5 Chronic Small-Biz Mistakes to Correct

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, chronic business mistakes are deja vu all over again. Missteps, miscalculations and outright duds are unfortunate, yet ever-present starters in any small-business lineup. If nothing else, if it weren’t for the battalion of snafus that lay in wait, every mom and pop kiosk would sport a bottom line that rivaled the New York Yankees’. But what can really spell the difference between an established powerhouse and a perennial cellar dweller are chronic mistakes — those repeated and overlooked blunders.

Here are five persistent pitfalls that may apply to you and your business, along with steps to purge them.

Mistake 1: Advertising always works.
If, say, you’ve been running a particular ad spot for years but with little to show for the expense, you’ve tripped over the assumption that advertising in and of itself never fails. Not so. Not only is it critical to understand and embrace your business’s particular niche, it’s equally imperative thatyou know your target market and, in turn, pin down the advertising media that best hits that segment. “The biggest mistake I see is putting advertising out there without a clue if it’s really reaching the right people,” says Tom Egelhoff, who publishes SmallTownMarketing.com. “You’ve really got to define your company’s market. That, and you have to hold any ad sales rep you’re working with accountable for the match of their media with your market.”

Mistake 2: Build it and they will come storming to your door.
Akin to the mistaken sanctity of advertising is misdirected faith in the inherent appeal of your business. Just be there, slap a few ads in the local fishwrap and customers are queuing up by the break of dawn. Success mandates legwork. Related to that, another ongoing oversight is failure to get out into the community and network on a personal level, both with potential clients as well as business associates. “You can buy into the fallacy that advertising alone brings in business — but it only brings in lookers,” Egelhoff says. “Networking creates buyers who will come to you because they know you or have heard of you, not from a cold ad.”

Mistake 3: Love you, no matter what.
Although the human element to gaining attention and relationships is essential, don’t look past any relationship that, over time, is more problematic than productive. Perhaps you’ve had a client for years who chronically moves with the speed of erosion when it comes to paying his tab. By the same token, you may have held onto a sub-par employee in hopes that her performance would improve over time. Take some time to review carefully the people with whom you work to see if any element of your relationship has deteriorated over time. If, by chance, you spot someone whose presence may be doing your business more harm than good, don’t play the nice guy at the expense of your operation. “If someone is keeping you up at night, or an employee simply hasn’t worked out, it may be time to sever that relationship,” says Lisa Kanarek, publisher of HomeOfficeLife.com.

Mistake 4: One size fits all — always.
Many chronic problems are creepers — those seemingly innocuous twinges that grow into chronic pain, often at a slow enough crawl that makes them tough to spot. Nowhere is that more the case than in your physical workplace. For some, that may mean a Lilliputian-sized office that’s somehow handling an operation that over time has grown into Gulliver. By contrast, there’s the business that, for years, has doled out cash for office space that’s as empty and unwanted as a Pauly Shore film festival. Give your workspace the once-over routinely to make certain that what you have for space is, in fact, what you need. Pay particular attention to home-office space where the price of success can, after a year or so, mean needlessly cramped quarters.

Mistake 5: Alone is best.
Locked in a lone wolf persona, one final persistent pitfall — particularly for home-based and startups in the first few years — is the mistaken notion that it’s more efficient to do it all yourself. Trouble is, looking after one task means idling another — and that may ultimately slow profitability and growth. If you’re spreading yourself too thinly or feel that even 24/7 doesn’t allow enough time to address every need, see if bringing on some help may, in fact, generate more income than outgo. Break down the numbers to see if the expense of a sales rep or marketer may be more than offset by the productivity it frees up for you. “For instance, marketing can get you work, but when it comes in you have to stop marketing to perform that work,” Egelhoff points out. “And, when the jobs are done, the income stops until marketing creates work again.”

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