At some point, every entrepreneur faces the challenge of continued growth. It's not from lack of effort and enthusiasm...it's often just a natural part of an evolving business. A smart business owner will be prepared for a possible stagnant phase; don't wait until things are in a true slowdown before taking action. Be ready to know what questions you need to ask when your company is going nowhere:

  1. Is customer service top-notch? This question is crucial. Companies can live or die, depending on how customers are treated. Remember: It costs 6-7 times more to attract a new customer than to keep a current one. A survey by Oracle showed that 89% of clients have stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service. For inspiration, look at Zappos and Disney, two legendary companies when it comes to customer experience.
  2. Have we strayed from our mission? It's easy to get caught up in early success, and to want to expand into areas that seem related, but actually detract from your original purpose. Starbucks resisted adding food for years, because excellent coffee in a pleasant setting was the mission. Consider if you need to pull back and reassess.
  3. Are we involved in the community? For the answer to this question, check out Chipotle Mexican Grill. From its start in a Denver storefront, the company has taken the unusual stance of not paying for national advertising. Instead, it relies on word-of-mouth by giving free food to causes. Founder Steve Ells says, "If you are stingy to your customers, you will NOT become successful. You need to allow your business to revolve around your community. It pays to give back. Not only is it rewarding, it's a strategic business move."
  4. Are we creating value? No one does this better than Apple. Their products are beautiful, functional, and affordable. Customers become lifelong Apple loyalists. Does your business have a true vision and purpose similar to Steve Jobs, who did not sell computers? Instead, he insisted that he sold dreams.
  5. Do we have fun here? Fun and creativity go hand-in-hand. Nothing stifles folks like heavy-handed oversight. It's easy to have theme days, dance-offs, or pot luck lunches. Happy employees are more productive. Dick Snow of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream says, "We believe that we're in the entertainment business and selling ice cream is just a part of what we do. In our stores the counter is our stage and the customers are our audience."

Of course, you will want to look at other growth factors, such as sales cycles, marketing leads, and expenditures. By starting with the five questions above, you may discover everything you need to get back on your successful track.

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