The 5 Subtle Changes Thriving Business Owners Make To Overcome The 6-Figure Ceiling

Look, it’s not too hard to see how your business can (and does) earn $100,000 more in revenue per year.

Whether you’re a coach, a financial professional, a trainer, a consultant, or a marketer, the path to that milestone is pretty straight forward. You need to book 10 clients at $850/month, sell 100 seats in a $1000 program, close 4 $25,000 consulting deals — or whatever math works for your business.

I have found in my decade of experience watching small business owners grow and run their businesses that those who set that goal can create a plan to hit it — and many end up doing just that. Many continue to grow past that mark…

…and those businesses tend to plateau around $200–300,000 per year.

Let’s call that the 6-Figure Ceiling.

The exact numbers might differ but most business owners run into a point where their goals for growth outpace the way they’ve been running their businesses.

The 6-Figure Ceiling is incredibly frustrating because it feels like you should just be able to do more of the same to get more results. It can also feel frustrating because your results are already so good that you’re hesitant to push for more.

And, the 6-Figure Ceiling can feel frustrating because you can spot it before it even happens. You can see it coming… and not know how to get past it. You look at the numbers and you just run out of room to grow.

At this point, you’re doing everything (or most things) right: you’ve started to hire some help, you’re planning in advance, you’re having the necessary sales conversations, you’re documenting processes.

And yet, busting through that 6-figure ceiling feels elusive.

I’ve watched so many business owners struggle at this point.

So I made it my goal to watch for the patterns that emerge among those who stay stuck and those who bust through. I interact with them on a daily basis in our small business owner network. I’ve interviewed over 150 of them on our podcast. I facilitate conversations between them in small groups and I watch with an eagle eye anytime a business owner I know makes a move.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

While the solutions to the 6-Figure Ceiling vary, they tend to involve 5 key changes to how they think about, plan for, and manage their businesses.

These 5 key changes end up solving nagging problems in the businesses — in addition to providing the path past the 6-Figure Ceiling.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. They change their perception of what’s valuable.

Before the 6-Figure Ceiling, a business owner can base the value of their offers on access to them, projects that are designed or managed by them, or support that is offered by them. People pay for a piece of the special sauce as only the owner can provide — whether that’s in Q&A calls, coaching, project design or oversight, or some other aspect of you that is actively baked into your offer.

The thing is: your special sauce doesn’t require you. Despite what you’ve probably been told to this point.

Your special sauce is a process, a procedure, a framework, a set of guidelines, or an approach. You should be able to train someone else in how it is used and they should, in turn, be able to train another person.

Cathy Heller, the founder of Catch The Moon Music, didn’t assume she was the most gifted songwriter in the world. She realized that there was a pattern to the way advertising agencies used songs in commercials or studios used them in movies.

She worked to understand that pattern and turn it into a process she could use to close deal after deal after deal — and teach other songwriters to do the same thing.

What makes your special sauce valuable isn’t you. What makes it valuable is that it works.

A personal touch may be an important part of what you offer — but it doesn’t have to be your personal touch.

Now, if you’ve based your business on how valuable others perceive you to be, this is a tricky transition to make. It’ll take time, lots of reprogramming, and some solid messaging.

But it’s absolutely a transition worth making.

2. They change their attachment to outcomes.

Most business owners who thrive at creating products and services do so because they’re obsessed with getting their clients results. That’s good!

You can maintain your obsession with results. But you can’t be attached to them to bust through the 6-Figure Ceiling.

Business owners who are attached to outcomes are quick to assume that they’re the problem, that the process is broken, or that the product isn’t perfect enough. The result is that they end up over-delivering time and time again.

Over-delivering ends up clogging up their capacity to bring in new business or even reconsider how their business model works. It puts unnecessary burden on a system that can and does work on its own.

Thriving business owners stay obsessed with results but instead of being attached to outcomes, they’re attached to a process.

For instance, instead of Jess Ostroff, founder of Don’t Panic Management, attaching herself to the outcomes of relationships between the clients who hire Don’t Panic and the virtual assistants she connects them with, she relies on a process:

“That’s why we have this red-yellow-green system. I might say: Sally is so nice and she really needs our help. And Jen, my colleague, will say: yes, but did you see those 10 red flags? We gave her a yellow and now she’s a red. She’s not a good fit for us. It makes it easier for me to say no with objective ranking factors in place.”

They and their teams trust a process — not so much that it can’t be improved upon — but enough that they know that working the process is the key to results. And, they feel confident that, when outcomes don’t come, there is something else going on.

They can look for the source of the problem without feeling personally attacked or responsible.

3. They change their identity from doer to leader.

I’m going to guess that you’re already familiar with this change. You’ve been working at it.

Still, you get hung up on taking the reins of each new project or wild idea. After all, you’re someone who eats project plans for breakfast.

Business owners who bust through the 6-Figure Ceiling learn to turn their default mode from doer to leader. They look to others first (more on that in the next section) to get things done.

They’re generous with their time but cautious of their mental bandwidth.

They’re willing to “get dirty” when necessary but realize that it’s rarely actually necessary.

