Solving just one problem is liberating, giving you the confidence, insight and skills to deal with the next set of difficulties. As a small business owner, you are a natural optimist and risk taker. Being hopeful is easy in the short term, yet wishing for less demanding customers, more motivated employees, and more cash in the bank requires far less intellectual work and emotional effort than making an honest assessment of your business. By opening your eyes to issues you would rather ignore, you move directly to solving problems and creating the business of your dreams.
Customers. Do you think your customers have out of control expectations? Dismiss the idea that dissatisfied customers are outliers.
• Scrutinize Complaints. Pinpoint who is complaining, such as new accounts, long time customers, or everyone in a particular neighborhood, and what their concerns are. Look for patterns of customer frustration, and look harder for common threads, if the issues seem dispersed. Deal with sources of the complaints, which may mean correcting the behavior of an offending employee, reorganizing a dysfunctional department, or educating your entire team on the right way to promote a new line to existing customers.
• Analyze Returns. Check product descriptions and images for accuracy. A problematic merchandise category can be discontinued and replaced with a more profitable line, and customers can be qualified to make sure that service packages are appropriate for their needs.
• Keep Promises. Find out whether your company is adhering to its schedules, delivery commitments and lead times, as communicated to customers, by calculating the percentage of on time deliveries and clarifying the reasons for late deliveries. See whether jobs are scheduled according to capacity, and ascertain if pressure from customers dictate schedule changes. Decide whether to prioritize orders from certain customers based on profit margin, volume or other factors, and get an understanding of how promise dates are determined. Establish rules for creating, communicating, monitoring and verifying compliance with schedules.
Employees. Do you have self centered employees who are uninterested in innovation, customer engagement and higher levels of profitability? Stop giving them slack.
• Perceive Shortcomings. Think about manipulation in the past, times that defensiveness overruled reason, and other troubling moments, as these interactions represent the core of an employee’s personality, not the rough edges. Let employees know that you realize that mistakes will happen, but cover-ups and denials are unacceptable.
• Touch Base. Uncover fears of a new technology application, heavier workloads, or loss of control over a certain work area, and try to discern a lack of understanding in your business model and vision. Go ahead and implement surefire ideas, and remember that employee buy-ins are useful, but not essential. Remove employees who may sabotage new tactics, products, etc. from certain projects, or take them out of the workplace.
• Observe Work Habits. Note attendance and productivity, and set goals and describe habits that will achieve objectives. Monitor results to confirm that employees are focusing on your business, not dwelling on their problems or pursuing their personal interests.
Financials. Is your business operating at full capacity, but failing to generate cash? Get a handle on what is clogging cash flow.
• Calculate Profitability. Design and institute a method to compute profits by category, such as customer account, market segment, product line, service offering or project. Unprofitable categories will become apparent, but clarifying your next step will be more difficult. Obvious actions include raising prices, cutting expenses, and eliminating lower profit items. A more complex approach will involve reinvigorating your brand, or developing proprietary products to command premium prices.
• Check Your Infrastructure. The cost of pricey store space and full featured technology systems can outweigh the benefits of high profit margins, heavily negotiated rates with vendors, and otherwise frugal spending habits. Decide what is essential to running your business, and review contractual commitments with an eye toward canceling certain agreements. Recognize needs that have changed and revise spending accordingly.
• Problems Have Solutions. These scenarios are a sampling of predicaments that may be present in your business. Together, they are overwhelming. Individually, they can be tackled. Greater clarity will allow you to manage your business for the results you want. This story was adapted from a report by Julie Rains, senior writer at Wise Bread, at http://tinyurl.com/4owrhrp.