastically impacted my business as the quality of customer service began to decline.”

    Luckily, Anevski shares they’ve resolved the issue by implementing the following strategy:

    “We set clear values and expectations before hiring and onboarding an employee. Before the training sessions began, I classified the supervisors according to the value they would add to the program.”

    “I have also implemented an open-door policy that allowed new employees to communicate with me effectively in case of any queries,” Anevski adds.

    “With an effective training program in place, we have seen an improvement in customer satisfaction which has inevitably helped us increase our revenue for the quarter.”

    7. Taking on too many processes

    Simply put, this can be confusing for employees and a bit like micromanaging them. Even so, Stephen Light of Nolah Mattress explains, “A common business bottleneck occurs when a company tries to take on too many processes.”

    “New systems can be very helpful to businesses, but they should be chosen wisely and sparingly,” Light advises.

    “If you pile on too many processes in the hope that more is better, these tools that are meant to be helpful will end up being confusing and will inevitably cause communication bottlenecks.”

    “To fix this issue, businesses need to streamline and cut back on any unnecessary processes. Communication between departments will strengthen, and any inefficiency should resolve,” suggests Light.

    8. Shortage of staff

    In particular, at FishingBooker, there was a lack of developers, reveals Joris Zantvoort.

    “This was a chronic challenge for us, as we had talented people with great ideas working at our company, but not enough developing power to implement even half of our desired initiatives,” Zantvoort elaborates.

    “The tech sector in Serbia, where we are based, has been rapidly growing over the past 5-10 years, which has contributed to a lack of skilled programmers available at an affordable rate for startups and small businesses.”

    “However, we’ve mostly resolved this bottleneck in the past 1-2 years, by doing personal outreach to potential candidates, offering referral bonuses to existing employees, and providing strong benefits and a supportive company culture, among other things.”

    Not to mention, you can outsource work to freelance developers. To smoothen the process, find the best ones and retain them so that the handful of freelancers you work with know your business and its requirements very well.

    Related: How to Grow a Digital Marketing Agency: 20 Tried and True Strategies From Marketing Experts

    9. Spikes in workload

    “Most commonly, bottlenecks in my digital marketing agency occur when there’s a spike in client numbers and the subsequent amount of work necessary to deliver the results that we promised,” shares Mladen Maksic of Play Media.

    “However, it’s not just the spikes that are the issue. Usually, bottlenecks occur when spikes in workload coincide with training and overseeing of junior team members,” details Maksic “That’s when our senior members begin to suffer the consequences of excessive responsibilities and when we need to readjust our approach.”

    Now to deal with this short-term bottleneck, Maksic shares they solve things by “prioritizing the brunt of the new workload while allowing junior members to take on tasks appropriate to their skill level.”

    “Instead of just training, they get hands-on experience that’s quite important at that stage” Maksic observes.  

    “At the same time, our senior team members do the most demanding tasks and give them their fullest attention. Once the abrupt increase in the workload subsides, we go back to training and teaching.”

    10. Scaling operations with increased sales

    “The biggest bottleneck for us would be scaling up operations with increased sales,” according to Invalshoek.nl’s Andy Hoek.

    “The more clients we have the bigger the workload becomes for operations, which means we have to improve processes and find the right people for operations,” Hoek says.  

    Related: 9 Ways Agency Reporting Can Help Create Transparency with Clients and Boost Client Retention

    “The HR part can be especially difficult because it takes time before a new hire becomes effective in their role. This can also be a financial risk because we need to invest in operations before we see the revenue from the new clients.”

    11. Lack of technical knowledge

    This boils down to hiring the right people with the needed skillset. “A lack of technical knowledge among sales, marketing, and management, apart from the technical team, makes it challenging for top management to decide how to resolve it,” notes Janil Jean of Logo Design.

    “This can undermine the business’ productivity and conversion rate,” Jean continues.

    “So far, we have managed to resolve it by proactively pursuing technical team members to educate others in the organization. Nevertheless, it is an ongoing process, and can’t be neglected under any circumstances.”

    If you’re facing such a bottleneck in your business, you can also organize training workshops for your workplace.

    12. Recruitment

    “The biggest/most important bottleneck that prevents us from growing faster is recruitment,” Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray points out. “Finding and hiring the right staff who has the skills we’re looking for is challenging and time-consuming.”

    Paul Purczel from Ace Business says they’ve experienced the same bottleneck. “We have found that finding appropriate staff has been the largest long-term bottleneck in the business.”

    “We’ve spoken to many other professionals in our industry and found that many businesses were in the same boat,” Purczel goes on.

    “Finding staff that is not only qualified but also have a sound knowledge of the Australian Taxation System, has been a bottleneck. The reason this is a bottleneck is that to grow as a business we must make sure that we provide excellent service to our existing clients, but to expand we would need to have additional staff to meet the capacity of the new work.”

    “To solve this, we implemented a new way to hire people,” Aufray shares. “Instead of just relying on job posting on LinkedIn, working with recruitment agencies or freelance websites, what we do is trying to recruit internally.”

    Here’s how: “Whenever a position is available, we ask our team members first to know if they know someone they already have worked with, that they can vouch for and who could be interested in joining our team. We found a lot of team members this way and it has been working like a charm for us.”

    Additionally, growing your network helps. Once you put out the word for new positions you’re looking for, you’d be surprised by the great recommendations that trusted folks in your circle share.

    At Ace Business too, word of mouth has been helpful. Says Purczel “we’ve recently found another amazing staff member through word of mouth, and she is already showing a fantastic understanding of the tax system and excellent logical thinking. This is allowing us to look towards taking on further clients.”

    13. Scaling online presence

     “An often forgotten bottleneck for a business that is experiencing rapid growth is the inability to scale its online presence to match its traffic, reputation, and expectations,” highlights Organik Web’s, Ben Thomson.

    “When users and potential customers start to encounter issues and a poor online experience, it reflects poorly on the business,” explains Thomson.

    “Many businesses that hit a boost in customers, unfortunately, do not keep their online presence to the same standard as their key service offerings. Therefore, we always recommend that businesses have a plan in place in the event of a sudden surge in traffic.”

    “As website developers, this means that their online business website is built with a scalable core that can be promptly updated and improved should it be needed,” Thomson recommends.


    Identify And Overcome Bottlenecks In Business Today

    With this list of common bottlenecks in business, we’re sure you’ve made a mental note of things you suspect are already issues or can be in the future.

    However, the key is to remember that identifying bottlenecks using tools like a business dashboard software is equally as important as resolving them.

    Want to make sure no bottleneck slips your vigilance? Use Databox dashboards to track progress for ongoing projects and one-off campaigns.

    If your dashboard shows things aren’t going as planned, you can intervene to inspect the hurdle(s). Doing so can save you from trouble in the long haul.

    So sign up for Databox for free now.

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    Article by
    Masooma Memon

    Masooma is a freelance writer for SaaS and a lover to-do lists. When she's not writing, she usually has her head buried in a business book or fantasy novel.

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