Charlie Gilkey, who along with his wife Angela Wheeler, co-founded the consulting firm Productive Flourishing, knows when his labor is necessary and when his leadership is necessary. And, he lets his team remind him of when he oversteps his bounds so he stays in the role that’s most beneficial to the whole team.

Thriving business owners allow themselves — what feels like — the luxury of actually leading. They set and maintain a vision. They help team members give meaning and purpose to boots-on-the-ground work.

Most importantly, their team starts to look to them for leadership, not management.

4. They change the way they assign work to their team members.

As your business grows, it seems like delegation is the holy grail of scaling. The more you delegate, the more you can accomplish.

Everywhere you look, there’s an old task that can be delegated to someone else.

Then, at the end of the day, you realize that all the work you’ve just delegated comes back to you in the form of Slack messages, emails, Asana tasks, and meetings for approval. You’re inundated with the product of your delegation — and suddenly, doing it all yourself starts to feel like a better option… again!

Delegation helps you get a handle on your own workload as your business starts to grow. But it won’t get you past the 6-Figure Ceiling.

Thriving business owners learn to assign ownership to team members.

They hire people who can see a project through from start to finish. They trust their team members to make decisions on the work they own. Their team members identify how the work they do is tied to the goals the business is working toward and make adjustments accordingly.

Jaime Masters, founder of Eventual Millionaire and creator of OwnerBox, makes sure her team members aren’t just owning their work but loving their jobs in the process. She says:

“The goal is to level up the things that they do best so that they can feel in flow and love their job.”

This is can be a difficult change not only for the business owner but also for team members. Until you hire people who are used to making decisions and taking ownership of their work, your team members will continue to come to you for approval, decision-making, and adjustments.

Your job through this transition is to constantly point them back to their own judgment.

5. They learn to gather information from new sources.

Busting through the 6-Figure Ceiling is an act of self-reliance. It’s an opportunity to trust yourself, your decision-making, and your ability to change the way you do business — and still succeed.

There are plenty of blueprints, frameworks, and formulas for turning a new business into one that generates $100,000 or more per year. There are far fewer for reliably turning a $100k business into a $1,000,000 business.

I can’t tell you exactly what steps you need to take to get to where you want to go. Likely, no one can. Your path is your own.

That means that you need to find new sources of information and inspiration. You need to find new people to challenge your assumptions and notice the flaws in your plans. You need to hear what other people are up to and what they’re working on so that you can create new awareness of your own challenges, obstacles, and goals.

I asked Mike McDerment, who turned his experience starting a design and marketing agency into the wildly successful Freshbooks, how he learned to run a company of Freshbooks’ size. He replied:

What gives you so much confidence I’ve got it figured out? You’re right. It’s a very scary thing… perhaps one of the most rewarding things has been the forced learning curve as a leader I’ve had to go on to figure out the rest of this stuff.

The things that have helped me along the way are, first of all, a passion for what we’re doing and why we do it so I could change not only the business but myself. And then it’s who you surround yourself with.

There are plenty of people who are making it happen — and have made it happen — and the good news is that people working towards turning their fledgling 6-figure business into a thriving 7-figure company are incredibly generous.

They want to share what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. They love talking shop with other thriving business owners that “get it.” They trade notes whenever they can.

Yet, it can be difficult to connect to these people — your peers — when you’re making these changes.

Here at CoCommercial, we’ve made it our goal to connect business owners so they can work together on challenges like busting through the 6-Figure Ceiling.

In 2019, we’re doing that with the Venture Mastermind & Retreat. We’ll help find people who have the experience and insight you need, provide a space for you to connect with them, and facilitate game-changing conversations about the changes I’ve outlined in this post.

Plus, we’ll all meet up in Whitefish, Montana for a one-of-a-kind business retreat.

If this sounds like exactly what you’ve been looking for, click here to learn more or get in touch with us to see if it’s a perfect fit.


Tara McMullin is on a mission to turn today’s small business owners into tomorrow’s economic powerhouses. She’s the founder of CoCommercial, a platform for helping small business owners work together to overcome daily challenges, solve big problems, and achieve even bigger goals. She’s also the host of What Works, a podcast that takes you behind the scenes of successful small businesses and shows you what’s working in marketing, operations, time management, product development, and more.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

Read More

How To Create A Plan To Grow Your Small Business in 2022

How To Create A Plan To Grow Your Small Business in 2022

So you want to grow your small business in 2022? Awesome! But... how exactly do you do that? In the past, I would have tackled this from a purely marketing standpoint. I would have written about developing new relationships, growing your audience, and creating more...

Sometimes You Have To Break What’s Not Broken

Sometimes You Have To Break What’s Not Broken

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes “break” things just to have something to do. Everything is going along nicely but, instead of accepting the good for what it is, I pick a fight or cause a problem or just generally create...

Why Clarifying The Vision For Your Business Matters Today

Why Clarifying The Vision For Your Business Matters Today

I'm a Trekkie. I grew up immersed in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I devoured Deep Space Nine and Voyager. And while I'm not as up-to-date with the more recent incarnations, Star Trek is still an important part of my identity. Quick aside: I suspected Sean--my...

What Works offers in-depth, well-researched content that strips away the hype of the 21st-century economy. Whether you love the podcast, the articles, or the Instagram content, we’d love your support