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How often have you heard that someone is having trouble starting their business, or struggling to take it to the next level or even closing their business because of what seems to be a number of common and evident problems. Most of these problems, more than likely, could have been alleviated if only the entrepreneur or management team would have taken the time to view their situation realistically before acting.
Our emotions have a tendency to obscure the obvious. We think we can build a successful business through tenacity and desire, fortitude and sweat. We may see our dreams through blinders or those famous rose-colored glasses. Well that may be true to a point but there are other less emotional issues that have to be taken into consideration before, during and after we start our enterprises.
The following are twenty questions to ask yourself when it comes to your business, its growth and success.
1. Are you undercapitalized?
Check, or do, your company budget and projections now! Be realistic, even conservative or you will run the risk of running out of operating capital before your dream has run its course. You either have the money, have the means to get the money, or you shouldn't be in business. Buying your self a job rather than securing a career and a solid investment is all too common. The entrepreneur who struggles to make ends meet year after year can attest to that. Don't spend all your money on fancy offices, stores and surroundings only to find that there's no money left to operate. You're better off having the money to get things done rather than being done because you misspent what you had and then found yourself under funded.
2. Do you have written short and long-term goals?
Both business and personal goals are very important. They should intertwine. Take the time to write out your personal and business goals by month, ninety-days, six month, one year, five years and so on. If you don't have a destination and a map, it's tough to get there. We hear the call for goal setting so often that it almost becomes trite. However it works. Most successful businesses and individuals are very succinct in where, how, and when they want to get to their goals. The best way to keep a record of your progress is by writing your objectives down.
3. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses?
Ask your self, "Who am I?" Are you an entrepreneur, technician, manager or artist? Do you know if you have a behavioral type that likes to get the task completed no matter what or perhaps you're someone who enjoys mixing with all kinds of people? Maybe you would rather keep things on an even keel and be "steady as she goes" or you're one of those detail people who likes to make sure every thing is perfect. Do you know why you do things? What moves you into action, is it the quest for a nice return on your investment, fame, the need to help people, the desire to make things more beautiful? Maybe you're looking for power and advancement or on a quest for truth and knowledge. All these factors enter into your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if you're a detail person, who wants a nice investment return, and not a mixer, don't put yourself into a sales role if you can help it. You would be better off finding someone else to do that function while you go of to figure out the books and inventory. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and admitting them can save you a lot of problems and make you very successful.
4. Do you have a plan and method for expansion?
Know where you want to go, grow and how you're going to do it. Understand the physical, geographical, competitive and staffing parameters. Realize what got you to where you are and then be totally realistic about your expansion. Do a complete analysis of your physical (plant, stores, transportation vehicles, equipment, etc.) capabilities and the pressure expansion will put on them. And can you afford it? Look at the area you serve currently and the new areas you want to serve. Will you be able to do it efficiently and effectively without jeopardizing your existing business? Does the new market need what you are selling and/or is it already served, even over served, by your competition? Do you have the staff to substantiate expansion and/or will you be able to get additional qualified people to support it? Or will you be overtaxing your existing staff?
5. Do you have a strategic plan?
Understand your competition, your customer base, your niche, the market, how you interface with the economy and what it means to your growth. Do the research, find developmental help and make sure your data is kept up to date. All the facts you need are out there. And much of it is in your own files! Have a method for retrieving it easily. The strategic plan your business needs is not a static document. On the contrary it's a living document that has to be updated in a scheduled manner. Make sure all those whose input is needed have time to review it and make changes before the next strategic meeting. If you're business is you and only you, have a "meeting with yourself" about your strategic plan and take it seriously. Believe me your competition is.
6. Do you keep abreast of your industry, market and technology?
Read industry and business publications and websites to find out what's new and happening in your industry. It better to know what's changing BEFORE it hit's the market than to be left trying to catch up. Find out as much as you can about E-commerce and the internet and how it is or will be affecting your business. Go to trade shows. Make sure you join the appropriate industry associations. Become an integral put of your industry.
7. Do you manage your schedule well?
Not time management. You can't manage time it's going to pass no matter what you do. You can only manage your schedule. Do you know how to prioritize to maximize your schedule? Can you realistically look at the tasks at hand and categorize them into urgent, important and routine bins, both literally and figuratively. Do you keep a daily planner with you at all times during your business day? Do you make sure that you leave enough time between meetings? Are you cognizant of the geographic distances between sales calls or meetings? Are you aware of your peak performance times of the day and schedule accordingly? It's no joke when people ask if you're a morning person or afternoon person. Some people are better at one type of task in the morning and another type later in the day. Do you leave yourself enough time to prepare for meetings, sales calls, projects, etc.? Do you manage your schedule so that you have time to relax? Poor schedule management can quickly lead to burnout.
