7 Habits All Small Businesses Need to Break

7 Habits All Businesses Need to Break | via TAPED, the ECHOtape blogTwo months into the new year and let’s just say, some old habits are dying hard. That goal to get up an hour earlier to exercise and actually eat breakfast? That hasn’t really happened. Neither has limiting my coffee intake, but that I blame on the weather. I share this only to prove that we humans are creatures of habit. We tend to park in the same spot, sleep on the same side of the bed, eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same stores and, well, you get the drift. But when it comes to business, changing habits is often the key to success.

We have talked about ECHOtape’s goals heading into the year 2015, and even highlighted some trends, but let’s be honest here – there are some bad habits we need to break if we’re going to achieve any of those. Part of winning the day for tomorrow — and 5 or 10 years from now — is seeing obstacles before they arrive and applying the proper plan to step around them and keep plugging forward.

So what bad habits have we been working on breaking?  Let me tell you.

1) Thinking short term. We just had an amazing 2014, our best year yet. And while that’s worth celebrating, it doesn’t mean we can stop looking for more ways to improve.  Short term goals (weekly, monthly, yearly) must be paired with long term goals, and that’s scary. Businesses like ours are often afraid of looking too much into the future and planning for change because they are afraid of forfeiting current success for the unknown. However, this type of limited thinking can inhibit you from evolving and changing in order to keep ahead of the game.

2) Being reactive instead of proactive. Related to short-term thinking, reactive thinking means that a company stops spanning the horizon for future trends, opportunities, and potential pitfalls, only responding to the here and now. This strategy might work today and tomorrow, but over the long term it will always put the company a step behind the competition. I struggle with this just like anyone else, but being proactive really paid off for us. For example, a few years ago we convinced our team to product spec sheets on the web, even though many of us felt like we were giving away our ‘secret formula.’  For close to four decades, our sales team was the first point of contact with a customer, but that is no longer true. New prospects spend up to 70% of the sales cycle researching what they need first and then they contact sales.  Today it is critical to give prospects as much information about our products and company as they do their research and providing our spec sheets were the start of this new way of thinking.

3) Failure to delegate. Delegating simply means that once you have trained your team to do a great job, you let them do it! And guess what? We encounter this a lot. As a family-owned business, we are used to managing every detail from beginning to end. This strategy might work well if you are a very small company, but the advantages recede as the company grows. We hire great people for a reason! It is our job to train and entrust them to do their jobs well instead of micromanaging them. We are trying hard to change this culture by accepting that there must be room for mistakes and that these mistakes are simply part of the learning process for our team.

4) Bottlenecking. One of the major costs of failing to delegate, bottlenecking happens when we try to force too many work items through too small of a processing channel, and a single person (inadvertently) becomes the lynchpin for things not getting done, through no fault of their own. We distinguish delegating with bottlenecking because the former is about trusting your team while the latter is trusting your process, and knowing it well enough to understand where sticking points in the workflow can happen. Find the bottlenecks and work on removing them as quickly as possible so the team can do their best work.

5) Meaningless meetings. You know what I’m talking about. Those pointless endeavors that veer off topic the moment someone opens their mouth with some shiny new thought unrelated to the business at hand. There’s no shame or finger pointing here. It has happens to the best of us, but meaningless meetings combined with poor planning, no clear agenda, lack of focus, etc. have a cost to the company.  I use this framework from Forbes magazine to keep my agenda in line, and it really works! Now our meetings generate ideas, create synergy between departments, and move the company forward.

6) Slow to adapt new technology. We make adhesive tape. There’s nothing really Silicon Valley about that. But even though we are a traditional industry, technology plays an ever-increasing role year after year. We also know that the technology industry leads, while our industry lags. The good news is that if we can be early adopters of new technology, we have an opportunity to get ahead of our competition. The bad news is that it is sometimes difficult to convince ourselves that the world is so far ahead of us, and it is easy to settle into an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality toward technology that has not yet gone mainstream. Don’t do this. Shake off that fear and wade right into the shallow end by trying one thing at a time.  Last year we dove into social media and blogging. Has it paid off in spades? Not quite yet, but it’s no longer scary or daunting, and it allows us to test new ideas to a wider population. This year, we’re looking at adding more productivity and collaboration tools like Dropbox and Evernote to help streamline our in-house communication.

We’re all friends here. Tell us about your bad business habit(s) in the comments, and let’s see if we can combat it together.