Updated: May 21, 2019
Make no mistake, the quickest and most effective way to not only stop your small business growth, but to stop your small business all together, is to get caught doing something illegal! I'm hoping that any entrepreneur about to start a business, or that currently have a business, know this to be common sense. Therefore I'm leaving it out of the list to focus on other issues.
The first two issues we will talk about that stop your small business growth will seem blatantly obvious, and you will probably say, "DUH!" However it is important to know exactly how and why to avoid these issues, so they must be included in a list such as this. From there we will move into a few issues that aren't so obvious, but every bit as important.
Have An Inferior Product Or Service
The number of amazingly talented people working for you that can grow your business despite having an inferior product, or providing an inferior service is exactly ZERO! It doesn't matter if your marketing team, or your sales team are the best of the best, your small business will stop growing at some point if you keep pushing low quality.
Now this issue seems fairly obvious, right? Well yes, but we're talking about it because this blog post is about what to avoid to stop growth, not just keep your doors open.
Most small businesses that provide low quality will in fact have to eventually close their doors. But using my example above, where you have the best marketing and sales team, this is not always the case. It is actually possible to remain in business in this case with the right people working for you.
Keep in mind however, it's hard to retain talent if the individuals do not believe in what they are selling. Not to mention that talent is almost always attracted to growth, and a small business like this will not be growing.
Fortunately the answer to this issue is simple. Unfortunately it is also NOT easy. The only way to create high quality, or upgrade to higher quality is to put in the work and research.
Most small busiesses don't start out with a product or service that is low quality on purpose. They have a talent and an idea and decide to run with it. In my previous post, "What on Earth Are You Thinking? 3 Crippling Mistakes Made When Starting A Small Business", I go into more detail about the necessary market and competitive research necessary to develope the best product possible.
It is a given that the higher quality product you produce, or service that you offer, the higher the success rate of your small business. But it is important to know how to achieve that level, and what the consequences are for cutting corners.
Provide Inferior Customer Service
In our first point we talked about small businesses being able to occasionally stay afloat, while providing an inferior product or service, with some extenuating circumstances. However if your small business is providing inferior customer service, there is nothing that can be done.
In this case your business not only won't grow, but it's only a matter of time before you are closing up shop. You can't even stay afloat because what kept you open when you were dealing with an inferior product was amazing employees. Well........ amazing employees do not provide inferior customer service.
In the beginning of my adult professional career I spent 10 years in the hospitality industry running restaurants, bars, and night clubs. Anyone who has done the same will tell you that there is NO better way to learn how to take care of your customers, no matter how difficult they are, than to be in this business. I talk about my past and go further into some of these experiences in a previous post called, "Wait, THIS Is The Guy Behind AES, Growing Small Businesses Everyday?"
Yes, the reason I bring up my past in the hospitality industry again is to provide some credibility to my content. However, I also wanted to share one of the BEST pieces of advice I ever received about customer service with you. This advice came from one of my original mentors who wants to remain anonymous in this piece, but certainly has no issue with me sharing this. He told me:
"Drew, the Golden Rule states that you need to treat others as YOU would like to be treated. However to become the best in this business, you need to follow what I call the Platinum Rule. 'Treat others as THEY would like to be treated."
While I have this as number two on our list here, quality customer service is THE MOST important part of any small business. And not just for the achievement of growth, but for every aspect of what you do. If you cannot nail this, the rest of what you do is inconsequential.
Get Politically Active
You are not Amazon, Nike, Hobby Lobby, or Chick-Fil-A! Once you grow your small business into a business of that size, then you can do pretty much whatever you want politically. However when you are just starting out, stay NEUTRAL!
If you do any research on this issue you will find mixed "studies" or "polls" that give many different "opinions". In an article from www.inc.com by Minda Zetlin called "Are Political Opinions Good or Bad for Business? Here's What the Research Says", both sides are argued. I did NOT put the words, studies, polls, and opinions in quotation marks for nothing. As usual, regardless of what I say here, I encourage you to do your own research because sometimes what you find on the internet about these words has very little to do with YOU.
On one had Minda quotes business coach Joel Klein of Immediat Marketing:
Speaking out politically comes with more risk for a small company than a large one, argues business coach Joel Klein. Because they don't have the financial, legal, or public relations resources of larger companies, "one risky statement can be the end for them," he says.
However in the same paragraph Minda uses the opinion of a Spour Social Survey:
On the other hand, the Sprout Social survey makes it clear most customers do want companies to take a political stand, at least sometimes. The best approach is to make thoughtful choices about when to speak up and when not to. A little bit of political speech can go a long way.
Here is some background on that particular poll used for "research":
But there's some data from a Sprout Social survey of 1,000 consumers that may help. Two-thirds of respondents said they wanted companies to take a stand on political issues, and 58 percent wanted them to do so on social media. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they'd publicly praise a company if they agreed with its opinions while only 20 percent said they'd publicly criticize one they disagreed with. On the other hand, only 44 percent said they'd buy more from a company they agreed with while 53 percent would buy less from a company whose views they didn't share.
You can really hurt your small business if you are making your decisions based on so called research like this. This survey only polled 1,000 people. Well which 1,000 people and where are they? Demographics play a huge part of people's opinions on this topic. If you click on the link you will see more information on this survey, but it doesn't matter how detailed they get, 1,000 people in a place that is far away from you, or scattered over a huge area will tell you NOTHING.
