Common Business Challenges: You're Not Alone
If you're in business, you've got challenges. Some are priority; some can be deferred. Some will take time; others can be handled quickly and easily. Some will require a financial investment; some will not. They are all challenges because they are holding you back in some way.
Rather than see a challenge as a negative, I find it's helpful to think of it as an opportunity. It usually means choices must be made, and that's where it can get sticky. Sometimes we feel stuck because we're unsure about the right course of action. When the problem continues, we feel the stress and so does the business.
Some of the types of challenges I frequently hear about from small business owners are:
- sales - how to get more
- time/organization - not enough time, chaos mode, overwhelm
- cash flow - unpredictable and uneven income and expense
- staffing - conflicts, poor delegation and job matches
- technology - not adequately supporting operations
Anything sound familiar?
Even though the specifics are unique to your business, thousands of others experience the same kinds of challenges. The great thing is you don't have to deal with these all alone. You can learn from those who've been there.
There are also experts in each of these areas who may be able to help you better see the issues and create a smart strategy. Even getting their perspective can sometimes trigger a new idea or technique that will let you move forward.
As entrepreneurs, the buck stops with us, so we need all the help we can get. I'm happy to share with you my perspective, suggestions and case studies. Let this be a point of reference for your next steps.
If you're struggling to make sales, something needs to change. Sales happen when the perceived value is equal to or greater than the cost. Of course, it's a matter of timing also. A customer may not need computer repair today, but sooner or later they probably will. The key is to be there, at top of mind, when they do.
You may benefit from an outside perspective on how to better reach your target market, pre-qualify or follow-up. Don't continue to sink resources into something that isn't working. Find out how others have addressed this type of challenge. Talk with a sales consultant, trainer or specialist to help you see things from a different perspective. At least you'll know you have options.
Sylvia was a publicity and public relations consultant who increased her sales dramatically when she changed her marketing strategy from shotgun to rifle focus. She decided who were her best clients and focused her efforts on finding what they wanted.
Who has enough time? It's a challenge for every small business owner.
Analysis, organization and systematizing operations are the key to making the most of your time and that of all your staff. With organization and systems to support the operation of your business, time will be on your side.
Most businesses have "predictable" activities, many of which can be automated to some degree. In the process of putting this in place you are forced to review the actions of your business. You'll also become aware of areas that can benefit from streamlining.
Yes, bringing time under your control will likely require some more invested time, but the payoff can be huge.
For Gus, owner of a bakery products distribution company, creating a system to track movement of his inventory saved him many hours of searching for information when he needed it. There was a financial investment for purchase of computer hardware and software, but he was able to break even in less than a year and has knocked 4-5 hours/week off his own job.
Both new and well-established businesses often find themselves in a difficult cash situation and don't know what to do about it. The answer, of course, is cash planning. In order to do that, you will need accurate and timely financial information and know how to interpret what you see.
Good cash planning requires review of historical financial information, including a look at business cycle and sales cycle. Credit policies and practices, marketing plans, periodic expenses, debt and cash access need to be considered as well. The concept is to control what can be controlled and to manage what can't.
Erica, owner of a wellness center, was able to move into a bigger space because she knew her cash flow would support it. Using her past 2 years cash history, the results of a recent marketing campaign and a change in patient planning strategy, she was able to project more than adequate cash inflow to cover the expected increase in expenses.
You may have difficulty finding or retaining qualified help. Your staff may not be onboard with your goals. There may be interpersonal conflicts. The real problem with unresolved staffing issues is it will hold back the growth of your business. Until you can get your people, as well as your systems, to support your operations, any potential growth is in jeopardy.
It may not be difficult to identify where the problems are. Reaching the right resolution, however, may prove to be more difficult. Certainly, until you are totally clear about where you're going and have a plan to get there, your staff won't be able to provide consistent support.
Adam was an engineer who owned and managed an 8 person company. He had an assistant who just wasn't performing at the level he needed and expected. In a focused interview he learned she had no idea what her job was supposed to be.
His steps were to wrote a job description discuss it with her, get her agreement, include some of her suggestions, show her the critical nature of her role and help her set personal goals.
Some follow-up and reinforcement was necessary, but in less than 3 months he was able to delegate management of the administrative portion of his jobs. This, of course, freed him to spend more time seeking new business.
Every business must first define and streamline its business practices and processes, then seek the technology to carry out and support operations. Correctly applied, technology makes information more available and useful, helping small firms better manage their finances, sales, prospect development, customer relationships, inventory, etc. A good marriage of business and technology saves time and money. expedites workflow and provides accurate and timely information.
When Jonathan transitioned from being head of a division in a mid-size company to opening his own business, he knew this was the time to introduce technology that could streamline his operations.
After being in business only six months he researched and chose a paperless system that allowed him to scan and archive the numerous forms and documents that are required to be maintained as part of his operation.
He estimates the business saves 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. (20-25%) daily in time previously spent on filing and retrieving paper. And the cost of storage is practically non-existent.
These are certainly only some of the more commonly reported challenges. Consider which of these areas need your attention. If something else is more urgent, by all means, address it first.
And don't forget, you're not alone. Ask for help when needed and find out what others have done in similar circumstances. Use this information to help you gain the confidence you need to make a commitment to a strategic course of action.
Have a question for Marian? Ask or leave a comment below!