You’ve overcome a lot of obstacles to become the executive you are today, but being a successful business leader means there will always be additional challenges ahead. Endless variations on problems you’ve dealt with before join unexpected new hurdles to keep you on your toes.

What difficulties do you need to be on the lookout for to keep your business and career running smoothly? We surveyed members of Forbes Councils — the collective of exclusive communities for leading executives and entrepreneurs — to find out. 

Here’s what we learned about the top five challenges faced by business executives.

We asked about respondents’ “greatest” challenge; some noted more than one challenge, so percentages do not add up to a total of 100.

Business Executives’ Greatest Challenge: Generating Revenue (26%)

The most-cited challenge for our Forbes Councils members was generating revenue. Whether seeking startup capital or consistency month-to-month, money is top of mind for today’s executives. Twenty-six percent of overall respondents, including 55% of sole proprietors (companies with only one employee), listed revenue and sales issues as their greatest business challenge, specifically noting:

  • Getting in front of the right people to pitch a business
  • Lead generation
  • Raising capital
  • Adding new clients
  • Bringing in business

Because money is a big deal for everyone in business, many Forbes Councils members have wisdom to share on this topic. Here are a few examples:

For aspiring entrepreneurs:

For those who are already in business and want to keep the sales flowing:

  • Caity Begg of Forbes New York Business Council recommends social selling — leveraging social media to personalize the sales process and decrease close time.
  • Jason Tropf of Forbes Communications Council offers a nine-point checklist for targeting high-revenue leads.
  • If you’re in a tight spot, Geanette Rodriguez-Ojeda of Forbes Finance Council suggests five strategies for managing a business with weak working capital.
  • Ryan van Biljon of Forbes Business Development Council outlines the “land and expand” strategy for driving revenue.

Business Executives’ Second Greatest Challenge: Time (22%)

Twenty-two percent of the leaders we surveyed said time was their greatest challenge. Time was especially problematic for members of Forbes Communications Council (36%) and Forbes Finance Council (33%); leaders just below the C-suite in  VP positions (29%), and financial services professionals (42%). Answers like the following emphasize the great need executives have for time to get things done:

  • Finding the time to complete all of the tasks I need to do
  • Managing my multiple commitments
  • Balancing corporate leadership role with building my own business
  • Making more time for original research and content creation
  • Carving out time to pursue additional continuing education endeavors
  • Managing priorities
  • Having lots of opportunities to make a difference but not enough hours in the day to pursue them all

So how can you know where to invest your precious hours? Here are some fantastic ideas from Forbes Councils experts:

Business Executives’ Third Greatest Challenge: Leadership (19%)

From building a team and shaping employees’ skills to getting stakeholder buy-in and honing the company culture, leading a team is always a challenge. Nineteen percent of Forbes Councils members said leadership issues were their greatest challenges, with many of those coming from the Forbes Human Resources Council (57%) and Forbes Nonprofit Council (50%). Leadership was also important in the minds of executives in companies with 51–500 employees (42%). A few specifics our respondents cited include:

  • Finding genuine and passionate people
  • Administration in a small business setting
  • Managing a global team
  • Balancing employee appreciation with what is best for the business
  • Finding ways [for] senior leaders to build enough self-awareness to work on themselves

If you’re concerned about hiring great talent and running your team smoothly, consider this advice from Forbes Councils members:

Business Executives’ Fourth Greatest Challenge: Growth/Strategy (18%)

Eighteen percent of Forbes Councils members noted growth and strategy issues as their greatest challenge. Their concerns related to scaling and expanding existing businesses, including the strategic evolution of the company’s mission, function, and policies. Not surprisingly, this challenge stood out for members of Forbes Business Development Council (40%), members of Forbes Nonprofit Council, (33%), and those with the title of either owner, founder, or director (20%).

Specific concerns included:

  • Scaling the business to the next level
  • Organic growth
  • National expansion
  • Entering new market sectors
  • Long-term strategy
  • Prioritizing and executing my many goals
  • Setting up strategic partners and affiliates
  • Evolving and adapting our organization
  • Achieving a precise vision of my market position

Could you use some tips on business strategies that support growth? Try these suggestions:

Business Executives’ Fifth Greatest Challenge: Marketing (17%)

To bring in that all-important revenue, you have to be seen. Seventeen percent of respondents were concerned about getting the word out; attracting attention and creating exposure for themselves and their companies and brands. Marketing especially stood out for professional trainers and coaches (34%), as well as small companies (26% of those who employ 2–10 staff). Specific concerns included:

  • Visibility
  • Adequately communicating our mission and work
  • Getting the word out about services
  • Being heard above the ‘noise’ in the virtual space
  • Getting the right exposure
  • Marketing and communications (on a tight budget)

In an ideal world, doing good work would automatically create attention. But in our information-overloaded society, even the best causes, products, and services have to continuously seek new ways to stand out.

How can you put your work in the spotlight? Here are some great ideas from Forbes Councils members:

Bonus: Breaking it Down

Wondering how the data breaks down? We parsed the data by dividing respondents into categories by: Forbes Council, industry, number of employees, and job title. You can see the results in the charts below.

Members of each Forbes Council had slightly different priorities. As you can see in the chart below, leadership was a prominent concern for members of Forbes Human Resources Council (with 57% of respondents citing it as their biggest challenge), Forbes Nonprofit Council (50%), and Forbes Technology Council (38%). Growth was most important overall for executives of Forbes Business Development Council (40%), but also concerned members of Forbes Nonprofit Council (33%) and Forbes Human Resources Council (29%).

Executive Challenges by Councils

Among our participants, several industries were well-represented, including computers and technology; marketing, advertising, and PR; professional training and coaching; real estate; and financial services. When we examined concerns within each of these industries, a few stood out. Time was by far the biggest challenge for financial services execs (42%), while leadership dominated for those working in tech (36%). Revenue and marketing (34% each) were at the top of the list for coaches.

Likewise, company size makes a difference. Sole proprietors were especially pressed for revenue (55%), while leadership was a big concern for executives in mid-size companies (42%).

Finally, job titles made some, but not an overwhelming, difference in priorities. For owners and founders of companies, revenue (28%) and time (23%) were most challenging. Leadership was a more significant issue for C-suite execs (30%) and VPs (33%).

Your Biggest Business Challenges

Our survey told us that five types of challenges top leaders’ lists: generating revenue, time, leadership, growth/strategy, and marketing. Although the numbers break down differently for different types of execs, the same struggles show up again and again. Whether you work as a C-suite exec, own your own business, or both, you’ll always need to make money, manage your time, lead your employees, grow your company, and market your work.

Do these challenges resonate with you? Apply to Forbes Councils to see how we can help you conquer them.

LOCATION

Forbes Councils
745 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02110

LOCATION

Forbes Councils
745 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02110

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