Preventing downward spirals, Part 2

tired cat

What leads to exhaustion and sleepless nights in the lives of entrepreneurs? Many of these problems can be avoided by simply applying some time-tested principles employed by successful leaders. I created a list of these based on dozens of interviews with small business owners over the last few years.

 

6. We don’t face the facts and truth head on! One of my favorite people in the world is a very experienced and formerly successful entrepreneur. His fledgling business went from start-up in the ’70s to No. 1 in his marketplace by the early ’90s. But then the wheels began to spin. They ran into problems of all sorts. In the company leadership’s discussions with us, they found many problems to blame and none of them were the way they were conducting the business.

  • Key customers had moved from the area
  • Some key customers had been sold and consolidated with a “mother ship” company and the ordering was centralized nationally, cutting them out of the chance to do business
  • Some of their customers were outsourcing their work overseas to get things for a lower price
  • Competition had stiffened locally
  • Similar companies in towns located within one to three hours of our city were doing all the big jobs on advanced technology and delivering higher quality and lower prices
  • They repeatedly failed at getting a proficient outside sales system established and blamed “cannot find good help” as the reason

All of these would be valid except for a few of the “real” issues.

  • As the company grew, they did not put people in place who could handle the kind of volume of work they were doing. Quality slipped. Lots of mistakes were costly and troublesome for the company as well as the customers.
  • While they stopped getting newer and better equipment and technology, another local company was. Soon the other up-and-coming competitor had doubled, then tripled, and then quadrupled their market penetration.
  • Their company stopped sending their key people to community events, networking events and they stopped doing as much free work for charity organizations.
  • When something went wrong on a big job, they would blame the customer for their mistakes and production issues.
  • It became increasingly difficult to do business with them. As their gross revenue slipped, they cut key positions from the company. Customer service and quality slipped further. They have seen their gross revenue skip by 70% over the last 15 years.

Lesson: Stop blaming others for your shortcomings. Face up to the things you need to do to improve and hire upwards when you are growing or need added expertise.

 

7. Problems are allowed to fester and grow, like a cancer! One frustrating aspect of learning about how many different businesses operate is how many times there is a fixable, avoidable problem that is allowed to persist for months and years. Not fixing your problems proves exhausting and distracting.

One of the dearest people in my life, my own father was such a person. Not at work. At work, if it was broken, he fixed it that minute. However, he had a tremendous weakness when it came to dealing with doctors and hospitals. He had awakened several time in his 40s with severe chest pain. He shunned the idea that it could be a heart problem, such as the one his father died from. He said it was probably heart burn from what he ate. So, at the ripe old age of 53, he dropped dead one afternoon while chopping firewood for the lake house. He would rather take his chances with sudden death than face up to the fact that he possibly needed major heart surgery.

In business these things are rampant. One time it took me 8 months to refinance some commercial loans. Finally my right-hand person took the ball and ran with it. We got several pieces of business re-financed and the savings were immediately about $2,500 a month in interest. Over the 10 remaining years of those mortgages, that will add up to close to $300,000. My foot dragging added up to a value of about $20,000. See, I am not perfect.

However, usually these skeletons in the closet sit and sit and sit, and they can appear relatively minor. They are simple little issues, like a supplier who repeatedly sends inaccurate invoices or a problem with the quality you are getting from your graphics company. What happens is that time and energy are invested in working around these “broken” issues, correcting problems caused by them and redoing jobs. Once we started using a system called IDS, from the EOS Worldwide folks, we have started snuffing out our problems weekly. It makes a tremendous difference when you use a system to get things fixed quickly. (IDS stands for identify, discuss and solve.)

Lesson: Learn how to identify your problems and solve them within one to two weeks – every time! Very few problems are unavoidable or unfixable. Address them and get on with it.

Need any advice on how to improve your own business, obligation free? Contact me!

—JEFF ANNIS

 

 

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