bored small business owner
Image by Jules Minus / Flickr

Everyone gets in a rut. You get up at the same time, have the same breakfast, take the same route to work, etc. You may not notice it at first, but one day you suddenly realize you’ve been on autopilot. The same thing can happen to your company. Unchecked, complacency can set in and you might start losing business, people and direction. Here are some tips to shake your business out of the doldrums.

Look at Your Business Through Your Customer’s Eyes

It’s easy to leave your blinders on and see your company only from your own perspective. How hard you work, the sacrifices you make, the reasons for doing things the way you do them. But it’s also easy to forget that someone walking into your shop or greeting you at their front door A) Doesn’t know any of your history and B) Probably doesn’t care. All they know is they have a problem and they need you to fix it. If you’re having trouble getting parts because of a spat with a supplier or you’re having issues with technician training, it doesn’t matter. All your customers see are the results.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and see what they see. Do we look like professionals? Do we look like we know what we’re doing? Would you hire you? If not, it’s time to start making changes or your business may suffer.

Think About Why You Started All This

Everyone has different reasons for starting or buying into their own business. Sure, there’s the money, but you could make good money working for someone else and with far less trouble. You took the reins for a reason. Was it to prove yourself? Did you see a need that could to be filled? Was it to make a difference and show the world how a business in your niche could be run?

Spend some time thinking about how you’re doing what you’re doing and how well you’ve met those expectations. Sometimes it’s healthy for a business to change focus and mission””to adapt to changing markets. Sometimes, however, a business changes as a result of a loss of focus and a lack of strategic vision. Go back to your roots and you may find you’ve veered off course (for better or worse).

Get Outside Opinions

It can be difficult to see yourself and your business from an outside perspective. We all wear blinders at times. Surveys can be great tools to get objective third-party information and opinions. Surveys can be online, mailed independently, included with invoices or via telephone. Keep your survey short and meaningful. Ask questions like: “Would you recommend our service to a friend?” and “How could we have improved your service call?” Keep it simple and easy to return (use a business reply card if it’s a leave-behind survey). If you want to give the survey online, look at a tool like SurveyMonkey , which is inexpensive and fairly easy to use. These tools can even help you come up with questions and handle the email responses.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure you have a goal in mind for the survey. Be prepared to take action based on the results. You may discover a huge gap between what you think your company is delivering and what your customers believe they’re getting. Don’t take it personally, just address it.

And surveys aren’t just for customers; survey tools can also be used for employees. Find out what kind of workplace you’ve built by getting anonymous feedback from your people. You might also get some great ideas for improvements. If you want to keep it simple, just set up a box and let them fill out survey and suggestion cards. In all cases, it has to be clear that the goal is improving the workplace and all opinions are welcomed. If you really don’t feel that way, it’s probably a bad idea to ask for feedback.

Do a SWOT Analysis

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a company? What are the opportunities and threats for your business? Completing a SWOT Analysis can help you identify either what’s tripping you up or what might trip you up down the road. You don’t have to do it alone either. Involve your managers and/or key employees. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, here are the major elements:

  • Strengths: Characteristics of your business that give it an advantage over competitors (great workforce, location, capital, partnerships, etc.)
  • Weaknesses: Characteristics that give you a disadvantage relative to competitors (old equipment, high turnover, bad reputation, etc.)
  • Opportunities: Outside forces that may help the business (changes in the market, local or federal policy changes, new technology, etc.)
  • Threats: Outside forces that could cause trouble for the business (changes in the market, local or federal policy changes, new technology, etc.)

This doesn’t have to be a rigorous, scientific process. In fact just forcing yourself through the steps, even casually, can help shake you out of your current mindset and see your business differently.

Give Up (and Delegate)

Giving up control is hard for a business owner. Your business is your baby and many business owners have performed every task there is in a company from answering phones to getting under a sink, HVAC unit, car, crawlspace, etc. Business owners know how things should and should not be done and, more than likely, the business has taken on your personality. Letting someone else take control of that may be really tough. Unfortunately it’s also critical to the success of your business. As the business grows, so do the responsibilities. At some point one person can’t (and shouldn’t) manage it all. But guess what? Freeing up your time by passing the reigns over to someone else will give you time to plan, strategize and even relax. In fact, delegating responsibilities should probably be the first thing on this list because it will give you the flexibility and time to take all the other items on.

Disappear for a Bit

What will happen if, God forbid, you’re unable to come into work for a long stretch? Why not eliminate the mystery and actually disappear for a few days? See what happens. Does the place fall into chaos? Do people step up and lead? Do customers revolt? Better to find out where the landmines are in a controlled environment than waiting for the real thing. Then you can address the issues and be ready when you have no choice.

Look at New Technology

When you perform a SWOT Analysis, one of the opportunities you may discover is around new technologies. Technology moves fast. Limitations that you may have had when you started your business may have been resolved by the unrelenting force of innovation. Whether it’s a new gadget or system for managing payroll or a new processing tool, you need to keep abreast of what’s available. Sometimes it’s enough to research what your local trade organization has to say on the subject, but also check out sites like techcrunch.com and cnet.com to see what’s going on both inside and outside of your industry. Sometimes a technology intended for a completely different use might help your business in unexpected ways. What if you outfitted your workforce with rugged tablets for order processing on the spot or added RFID chips to your parts? Sure, new technology can require an investment, but think in terms of ROI, not just out of pocket expense. If something can get you X% more clients or save you X% in gas, wouldn’t it make sense to consider it?

Ultimately the best thing your business has going for it is you. If you can clear your head, step back and look at your business with a fresh perspective, good things will happen.