The most important thing to take away from this however is that the people polled were ASKED about these things in reference to politics!!! That is the only reason they were even mixing the two thought processes. Someone might think they would buy more from a small business that vocally supports the same politics as they do, but does it say they will NOT buy from a company whose politics they have no idea about??? Nope, when it comes to buying a particular procuct, that thought more than likely won't even come up, and they will buy from the small business with the best quality product and customer service.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, and I emphasize "few". Some businesses are set up entirely for political reasons.
There are organizations set up as small businesses that have a goal of supporting particular candidates or parties. A lot of times they will be non profits or portrayed as charities, set up as 501(c)(3)'s. Regardless they are run as businesses, and their target markets are mostly people on the same political side as they are. They don't need to worry about alienating an entire group of people and losing their business.
I could write for days on this topic as I have personally seen the destruction going political can cause to a small business. AND REMEMBER, in this post I am specifically talking about small businesses. However to go into even more detail calls for it's own separate blog post. As I said, once you grow into a national or international brand, you surely don't need my advice on any of these issues. For now however, based on what I have shown you here, you have to ask yourself if the potential reward is worth the risk. The answer is "no", but I'm sure some small businesses will try.
Have A Stagnant Online Presence
"There’s a reason so many companies invest in a website with search engine optimization (SEO): 97 percent of people go online to find a local business, and 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. Believe it or not, there are 3.5 billion searches on Google per day, and at this very moment, there is someone in your area online and searching for your exact service. Guess who’s getting their business? Not you."
This is excerpt from, "DO I NEED A WEBSITE FOR MY SMALL BUSINESS? YES, YOU DO. HERE ARE 8 REASONS WHY" by Betsy McLeod from Blue Corona. Now, this section is about a stagnant online presence, and not a lack of online presence. This is because I have written quite a bit about the necessity of a website, regardless of what your small business is, in "What Mistakes Are You Making With Your Website?" The main focus of the excerpt above is about investing in a website with SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and the staggeringly high number of people that go online using search engines to find their business choice.
You may be saying to yourself, "I have a website so I'm fine." Well, if that website was built and hasn't been touched in years, months, or even weeks, you might as well have not built it/had it built in the first place as it's doing very little for you.
While I'm not going to get into a deep dive about how SEO works (I'd lose you out of boredom right here), I will tell you that it is crucial to the effectiveness of your website, and overall online presence as a whole. Without someone to manage your website (it may be you, but I seriously doubt you have the time to be effective), it basically becomes lost on the web where no one can find it.
The same rules apply when it comes to your social media platforms. I have another blog post coming shortly that will outline what social media platforms are most effective for particular business types, but for now I'll just say that whatever you do have needs to be used regularly.
Don't get me wrong, the content you post is still the most important thing. Anyone who doesn't tell you that "content is king" is fooling themselves and doesn't know what they're talking about. However you need to create great content regularly so it can be posted consistently.
The social media algorithms that decide how many people get to see what you post work much the same as the search engine algorithms, and user activity is a big factor in those algorithms. And to make things even more complicated, these algorithms change all the time so you need to stay up to date with the latest. The same goes with the size and structure of pictures and videos, etc.
I am not telling you all of this to scare you or overwhelm you, I already know you hardly have enough time to run your business as it is. That is why it is important that you get your head wrapped around the fact that it's worth spending money on keeping your online presence fresh and up to date. Having someone who understands all of this and has the time to run it for you is a quality asset, well worth the expense.
Don't Listen To Your Target Market
If you have your small business up and running, and your at least making a little money, you obviously put in a lot of time and work to find your target market. So why on Earth would you waste all of that effort you've already put in by NOT listening to that target market? I get it, this is YOU'RE business and you have a vision of what you want it to be, but personal pride can lead you down an unsuccessful path. It's time to find out what is working for you!
In reality the best thing you can do is develop the best quality product or service that you possibly can, get it into the hands of the target market that you have identified, then let THEM guide you from there. Done effectively, this can create the closest thing to a guarantee there is in small business.
What's are the best ways to interact with your target market?
Be sociable - Whether your business is brick and mortor or stricly online, you can interact with your current customer base. Develop relationships and create an open channel for direct feedback. Find out where they spend most of their time online (social media platforms, blogs, etc.) Then make sure your business is there too!
An anonymous option - Anything from a comment card box, review page where contact info isn't required, specified email address, to an online questionnaire can achieve the desired goal. If people can remain anonymous they are more likely to be honest. BONUS*** This will also give them a direct outlet to complain to you, instead of always going on Yelp, or some other public forum.
Always reply - This can be time consuming and most businesses, big or small, have someone dedicated to this task (Usually the same person handling their online presence, #4 above). This goes for every Google review, Facebook review, Yelp review, etc. regardless of whether it is a good review or bad. When you reply to a bad review it shows that person, and everyone else reading it, that you care and will fix the issue. When you reply to a good review, it shows everyone that you are paying attention and that they are appreciated.
"Your customers aren't looking for scripted corporate-speak when they call or write to you in need of assistance. Particularly if you're communicating with customers on social media, scripted, formal language can ring hollow and insincere" - Sophia Bernazzani, Hub Spot - "7 Ways to Make Every Interaction With Customers Fantastic"
The only thing left at this point is ACT on all of this feedback and interaction. Just as there is no sense in establishing your target market if you're not going to listen to them, there is no point in getting their feedback if you are not going to act on it. Even if this means you have to swallow your pride a little to make some adjustments, you will never get better feedback and direction than you will from the people who are giving you their hard earned money.