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How Your Small Business Can Avoid the Mistakes Blackberry Made

09/23/2013 05:10 EDT | Updated 11/23/2013 05:12 EST

Like many people, I have been reading and watching with interest as Blackberry's success declines.

In a recent article in Backbone, author Jim Harris writes "Blackberry has itself to blame, although it's not alone in being blindsided when a new -- and typically inferior -- product enters the market." He goes on to observe that while their customers did not initially switch to the cheaper copy, over time as the competing product improved, then customers started to move away.

As Harris points out, MP3s did that to the music industry, as did Netflix to Blockbuster and digital photography to Kodak. Each new innovation brought about the demise of a previously super-successful product. Who is next? Canada Post must be hurting as fewer and fewer people actually actually use "snail mail."

But what does it mean for small business? What lessons can we learn from how these businesses have lost their lead? I know with Company of Women which I started 11 years ago, we were, like Blackberry, the only game in town. Over the years more and more women's groups have popped up, some offering similar services and several at a lower cost. What I have found is:

1. You can't get complacent. You have to constantly watch what your competitors are doing, but not to the point that you totally change your focus just to compete. That could take you down a dangerous path.

2. Be clear on your focus and unique value proposition. It would be all too easy to try to be all things to people. Far better to find your niche.

3. Stay connected to your customers. Learn more about what they want, rather than what you want to offer them. Listen. They may not be the same.

4. Stay fluid and flexible. People's needs change. Women today are super busy, which is one reason, for example, that we have introduced more webinars this year. Always try to stay ahead of the game.

5. Don't stay stuck. Just because one part of your business has always been popular, doesn't mean it always will be. Be prepared to make changes, rather than doing the same old, same old.

6. Bring in new people. As founders, we can get stale in our ideas. Be open to new approaches and ideas from other people.

7. Delegate. Create a leadership circle, so the business doesn't just focus on you. Those leaders will bring their unique talents and expertise to your organization and potentially attract new and diverse customers.

8. Keep on top of the finances. Track and measure what is financially working for you. If one aspect of your business is not bringing in the return you need, it may be time to make a difficult decision and stop doing it, as you can't afford to carry a lost leader.

9. Embrace technology. Look at your processes. Is there any way to use technology to streamline the work to be done?

While as small business owners we are moving in very different circles, we can all learn from what is happening in the big business world. Take your lead from your customers, not your competition -- it is your customers who will tell you what they want, and don't want. So listen, and act accordingly.

The hard reality is that for every organization there is a season, and sometimes you've had your day. Not something any of us want to hear. The truth hurts. But we all may have to be open to this fact, and be prepared to move on.

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