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Does Your Small Business Have a Five-Year History...Or a One-Year History, Five Times?

Most folks experience periods where they are just "going through the motions," whether it be in their professional lives or their personal relationships.  Like people, small businesses sometimes put things on "automatic pilot," essentially, doing the same thing this week they did last week, last month, even last year.

Whether it's complacency or just caught up in the routine, before they know it, they are just re-living a prior time.  But no matter what causes it, way too many businesses go through it and the results of it aren't readily apparent until one day the entrepreneur takes a look around and realizes that the business hasn't progressed like it should. That it is simply repeating history again and again.  And that means the entrepreneur and his/her small business has stopped learning and, invariably, stopped growing.

I know you know professional people whose careers are like that.  They don't have five years' experience, but one year's experience, five times.  They are simply doing the same thing year in, year out.  Less so these days, but sometimes the job is just set up that way.  Mind-numbing routine, done over and over.  No opportunity for learning or growth.  So the only way they can get either is to get another job.

Entrepreneurs have more choices.  That's the reason they took the plunge into their own business in the first place - the opportunity to control their own destiny and continually learn and grow.  Yet, it happens far more often than it should. One day they wake up and it's Ground Hog Day again!  It's almost insidious, and sometimes even the most "hands on" entrepreneur gets caught up in it.  Here are some tell-tale signs that you need to get off "automatic pilot."  Whether you're even exhibiting some or all of these symptoms, it's time take a hard look at your how your company is operating:

No growth or slow growth over several years, blamed on external factors.
Over the past several years, the economy and government regulation have been convenient scapegoats and, while they have had some negative impact on small business, this, often, prevent companies from really looking at what the true factors might be behind the lack of growth.

A once successful sales organization that seems to have lost its way.
Other side of the same no growth/slow growth coin. There was a really successful year, one year and then the sales organization continually tried to repeat it, without the same level of success ever again. Whether it's the team, its management or its sales strategy, you have an insanity definition working here.

Same internal problems have existed for at least two years.
Individuals are in jobs for which they are not qualified; or some broken or misguided processes continue to exist despite most of the staff in the small business knowing they are a problem. Everybody knows it, but nobody is doing anything about it.

Each new marketing campaign looks just like the last one.
Are marketing campaigns just looking tired and old?  Is this year's email solicitation program just last year's with a "new coat of paint?" Marketing is always a good first place to look because it really is the "spirit" of the organization.  And if there is no spirit, then the company is just existing!

"That's the way we've always done it."
My personal favorite.  A comfort level has been reached in various functions of the small business that pervades it like a cancer, stifling all creativity, especially with any new employees.  If you hear this even once inside your company, it should be a wake up call. The corollary question to this comment is "what's the last new thing we learned as a company?"

All entrepreneurial businesses ebb and flow; or, at least they should.  If yours is just "flowing" it's time to look for the tell-tale signs that you may have a company on "automatic pilot."  And then, it's definitely time to shake things up!

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.  He's been there.  May success be with you!


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