There’s one question I’m asked over and over again from people who seek out my help: “Why isn’t this small business thing working?” It almost always comes as a desperate plea, a cry for help from someone who’s been trying to make things work for a long time, from someone who’s tried everything they can think of to grow their small business and just hasn’t seen results.

So what’s the answer? Why isn’t your small business working the way you want it to? Obviously, the answers are different for everyone. Each business has its own things that need troubleshooting. But here are the things I see that are the most common reasons why small businesses haven’t yet achieved success:

1. Lack of clarity of purpose and lack of clear branding.
This isn’t just about having a clever name. Branding encompasses creating a clear mission for your company and getting clear about what you offer. If you offer too much or you’re too general or broad, your prospects won’t have a good sense of what you bring to the table or know if you can help them. You have to speak to them in their language, and you do that by a) making sure you make it clear what you do and who you do it for, b) reaching them with a corporate identity that resonates with them, and c) making sure you give them what they want with impeccable service.

2. Lack of a professional presence.
It’s okay to start out with a homemade web site or free Vistaprint business cards, but if you’ve been in business for awhile, it’s time to upgrade. Your web site should serve three purposes: 1) showing your potential customers and clients how you can serve their needs, 2) giving them an opportunity to interact with you (either via contacting you or directly buying from you), and 3) acting as a credibility check for your business. Say you’re at a networking function and you give someone your business card. If that person’s interested in doing business with you, they’ll inevitably check your web site when they get back to the office. If you’ve presented yourself in person as a professional, but your web site presents as amateur, you’ve got a credibility problem.

3. Lack of authenticity.
This is something I’ve been talking a lot about lately, because I see more and more people out there offering to teach you things they haven’t yet achieved for themselves: social media experts who don’t have followers on major social media sites, business experts who promise great riches, but haven’t achieved them for themselves…you have to have the goods to back up what you’re offering! And if you don’t, your prospects will see through you. From miles and miles away.

4. Lack of a clear marketing strategy.
Imagine if you were going to take a roadtrip. You know where you want to go, but not how to get there, and you don’t have a map. Would you just get in the car and drive around aimlessly, hoping you hit the right street and end up where you meant to go? No. Likewise, you can’t just start driving around hoping to pick up clients here and there without a clear marketing strategy that’s designed with your target market in mind.

You might be great at what you do, but if you don’t have at least these four pieces in place, you’re going to be missing loads of business and wondering why your business isn’t working. And if you don’t know how to get these four pieces figured out, you need help. It’s good to have a system, it’s great to have a plan mapped out. And even better if you can get an outside perspective, giving you ideas and solutions you might not have thought of on your own.

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