Business Operations

Five things to STOP doing in your small business

The most valuable asset anyone has is time, yet I see many business owners spending their time on things that really don’t help them.

It’s easy to do. There are so many aspects to deal with that sometimes we focus on things that are not important to the business but are easy to do or make us feel better.

Unfortunately, the things that make us feel better are rarely the same things that will help the business grow and improve.

There are five things I see handmade business owners spending time on when that time could be spent to more effective tasks. Here is that list, and something else to do to replace each one:

1) Focusing on Vanity Metrics

Many small business owners get wrapped up in metrics that are easy to get, are easy to understand, and feel really good because they almost always go up. Things like the number of views you got this year, the number of Facebook followers you have, or the number of people who hearted a post on Instagram.

As a result, owners start putting tons of time into increasing those numbers but lose sight of the bigger goal (we’ll come back to that in a couple of minutes).

Business information has two purposes:

  1. To inform the owner of how the business (or specific actions it takes) has performed in the past
  2. To help the owner take action to improve the business performance in the future

The problem with those statistics is that they don’t meet either of these purposes.

Instead: If you are going to spend several hours a week staring at data and trying to improve it, metrics like net income, cost of customer acquisition, customer lifetime value, average order amount, and conversion rate (all of which combine several numbers in different ways) are some that you might want to focus on.

I know, they are complex financial terms… but as a business owner you owe it to yourself to learn more about them (and yes, I’ll be covering them!)

Look at how numbers compare. If your number of followers went up, did sales increase by the same percentage? If so, how can you keep it going? If not, why not?

2) Blaming Etsy/Amazon/Google/Facebook/anyone but yourself

There is something that successful business owners all have in common: they take responsibility for the performance of their business. I talk about this a lot in my free course on mindsets.

It makes us feel better to say our latest product didn’t sell well because of a change in the Etsy search algorithm or because people are outside at picnics instead of shopping… yet we picked the release date for the product in the middle of summer and we have an almost infinite number of ways to drive traffic to any website we choose… but we didn’t.

It hurts to admit that you didn’t do everything required to make a product succeed. Maybe it was too much like the others on the market. Maybe it wasn’t marketed correctly (or at all). Maybe the color was totally out of style. Or, maybe I just blamed something else and did nothing about it.

These could all be factors… but it’s up to you to adapt and overcome them.

Instead: Take responsibility for your business.

If your business is not performing the way you would like it to, figure out why that is and then work on fixing it.

3) Trying to make everything for everyone

I see it all the time. A shop owner makes 50 different kinds of items for a total of 800 or more items in their shop and then struggles to sell them.

They spent a fortune on supplies/materials, which then sit in the spare bedroom for over a year. They struggle with branding because the items have nothing in common. Customers struggle to find what they are looking for in the shop, so they move on to another one.

All of those extra listings require a huge investment. You don’t just have to make all those items. You also need to come up with keywords, photograph them,  and write descriptions for them. It becomes and endless cycle of constantly adding new listings, getting frustrated, and then adding more items.

I know why it happens. Many handmade businesses are run by people who have a passion for what they make, so they want to make the items they love all the time. One of the downsides of turning a hobby into a business is that the business-related tasks need to take priority in order to keep the customers coming in and the business running smoothly.

There is only so much time in a week. With so much time spent on making new items and ideas, tasks that are critical to the business get pushed aside. Even the smallest business could require 10 to 20 hours a week for marketing, accounting, dealing with suppliers, customer service, and other tasks. 

If that time is spent making new items (and sweating over why they don’t sell), the business starves for attention and will struggle to grow in the long run.

Yes, there are companies like Samsung that make everything from dishwashers to TVs to smart phones. They also have almost 500,000 employees and a $10 billion annual marketing budget. You’re not competing with them. You’re competing to be a respected maker of high-quality items, which requires narrow focus.

Once you get to know your customers, you grow by offering what is known as “adjacent items”, which means you make new items for those same people so they keep coming back… and bring their like-minded friends with them.

Instead: Focus on how you can add value and happiness to the lives of a small market niche and work to build relationships with that niche. The more specific the niche, the more specific you can be in the way you will bring joy to their life. 

Be the very best at what you do. If you aren’t today, then today is a great day to start working on improving your skills.

4) Focusing on tactics before strategy

What is the biggest problem you have in your business?

Is it SEO? Photos? Descriptions?

Let me ask a different set of questions:

How sure are you that your product actually fits your target customer’s vision of a better life? How easily can you reach your target customer? What massively unfair advantage do you have over your competition?

Many small business owners focus on the symptoms they see every day. “I don’t have views, so it must be an SEO problem.” But in business, the solution and the symptom are almost never right next to each other like that. You need to look at your business at a broader level to see the problem in context. 

It’s a lot more common that “I don’t have views” means “There are 50 other shops offering the same item and mine are no different from theirs.” or “My ad isn’t getting traffic” could mean “I don’t know my target customer well enough to target them or to speak to their dreams and desires.

Focusing on tactical issues feels good because it feels like we’re in control. But it’s the bigger questions that will lead you to success. If you have awesome business model, you can get away with mediocre SEO and photos. The best SEO and photos in the world won’t fix a product that’s too much like all the others on the market or that doesn’t appeal to the people it’s targeted towards.

Instead: Look at the bigger picture first, so you know your strategy before you worry about tactics.

Make sure of who your target customer is. Make sure you are adding unique benefits and delight to that customer’s life. Doing that first makes it a lot easier to figure out how to communicate with them (which is what your keywords, photos, and descriptions really are: just a way of talking to your customer).

5) Using Results as Goals

I hear it a lot: My goal is to have $1000 in revenue this month or my goal is to get 25 orders this week. The problem is that the person stating that goal doesn’t actually have control over whether they reach the goal or not.

It would be different if you were a sales rep for a living. Your sole function would be to find customers and make sales presentations to them. THEN it would make sense to have “number of sales” as a goal. But eCommerce isn’t like that.

Yes, I believe business owners are responsible for their business’ success, just not necessarily on the first try. It takes time and multiple tries to figure out how to do a lot of this stuff correctly.

Don’t get me wrong. There are ways to break down results into measurable tasks and steps. But those tasks should be your goal, not the end result.

If your goal is to get 730 orders this year (an average of 2 orders per day), let’s break it down.

720 orders at a 1% conversion rate means you need 72,000 views this year. That’s an average of 200 views per day.

Your first goal for this week is to figure out how to bring in those 200 views per day. Say you evaluate your marketing options and decide to use paid ads to do that.

Your goal for next week is to learn how to use the Facebook Ad Manager and put out your  first ad.

Your goal for the next week is to evaluate how the ad did and then make corrections so it keeps getting better.

You keep repeating the cycle: Set the next goal. Evaluate. Repeat.

[Tough love warning] Each of these are concrete tasks that you can say “Yes, I made the right choices in my week that allowed me the time and energy to do reach that goal.” or “No, I let my environment control me and did not reach my goal.”

THAT is what responsibility is all about.

Instead: Think of goals as tasks you are committing to do something by a specific date. You will have full responsibility for reaching the goal that way.


This is probably my longest blog post yet and I hit you with some pretty major tough love this time. I hope that this will help you focus your time an energy on the most effective tasks that will help your business grow.

If you loved this post, you will really love to see where this fits into the context of your overall business strategy.

Want to keep the discussion going? Join my Facebook group! (be sure to answer the questions… I only accept new members willing to put in at least that one minute worth of work!)

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