How To Keep Your Business Afloat
"Plants don't want to die."
Doug Maurer, Brian-Kyles Construction I was talking with my good friend Doug Maurer the other day. Doug is the founder and owner of Brian-Kyles Construction, which is a landscaping company based in Northeast Ohio.
Doug was talking with me about a plant in my front yard that wasn't doing so well. He was explaining how I should cut the shrub down to its base to re-balance the plant so the roots were larger than the plant itself. And then he said the quote above regarding plants not wanting to die.
It got me to thinking about how businesses are a lot like plants. Businesses don't want to die either. This is particularly true of small businesses.
Many of the business owners we run into these days are talking about how difficult it is to make a profit in the current economy. In fact, many of these owners are questioning whether they'll still be in business a year from now.
Let me go back to the plant comparison for a minute. What Doug was telling me to do was to cut off the top part of the shrub down to its base to let it regrow from that base. Sometimes the same thing has to happen in your business.
For example, if you now have 10 employees, you may need to cut back to 3 or 5 employees to get back to the core of what's good in your business. While those additional 5-7 employees may have been necessary and helpful during busier times, right now all they are doing is weighing you down. Worse yet, they're also probably holding back new growth. You have to make some tough choices regarding who should remain and who should be "chopped off."
Just like the plant that has to restabilize its roots, your business sometimes needs to be brought back to its foundation to give your business the best chance to first survive and then thrive. So how do you do this? Here are some tips (continuing with the plant analogy):
1. Recognize that you have a problem: step back and take a fresh look at your business. Perhaps even get someone from the outside who has some business experience to take a look at your business to give you an honest and unbiased opinion of what needs to be done. If you don't first recognize and admit that you have a problem, you'll never make the decisions necessary to address and correct the problem.
2. Figure out which branches need to be trimmed: some branches (i.e. people) will obviously need to be cut. They don't fit with the current base of your organization. Some of the people who need to be cut are a little harder to see. They typically will look like someone who's good for your organization in the short term because they perform pretty well in their day-to-day jobs. The biggest thing to look for here are people who are not growing. In plant terms, they have already reached full bloom and will not be improving and they are just hanging on or dying a slow death. When your company is trying to survive, you need people who are willing to change and grow to make things better.
3. Cut deep and do it only once: instead of picking off one person (or branch) at a time, look at the entire organization and decide what the finished product looks like in terms of what cuts need to be made. Just like with cutting branches from a shrub, it will be a shock to your organization when you make cuts. You should try to do it all at once instead of doing it a little at a time. This way the remaining pieces have time to recover and grow.
4. Don't look back or second guess: once you've made your decisions and executed them, keep moving forward vs. looking back and questioning your decisions. The key is to look ahead and do what's necessary to bring your company back into full bloom. Don't look at it as a failure, but rather a re-birth of your organization. Many of the best companies have gone through several of these types of re-births over the years.
The key for you as the owner is to keep the business alive. Not at all costs, but to keep it alive and viable (i.e. profitable). The sooner you act, the more time you'll give your organization to recover and get back on track!