There’s a plague-like behaviour among many small business owners that results in business going downhill, fast.

It’s the demon that causes companies who’ve traded for decades to collapse, seemingly overnight. It’s the men putting up “for lease” stickers on shopfront windows all over town.

This behaviour doesn’t strike down your business fast though… It slowly but surely does its damage over a long time. It’s not undetectable, it’s just that nobody is looking for it. Nobody realises it’s there until it’s too late.

Well today, we put this one dangerous behaviour under under the spotlight. I bring it to your attention so that you can be aware of one problem your business might be suffering from, but also so you know to avoid it. Today I tell you about complacency!

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, sitting on its ass did

I’ll often have a conversation with a business who suffers from complacency, and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s too late for them. The damage is done.

Let me tell you a short story about a local caravan dealer with a yard on a busy main road who’d been trading for over 25 years. The business had never marketed in its life, and had always relied on his roadside visibility and word of mouth. Over the past two years the business has seen it’s sales fall hard and fast. The one fatal error made by this caravan dealer was that he became complacent in his routine, and failed to move ahead with the times and technology available to him.

Let’s consider two very similar business trading nearby, competing for the same market. Business 1 depends heavily on word of mouth, newspaper ads, roadside advertising and signage. Now Business 2 is doing all of the above, but is also optimised to come up first in local google search results, can be found on over 30 local online directories, has a modern easy-to-use website with more information and contact details, a clever email marketing cycle that increases repeat-buying by 500%, a social media presence with positive reviews, a blog that attracts new customers by sharing information on it’s business’s area of expertise.

It’s not hard to see which business would be performing better. Business 1 is complacent in that it does not challenge itself to match up to its competition, it does not show signs of keeping up to date with new technology and methodology and as a result it suffers in comparison to it’s competition.

It’s important to actively research market trends, competitor activity and new technology to get your business in front of as many relevant eyes as possible.

While complacency may feel comfortable, it simultaneously kills passion, motivation and success.

Fighting back from complacency

Now you know what complacency looks like, go, look in the mirror. Do you see it?

You don’t? Look a bit harder.

I think we all suffer from it in some way, and I think it takes a brave person to admit it. Get the magnifying glass out, put yourself and your business under the microscope. Inspect every nook and cranny to find issues of complacency.

If you find something, when you find something, start working on it. Don’t stop until you’re truly free of it. Here’s how.

1. Review your business and marketing goals

We’ve all heard it before, review your business plan every 12 months – blah blah blah. Personally, I’m not a fan of the traditional business plan – I’m more about one-pagers, brainstorming sessions, and using mind maps.

Keep it simple and allow the creativity to flow where appropriate, before you let yourself switch to analytical thinking and get bogged down in details.

Most importantly, write down your goals. Make them S.M.A.R.T. Make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable (but challenging – push your envelope, reach for the stars), Relevant, and Time bound. Define that goal even further, how will you know when you’ve achieved it? What will it feel like? What will it allow you to do? Who will be with you when you do it?

Translate business goals into marketing goals, and review this every 12 months – if not more often. Each time you review it work out your gap, from where you’re at now, to where you want to be. That gives you a springboard to work out your strategy for closing the gap.

Consider your passions and lifestyle desires at this point too, unless you’re one of those people who enjoy 80-hour weeks then you might as well build some job-perks into your goals.

2. Remember your passions

Why did you start doing what you’re doing? Why do you still do what you do?

Perhaps it’s the content of what you do (being an accountant and working with numbers), or the impact you have on your customers (solving their problems), or something more esoteric (making the business world a better place by removing tax stress). Or maybe, you’re just someone who loves the thrill and adventure of starting and growing a successful business.

If you want to ramp up the passion intensity, consider the people affected by what your business does – bettering your customers lives, bettering your family life (kids are a massive inspiration), or perhaps pick a charity that means a lot to you and donate regularly from your profits.

