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5 Ways that Conventional Wisdom Can Bring Your Small Business to a Standstill

In 2014, Russia banned four dirty words from use in the performance arts, but U.S. small businesses should strongly consider banning these six words: "We've always done it that way." Granted, conventional wisdom says that long-lived processes make business life predictable and comfortable. But, your small business is less likely to grow if you don't move beyond old, tired ways.

This is just one example of conventional wisdom that may not be so wise for your small business. Here are 5 more.

#1. If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Besides the questionable linguistic style of this phrase, broken situations are not always obvious. Consider how a crowded waiting room might represent a strong client base. On the other hand, it represents clients who eventually realize that their time might be used more wisely somewhere else. Should you wait until you see an empty waiting room to fix a potentially-serious issue?

Keep a critical eye out for potentially-broken operations. With no visible bottlenecks, an assembly line might not seem broken. But, a close look might reveal that changing the order of the process would increase output. Whether you identify these areas on your own or listen to employee suggestions, your business' survival and growth depend on more than just fixing obvious issues.

#2. Focus on what you know

This so-called wisdom makes no sense even on the surface. Before starting your aerospace business, you probably had an advanced degree in rocket science, but did you also have expertise in business management? Even with vast knowledge of your industry, your business cannot survive if you don't learn the myriad skills needed to run a company.

Just as important, many small businesses thrive because they expand their offerings past what their owners knew on opening day. A podiatrist who learns everything about the best footwear can expand the business by selling the right types of shoes to patients. Accountants who sell bookkeeping software to their clients make extra profits, while making their own lives easier because of better client recordkeeping. Even a children's toy store can increase sales by learning about and selling toys that appeal to the adult shoppers (no, I'm not talking about THAT kind of toy, but rather, things like adult coloring books that have become popular). So, the real conventional wisdom is that the more you learn, the more you can expand your business.

#3. You have to keep up with the competition

Follow this wisdom and your business will probably survive, but is that your goal? By all means, use every type of research available to stay attuned to what your completion is doing. Become familiar with their numbers, look at their advertising, attend conferences and find out everything you can learn about what their customers say about them. But, don't stop there.

Once you know that you are well-positioned within the pack, you have to figure out how to jump ahead. Make sure that their customers can't make similar complaints about you. Then, figure out how to exceed their offerings and services.

#4. You've got to spend money to make money

If you're spending money wisely, this conventional wisdom certainly holds true. But, you have to consider your current and planned capacity and sales to avoid spending beyond your means.

I recall a story about one consulting firm that believed that they had to appear more successful in order to attract top-tier clients. They moved into a larger office space, bought fancy cherry wood furniture for their conference room and they took on jobs that required them to hire new, high-priced consultants. Six months later, a promising company was out of business.

You need to spend the money needed to maintain your business. When the time is right, spend as necessary to grow. But, when in doubt, talk to your accountant to find out what you can actually afford.

#5. More education creates better employees

I'm a big proponent of higher education, but I also believe in the power of other types of training, prior experience and life education. Before you insist that all job applicants have a degree, recognize that individuals with natural intelligence, curiosity and enthusiasm make excellent employees.

The more education, the better when you're hiring doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. But, don't discount non-degreed applicants with proven track records at other jobs. When an interview reveals a bright person filled with ideas and a desire to learn, remember that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Ted Turner and many others did pretty well for themselves without college degrees.

Don't let conventional wisdom limit your vision

You took risks when you first opened your business and you need to continue to take risks, even if the company grows into a multi-national conglomerate. Recognize that wisdom can be unconventional, too.

About the author

Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at www.CarolRoth.com. She also has an action figure made in her likeness.