Many entrepreneurs fail to notice the subtle signs that their products or services are becoming obsolete. When they finally take note, their once thriving enterprises are in jeopardy. Ensure that your small business flourishes for years to come by taking notice of the following telltale signs that your company may become irrelevant.
1. Shift in Trends. With technology changing at the speed of light, shifts in trends are inevitable. Although many dramatic instances of such shifts are easy to foresee, such as the demise of video stores due to the popularity of internet video services, other shifts are much more subtle.
Keeping abreast of the changes in your industry, however slight, will alert you to when it’s time for a change of course. Stay informed about new laws and policies that could potentially affect your business, even tangentially, and take trends seriously, no matter how silly or unlikely they might seem.
When you do note changes that might affect your business, ask yourself “what if” questions. For instance, if you’re a pool builder and a new mandate limiting residential water usage is being considered, think about what you could do to shrink the size of your pools, or if you should start concentrating on the hot tub end of your business.
2. Drop in Sales of Key Products. A big drop in sales is an obvious sign that something is very wrong, but this rarely happens. Generally, the drop is slow and steady and may go undetected for some time. Keep an eagle-eye on your sales figures. Analyze even the slightest declines in sales and ask key questions about the reason for the dip. If you can’t come up with a valid reason—such as a problem with a specific shipment or a temporary lack of supplies for processing products—then suspect that there’s something more serious going on and determine what it is.
3. Customer Requests. When your customers begin asking for products and services that you don’t carry or provide, this may be a sign that it’s time for redirection. Keep track of all comments made by clients verbally and through written communication and check on review sites to see what is being said about your business. Look for trends and common threads and use these to determine next steps. Consider sending out regular surveys to customers in order to get feedback. Those surveys are likely to yield gold nuggets for ways to expand and improve your business.
4. Lack of Direction. Take a hard look at your company and be brutally honest with your self-assessment. Is passion and purpose still driving you like in the early days? Does your business continue to move forward despite impediments and setbacks? Do you do whatever it takes to reach your goals? Or have you become somewhat aimless and unsure of your purpose?
A good test to determine whether your company possesses a clear direction is to ask employees. Quiz them on what they feel is the purpose and mission of the company. If they can’t come up with an answer or they all have very different responses to this question, you have a direction problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
5. Complacency. Becoming comfortable and assuming that a product or service will always will be popular is pure fantasy. Many companies with a “sure thing” have fallen into obscurity. Avoid this happening to your business by maintaining humility even in the face of soaring success. Remind yourself that there are always competitors, and some may be close to catching up with you. You certainly deserve to be happy about your success, but always strive to do even better.
Running a small business today is no easy feat. If you’re willing to open yourself up to inevitable change and reinvent your company when necessary, you’re bound to remain relevant and experience abundant success.
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