8. Are you able to delegate?
It's the only way to really grow. It enables you to work on your business as opposed to in your business. The person who can't delegate will always be stuck in a dead end job, even if they own the company. Thinking that you have to do everything will mean that you WILL do everything. What good is that? No one should do it all. Remember the strengths and weaknesses we discussed earlier? If you're doing something that you're not proficient at because you can't delegate, who gains? Not the business, not you and not the other people in the company. Even if you are good at what you do, how are you going to advance if you can't teach those around you so that you can move up the latter.
You should periodically review your goals and objectives so that you clearly understand how delegating will enable you to reach your desired outcome. Being able to delegate, with the understanding that those you delegate to may make mistakes just like you did. Delegation has another long-term benefit besides growth for both you and the person you delegate to, and that is a more stress free environment and life.
9. Do you believe in yourself and your dream?
If you really, really don't believe that this is your dream get out. Your dream gives you the intestinal fortitude to keep going. If you view your business as a nightmare than wake up and walk away. Business should be about dreams, hope, fun and ultimately contentment. Too often business brings on stress, anxiety, resentment, and countless other negative thoughts and feelings. Why put up with them? There's too much opportunity for the good things in life out there in the business world to let your self be taken down by the negatives. Look realistically at what your business career is costing in the commodities that money can't buy, health, contentment, happiness and love. If your life is being robbed buy a career gone bad think seriously about your options and do something about it.
10. Do you have one customer who is so large that if they leave so does your business?
This happens so much in business it's pathetic. Before you know it, that one customer owns you. You meet their demands or you're finished. Even if you do meet their demands you could be finished. Being a slave to a customer so large that you must immediately react to their every whim can be heavily detrimental to you and your business. Your business will suffer because it won't be able to cater properly to those other customers that could mean additional growth and less dependency. Knowing how to balance your customer base is a hidden secret of most really successful businesses. If one customer leaves it shouldn't mean the end of your business, just an opportunity to find another customer or two.
11. Is your ego in check?
There's nothing wrong with having an ego, even a strong one, but if it gets in the way of rational thought it could mean disaster. You've got to learn how and when to put your ego, both corporate and personal, aside. When your business starts running on ego and not reality the downtimes can be steeper and more crushing. It's not just about who you are it's also about others, their needs, desires, interactions and positions. When you start to think you're the best that's been put on this earth you become open to an unrealistic view of yourself, and that's all your competition needs! No one is bigger than the game of business and very few have sympathy when the egomaniac gets his or her due.
12. Is your business diametrically opposed to your basic philosophy?
This is somewhat different then believing in your dream. Your dream may be to make a lot of money. For instance, you may want to build windmills but you see that the money's in nuclear energy. You start a nuclear energy company, however you feel deep down inside that environmental heart of yours that you're doing something against your inner self, that's a heart attack waiting to happen. Ultimately the inner conflict catches up with you. It isn't worth it. Business is a concept, a game that should be enjoyed. There are plenty of opportunities that will satisfy your basic philosophies. Be creative, something's in that brain of yours just waiting to come out and make you money!
13. Do you have excellent customer service?
No matter how great your products or your prices are, if you can't give your customers excellent service or even understand what excellent service is you've got problems. Learn customer service skills and make sure that your employees have them as well. Be sure that everyone in your company has the proper training and reinforcement in all areas of excellent customer service. Put a customer service manual together, with the dos and don'ts of customer care. And when excellent customer service is seen as part of your company's philosophy, don't stop keep working at it. Excellent customer service keeps customers coming back as much, if not more, than your products and your prices. Shop your company or have friends and family shop your company for you! In other words have them pretend that they're customers and make sure they tell you how they were treated.
14. Do you make highest and best use of your time?
Your schedule may be under control but should you be doing what you're doing? Should it be delegated or not done at all? Or are you the type of individual who wastes untold hours, and consequently vast amounts of money running around to unproductive meetings, chasing never will be clients, working on low return projects and the like while the real opportunities are pushed aside for "lack of enough space on your schedule"? Are you a micro manager, someone who has to be involved in every aspect of the business? Remember, a well-organized person can still come up short on productivity. It all comes down to that age-old saying, "work smarter not harder."
