How To Prevent Your Small Business From Stagnating

Once your business is up and running smoothly, it is surprising how easy it is to become complacent and allow your business to stagnate. Especially if you are already in the green and making a decent amount of profit, human nature inclines us to sit back, relax and just watch the money roll in.

On the flip side, your business can also stagnate even though you are working your butt off. One of the easiest traps to fall into when your business is extremely young is to work yourself to death just maintaining the business that you have no time to expand.

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My wife and I fell into both of these traps in the course of running our online wedding linens business. Early on with our small business, my wife and I spent so much time trying to keep up with order fulfillment that we didn’t have any time left over to do marketing and business development.

Part of the problem was that our order delivery and fulfillment process was completely inefficient. For example, it took us probably 20-30 minutes to process each order when it should have taken us less than 5 minutes. Even still, we put off improving things because we were too tired at the end of the day to even think about it.

Later when our small business started booming, we took some time off from it all and just coasted for a good period of time. In both cases, our business quickly became stagnant. With no new developments, we allowed our competitors to catch up and storm ahead. Money was still rolling in, but the competitive landscape was evolving and we weren’t making an active effort to keep up.

So how do you prevent your business from stagnating? Now that things have stagnated for us on a few occasions, we’ve instituted a few new guidelines to help prevent stagnation from occuring again. Here’s what we do.

We Now Keep Up With Our Competitors On A Regular Basis

I remember after taking it easy for a good 3 months, I had the sudden urge to visit some of our competitors’ websites on a whim. Much to my dismay, many of our lesser competitors had completely revamped their websites and did a very thorough job. After a complete redesign, many of their websites now looked pretty damn good.

Other competitors started carrying the same or similar products as we did and some slashed prices on existing products making them extremely attractive on a cost basis. In short, I was absolutely stunned at how much things had changed in just a mere 3 months.

Seeing our competitors storming ahead really lit a fire under my ass. In fact, you may have noticed that posts on this blog have been a bit sparse these past few weeks. It’s because I’ve been extremely busy redesigning our online store website to make it look even better.

After 2 straight weekends of hard work, I’m finally done and have hopefully leveled the playing field. You may view the fruits of my labor at www.bumblebeelinens.com. Nothing stops stagnation better than seeing the competition pass you.

We Now Create Time To Focus On The Long Term

Way back when we spent all of our time fulfilling orders, we could have been using that time more efficiently by thinking of ways to streamline our business. Instead of using our brainpower on worthwhile activities such as coming up with new products or processes, we wasted our efforts on ironing and taping boxes.

Why did we do this? In the beginning, we did everything ourselves to save money. But what did we really save? Absolutely nothing. We realized later that anyone can pack orders and ship packages but we are the only ones that can expand our business.

Don’t get too involved with day to day operations that you lose sight of the big picture. Someone in your business has to be constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve. With our business today, my wife and I take turns running operations while making sure to create time to brainstorm new business ideas. We also hire help when needed to perform some of the more menial tasks.

We Avoid Stretching Ourselves Too Thin

There was a time not too long ago that our online business literally did not change at all for several months. We offered the same products. The website looked identical and we didn’t make any effort to do anything. Coincidentally, this period of time coincided with when I launched this blog.

The business was already running smoothly at that point so I said what the heck? May as well start a blog. But I vastly underestimated the amount of work involved. In the beginning, I was trying to post a quality article every single weekday and nearly drove myself insane. I was so tired and creatively spent that I didn’t even want to think about our online business at all.

Everyone has a different philosophy but I believe in focusing all of your efforts on one thing before moving on to another. There are some people out there that can do 10 things at once but unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. In retrospect, I started this blog too early in the life of our online wedding linens business, but I’ve finally been able to settle down into a workable routine.

We Take Advantage Of Technology

There are constantly new software programs and technologies that can greatly enhance your business. If you are opening an online store, there are always new improvements in shopping cart technology. In fact, one of my readers the other day pointed me to Magento which is a relatively new open source shopping cart packed with a ton of features.

The main advantage of new technology is that it will save you time. Time that can be better spent thinking about new ways to expand your business and new ways to serve your customers.

What are some ways that I use technology? Thanks to Google, I can now keep tabs on my competitors through the use of Google Alerts. I can analyze which products and webpages are doing well and I can detect hotspots in our customer flow fairly easily with Google Analytics.

Thanks to services like compete.com, quanticast.com etc… I can also get a general idea of how much traffic my competition is getting as well. As for our website, we plan on adding the Live Chat feature to our store sometime in the near future which should ease up the support burden. It’s unbelievable how much software is out there for free if you are willing to spend some time learning how to use it.