It’s easy for our passions to lie forgotten as we get consumed by the day-to-day, so it’s important to always remind ourselves what they are and why we’re here today.

3. Surround yourself with inspiration

A lot of people create themselves a vision board to hang in their office, photos of things you want to achieve personally via your business. Holidays, cars, toys, etc. The idea behind this is to have something to inspire you day-to-day, which motivates you to keep working towards your dreams.

There’s a whole heap of things you can try to inspire yourself on a daily basis:

  • Use a vision board (or similar) and bring life to your dreams
  • Use your morning coffee as 10 minutes to reflect (away from your computer) on what you’ve achieve and what else you want to achieve
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness
  • Watch a TED talk every morning
  • Watch/read/listen to an inspirational story
  • Read the latest blog of someone who you admire
  • Learn something new
  • Do something new
  • Express love and gratitude to someone
  • Listen to music that you love
  • Write something, even if it’s to yourself
  • Have a friendly conversation with a customer
  • Exercise in the morning, start the day with a fresh mind

Personally I use my morning coffee as a way to ground myself in the moment, a moment of mindfulness before I start my day. Plus I write something every morning as a way to “warm up” my creativeness.

Finding things that inspire you is incredibly empowering, it gives you a metaphorical tap to turn on and off at your will. Inspiration will spark motivation and help turn your good intentions into actions.

4. Be innovative in your business

Don’t be a follower, be an innovator. Be an early adopter. Try new things.

Lead the way in your business model, your customer service, your marketing, and your sales.

Research what new or future technologies are out there that might allow you to improve on your product or service. Perhaps automate some of the background work to reduce overheads – like Xero for your bookkeeping/accounting needs, Dropbox for file storage, or perhaps your business is a fit for marketing automation.

Keep an eye on trends in or related to your space, spot opportunities for time-sensitive marketing or product development. Use tools like Google Trends, or watch what people are talking about on social media.

There are many big and small ways to innovate in business, and ultimately it’s about keeping a well-honed edge to your knife. Keep ahead, be a leader, and be rewarded for it.

5. Keep ahead of your competitors

This has to be one of the biggest manifestations of complacency. So often I come across spaces that are filled with terrible websites and even worse marketing, it represents a golden opportunity for one of the businesses there to step up and lead.

Imagine looking for an emergency plumber and looking at the top 3 results – two look like they’re living in the 90s and start by saying “welcome to our website”, while one is appealing and trendy and starts by saying “On-site repairs within the hour 24/7″.

Who would you pick?

Did the leads coming from your AdWords campaign just drop off? Perhaps one of your advertising competitors just one-up’d your landing page – check it out.

Competing isn’t about price, in fact that’s often a terrible way to compete. Compete on value, and on presentation & communication of that value. If you do a better job of it, you will get the customers over your competition.

Recognise that your website and its content is what communicates that value, and it’s importance in doing that better than your competitors. So don’t treat it as “something you have to have”, and appreciate it as one of your most valuable tools.

6. Always be on the lookout for complacency

It’s incredibly easy to constantly fall back into complacency, and not just in our business life. Making a ritual of asking yourself “Can I be doing more/better?” and ensuring you aren’t falling into the complacency trap.

Watch out for the ways that complacency could manifest in your business, like:

  • Procrastination, especially on tasks that could forward your business
  • Ignoring the opportunities that appear
  • You or your staff under performing or unmotivated in their role
  • Small mistakes that seem to happen time and time again
  • Your competitors are playing smarter and harder than you are
  • Your goals are easy to hit, unrealistic, or you don’t have goals at all
  • Sales have been declining
  • You’re running out of cash
  • Taking business from any customer that will have you, rightly or wrongly
  • Your business is your day job

Remember that complacency isn’t something that strikes hard and fast, but infects your business over time, doing its damage slowly. Don’t leave it until it’s too late.

What other ways do you see complacency in business? What tips do you have for fighting back? Share in the comments below.

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