Chapter 1 – Know Your Enemy, You

Yes, I am sorry to say that the majority of business owners I have worked with have they themselves been their biggest problem.  This is not to say that any of them were doing much, if anything, consciously wrong.  No, it was typically more an issue of displaced energy.  That is, putting energy into things that just sucked it out of them, and conversely not putting energy into things that would build them up again. 

Again, this is not really the business owner’s fault.  In running a business, so much runs so fast, and often we can get stuck in habits that we are not even aware of.  Additionally, most small businesses rarely offer frequent breaks in the action to allow for deep thinking about what is currently happening.  Instead, most small businesses simply run at a pace that demands the business owner to be in reaction-mode at all times.  And although this makes sense in the moment, the long-term result of many of these shoot-from-the-hip sorts of decisions can be that you are left with a business that does not run as well as it should.

Just like no one is born knowing how to juggle chainsaws, no one is born knowing how to run a business.  In fact, most people that graduate from college, with a degree in “business”, still don’t really know how to run a business.  Oh sure, they can give you a thorough explanation of GAAP, the macro-economic repercussions of the US’s shift into a consumer-based economy, or the business law considerations regarding what type of legal entity to use.  But on graduation day, none of them knows what you do.  None of them knows what it feels like to have to meet payroll.  None of them knows what it feels like to have a former employee start a business to compete with you.  None of them knows what you do, nor should they.  Experience is often the best teacher anyway, so let’s use your experience to move forward.

So what can you do to start working on making your business run better?  Well, first, you have to create the space to work on it.  That is, if you are working 80 hours a week just to cover the day to day workload, odds are you will have little time left for anything else (especially more “work”).  As such, the first step may simply be finding some ways to free yourself a bit.

Now, I am not talking about taking all 80 hours of your workload and dumping it on a new assistant.  No, instead, I want you to ask yourself how smart you are being about those 80 hours.  Are there items you could afford to hire someone to help you with?  Are all of the items you are doing really necessary?  Is there a fairly simple technology solution that would free you up?

The most important question to ask is, are you using your time, an asset I am sure you have found is one of your most valuable, in the best way?  Another way to ask this question would be would you pay someone 80 hours’ worth of pay to do what you do?   Often, just shifting the question onto someone else (even if it is an imagined someone else) can bring a tremendous amount of clarity.  I don’t know why it is, but often it can be so much easier for us to abuse ourselves than for us to abuse others.  Of course, the ideal is to never abuse anybody, but it is surprising just how often we leave ourselves out of this equation.

This is the time to ask yourself some hard questions, like:

  • Is this the business I wanted?
  • Is this the business my customers want?
  • Where am I successful?  Where am I failing?
  • What is paying off?
  • What isn’t?

By taking a critical view of your business, you can start to unravel the multitude of knots you have tied in your business’ rope.

Sometimes, the solution can come from focusing.  Often businesses, especially when they start, can run with a mortal fear of disappointing any customer.  Anyone who has been in business for any amount of time, though, knows this is an impossible ideal.  Customer disappointment, just like customer delight, is an inevitable part of doing business.  Of course, you want as much delight and as little disappointment as possible, but trying to keep disappointment from ever happening is like trying to hold back a river with your outstretched arms.  The river will win (and probably not even know you are there).

In our desire to always please, we can end up doing things that don’t make any sense.  Sometimes we end up offering a product or service (or an addition to a product or service) that does not make any sense for us to do.  Sometimes we don’t charge enough for what we sell.  Sometimes we do too much for free.  By taking a critical look at what you are doing, and being truly honest about what works for you and what doesn’t, you start your way down the road of making your business less frustrating to run (and maybe, just maybe, *gasp* a little fun).

The second line of questioning for yourself has to do with how you are running your business.  Just as important as the “what you are doing” questions above are the “how are you doing it” questions.  These could be:

  • What areas of the business take the most time for the least profit?
  • What areas of the business are generating the most customer complaints?
  • What areas of the business are responsible for the most re-work?
  • What areas of the business take up the most of your time?

By asking yourself these questions, you can get an idea about the quality of your business processes.  Of course, processes can (almost) always be better, but we are looking for the true pain-points in what you are doing.  Just like with the above questions, it is important to really analyze what you are doing and ask yourself if this is the smartest way to be doing it.  Often, there can be a much easier solution available, but we couldn’t see it because we were so busy with the daily work of the business.