Things change too quickly for you to just sit there and relax. In order to succeed, you need to be constantly on your toes and be aware of what your competitors are up to.

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16 thoughts on “How To Prevent Your Small Business From Stagnating”

  1. LOVED this post! Having been a small business owner for over 5 years I can completely attest to the fact that what you say is SO TRUE!

    I’ve fallen into both traps of being totally inefficient as well as letting things stagnate because I just start coasting. Excellent points to chew on. Thanks for sharing.

    Oh, and I LOVE the new site look and feel. Very well done! :-) Eric

    1. @Eric
      It’s good to know that there are others out there who have experienced what I’ve been feeling. Thanks for the kind words about the redesign!

      @Marc And Angel
      Thanks a lot! You know it seems as though I get more encouragement and positive vibes from my online friends than the friends I see everyday.

      @David,
      Excellent advice! You know I should actually put up some screenshots of the old design for comparison. I don’t really consider it a complete redesign, more like a facelift. The fundamental navigation has not drastically changed. Thanks for the tip! BTW, it’s nice that you mentioned Amazon, but my tiny little store is but a gnat by comparison:)

      @Baldchemist
      Hehe. Working on it. Every time I do research on our competitors I get fired up! Hopefully, I can keep up the intensity for a long time. Thanks for the kind words and take care!

  2. Great advice! No doubt, it’s important to keep things fresh.

    Also, I’ll second Eric on the site changes. ;-)

    Stumbled.

  3. Steve, you did an amazing job with the new design and I’m sure it’s time to kick some ass.

    I unfortunately did not see the old design (sorry, please don’t shoot me) so I don’t know how much of a difference it was. Next time you revamp your site though, consider to tweak and update your look instead of changing it completely as it affects how the consumer recognizes your site and layout.

    Amazon is a great example. For 10+ years, their website remained pretty much the same. They tweaked small things to make it extremely easy to buy and look things up but the basic skeleton is the same. They also happened to the one of the only major online retailer that’s doing well.

  4. The Baldchemist says:

    Jesus Steve , you really have become productive. But don’t settle for keeping up with your competitors, let them see your backside .
    Its true, on occasions you have no time to put your own stuff in order. Thats the downside to a sucessful business.
    Hope you are well. take good care . The Baldchemist

  5. Steve,
    Great post. You are a great writer.
    You should write some books, be like Og Mandino.

  6. Great article! In order to be a successful Business person we must always be on our toes.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Many Blessings….
    Hugo and Roxanne
    ~Believe Achieve~

  7. I can’t resist actually writing this reply.
    Keeping up with the Jones’s

  8. Adding the customer service tool of online chat will be great for business. When online, and I am I need assistance, I prefer live chat to any other option. I could be wrong, but I think that most other people when shopping online and need help, prefer to use live chat.

  9. Getting too involved in the day-to-day running of a business can dampen creativity. What I find useful is to take a day off and go somewhere remote, away from the Net in order to find a longtime vision again.

    I just did that a week ago and found that I had caught up with my goals for my blog GoodlifeZEN. So, I had to sit down and really ask, “What next?”

    As you say, it’s also important to keep up with technological innovation and think creatively how we could use it for our business.

    Thanks for a good post!
    cheers
    Mary

  10. Informative and enlightening write-up.

    Bumblebee Linens’ website is actually looking great now. Much better than the earlier one.

  11. Very insightful and real world post. This is that classic struggle of working IN your business as opposed to working ON your business.

    One approach that I am considering…put very succinctly: “Identify your strengths, outsource the rest.” A scary step, but almost necessary if you are going to keep things on track with your business.

    Productivity is a big part of the picture. Consider taking a look the new webtop technology from Symantec to boost your productivity and free up some time to work ON your business.

  12. Love the article.

    I think there are a lot of businesses that have been in a situation similar to yours, and I think you’re one of the rare businesses who have gotten themselves out of it. Most businesses are either run over by the competition or they just keep being stagnant and manage to not “run out of business”.

    A lot of people aren’t aware of where there energy is spent and where it should be spent. Especially on a tight budget, that’s why I loved what you said – you’ve done the work by yourselves trying to save money, and in the long run it lost you money.

    One thing I’d like to add, people have to ask themselves – if you’re doing the work, and not managing a business, why are you an owner? My mind is this – you’re an owner just because your actions affect your business -> you run your business, so why aren’t your running your business.

    I know it’s hard to actually know what you have to do and what not to do, but it’s a good thing to pause for a moment (even as low as for a day) and evaluate what you’re doing.

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