15. Do you have a marketing plan?
How are you going to get your message out there? Who are you getting it to? When, and where is your message being disseminated? If they don't know who you are, what you're selling and where you're at than how are they going to buy from you? In today's vast array of media and promotional vehicles, it's more important than ever to understand your customer base and how to reach them. A solid marketing plan will give you the direction you need to target your current and potential customers. There are too many marketing venues, too many demographic nuances and to many competitors to go about marketing your products and services in a haphazard manner. Take the time to research who your customers really are, where they come from, how they've heard about you, what other types of customers you'd like to add, where they work or reside, and what types of marketing will bring them in. It also may help if you bring in a marketing professional. They can help guide you through the maze and implement the process.
16. Do you network, build referral sources and develop your interpersonal skills?
"Getting out there" is a very important aspect in building a successful business. Join organizations and groups. Become active in chambers of commerce, professional and trade associations. Learn how to ask clients and friends for referrals. Work on building a network of people who know what you do and what type of clients/customers you work with. Study different attitudes, behaviors and means of communication such as the use of physiology, tonality and verbal interplay. Build the skills necessary to interact effectively with different types of people. Practice your speaking and presentation skills. Make sure you are also a referral source for others. To get you have to give. Always carry your business cards with you, always. You never know who you'll meet and when. Carry yourself with confidence not arrogance. Be considerate of others and they'll remember you.
17. Do you and your employees understand the selling process?
Selling is a process. Those who master that process become quite successful. Start by learning how to understand who you are and who your customers, clients or prospects are, not demographically, behaviorally. Learn the why's, how's and what's of interactions. Make definitive agreements with your customers. Realize that people buy emotionally not intellectually Learn how to evoke those emotions. Understand that people buy from people they like. Don't dump needless information on prospects before you really know what the prospect wants and needs. Ask pertinent questions and wait for the answers. Don't talk too much! Know when it's not worth the trouble. Master the art of listening. Understand that the more you find out what's needed the more value you can add. And learn how to close efficiently and effectively?
18. Do you treat your employees with respect?
People, including your employees, do things by their agenda. If you want to have a successful business one of the ways to accomplish that is to find out what your employees want, then help them attain it through the building of your business. Sit with each of them, if possible, and spend time to get to know them. Everyone likes to know that there is a genuine concern for their well-being. So many factors go into how we act in the workplace, including what happens to us when we're not there, that a better understanding of those factors can lead to new dimensions in motivation and productivity. That does not mean become intrusive. Give them the same respect that you desire. It comes back.
19. Do you do something to relieve stress?
Is business worth getting sick over? Make sure you have a stress release outlet. And do it.
Stress relief means different things to different types of people. One person's stress relief can be another person's stress! Look at yourself realistically and understand what activities, or lack thereof, relieve stress for you. Being involved in a competitive sport may be just what you need to get rid of the stress and anxiety that's eating away at you, or it may be sitting by the window and looking out at the sunset while listening to some soothing music. The trick is to make sure you leave time to do what you have to do to wash yourself of all that tension, stress and anxiety. You wouldn't go for too long without cleaning the "outside" of your body, why go too long without cleaning your brain, which ultimately affects the entirety of your body.
20. Do you ask for advice?
None of us know it all. Things are moving so fast that it's hard for one person to keep up with it. By asking others for feedback, advice and insights and reacting non-judgmentally, you gain knowledge, new perspectives and growth. Our world is too diverse to allow only one viewpoint to direct our actions, even if it's our own. Open yourself up to the thoughts of others and you will begin to build a more effective and efficient business. You may be amazed how those around you will be more than willing to give you new and perhaps exciting ideas. In addition, once they understand that you're open to receiving information they will be even more apt to pass on other creative thoughts which leads to a feeling of appreciation and higher self esteem. Everybody wins!
Answering "Twenty Questions for Business Growth" is more than an exercise, it can help your business grow and prosper. By putting the answers in the perspective of your world it can give you insights that may even lead to greater productivity, profits, fun and perhaps a more relaxing environment and you.
Dan Goldberg is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, coach, business developer and management consultant. Reach Dan by phone: 215-233-5352 ; email : firstname.lastname@example.org ; or visit : www.dangoldberg.com.
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