Avoiding the 7 Steps to Stagnation

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30 years ago, when I was just starting out in marketing, my boss handed me a printed sheet of paper and told me to tack it on the wall. It was a list created by Erwin M. Soukup entitled “The 7 Steps to Stagnation.”

Just like my boss passed it to me, I’m passing it to you:

The Seven Steps to Stagnation

  1. We’ve never done it that way before.
  2. We’re not ready for that.
  3. We are doing all right without trying that.
  4. We tried it once before.
  5. We don’t have money for that.
  6. That’s not our job.
  7. Something like that can’t work.

Seven incredibly simple statements… that you’ve probably heard way too often, or worse yet, have said to someone (recently) at your business. The list first made the rounds in the 1980s, but when it comes to marketing your business, it’s never been more relevant.

1) We’ve never done it that way before

Change is hard. Change can be uncomfortable. If your small business has always printed off newsletters and had them available in your store, why should you all of the sudden switch to online newsletters and email blasts? Some changes may seem “off-brand,” but adapting to this rapidly evolving world, especially in terms of the internet, is going to help you succeed.

2) We’re not ready for that

First things first — believe in your company. Your business won’t grow if you put strict boundaries on the types of marketing you feel ready for.

3) We are doing all right without trying that

The saying goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You might think things have been going alright for you without joining social media or updating your years-old website. But think of the new possibilities, the larger customer base, and the satisfaction you’ll feel if you try something new and find that it works better than the old way!

4) We tried it once before

To paraphrase Samuel Beckett — “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work the first time. Instead of giving up on a failed idea, figure out what made it fail, and what you can change to improve the results.

5) We don’t have money for that

Budgetary restrictions are very real — especially for a small business, and especially for small business marketing. But your success is worth the investment. Brainstorm how you can shift your budget to allow for some new processes and digital marketing methods. You may be surprised at what you get back!

6) That’s not our job

Again, putting limitations on your small business can only stunt your growth — and if there’s one thing we know about small businesses and small business owners, it’s that they wear an awful lot of hats. See how expanding your self-imposed roles can help you reach a bigger customer base.

7) Something like that can’t work

You never know if something can’t work unless you try it (a few times).

Change is hard. Change puts you in the lead.

When you consider the massive changes that digital marketing and social media have brought to the small business landscape, it’s easy to see how you could say every one of the seven statements when considering how to market your business today. Imagine the conversation…

Ask our clients to provide and post Reviews? “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Get an updated website that integrates with all of our digital marketing? “We don’t have money for that.”

Use social media as marketing? “Something like that can’t work.

That’s why keeping those seven steps tacked on the wall where you can see it every day is so important — because falling into their trap is easy.

The world changes… even if you don’t

If you’ve been in business for more than 5 – 10 years, the way you market your business has changed dramatically. Most small businesses didn’t even have a website seven years ago, let alone search campaigns, digital listings, or display ads.

Today you know you need a website – but you may not be doing what you should to keep your website up-to-date, with integrated content like reviews, blog posts and a social feed (after all… “We’re not ready for that.”) Are you encouraging your customers to leave positive reviews online? (“That’s not our job.”) And how about social media marketing? (“We’re doing alright without trying that.”)

The world is on social — is your business?

Not sure if your customers are on social media? Well, if they’re alive on the planet right now, there’s a good chance they have a profile on one of the main social platforms. These numbers are staggering:

  • 2.70 billion people worldwide are actively using Facebook each month
  • In 2020, an estimated 3.6 billion people are using some sort of social media
  • By 2025, 4.41 billion are anticipated to be actively using social media worldwide

If you want to get your message in front of your customers today, you have to consider the reach of social media. Plus, social gives you unheard of targeting opportunities, so you’re not casting a huge net — you’re aiming for exactly who you want to reach.

Take steps to avoid small business stagnation

The steps you need to take to avoid stagnation are just as basic as the cliché, knee-jerk responses that get us all into trouble. So, without further ado, here are…

Michael’s 7 Steps to AVOID Stagnation

  1. Try doing something routine in a way you’ve never done it before
  2. Try something new even if you think you’re not ready
  3. Expand you’re definition of “doing alright” so it includes trying new things
  4. Try something again that didn’t work once before
  5. Shift funds from something routine to something new
  6. Make new forms of communication (like social) part of your job
  7. Try testing something that goes against everything you’ve tried before

Simple, right? It should be. You’ve built a successful business, or are in the process of building one — so at some point you had to have said, “Today I’m starting something new.”

Now you just have to follow that same “start something new” spirit each day — you’ll avoid the seven deadly steps, and you’ll move your business forward.


Looking for a digital marketing provider who’ s adapted time and time again? Visit Hibu.com, or give us a call, and we’ll walk you through a range of new ways you can market your business.

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Michael Shapiro

Michael Shapiro

Michael is Hibu’s Manager of Copy & Design. He specializes in creating digital marketing and content that speaks to the customer and inspires a response. Before coming to Hibu, he was Creative Director for Chase and Sr. Writer/Writer-Producer for HBO.

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