We have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs through our consulting practice. Without exception, all of these business owners have fallen into two categories -- we call them "the desperate" and "the inspired."
We don't mean to be pejorative. But it's a fact that the only owners who feel the need to change up something about their businesses -- and thus need our help -- fall into one of these two groups.
Desperate business owners call us because something is wrong with their organization. That something might be financial: Revenues and/or profits may be shrinking, or expenses may be out of control. And the owner sees the proverbial writing on the wall. If he or she doesn't do something, the business might not survive.
We also receive calls from entrepreneurs who are working tremendous hours and are desperate to regain some semblance of balance in their lives; they need help to delegate to others. And that's something we can definitely help with: If you've read our work, you know that we believe in having a specific infrastructure in place before anyone can delegate safely.
In other cases, owners reach out to us because they have issues with culture or employee performance and are desperate to get their businesses back on track. Desperate owners feel a degree of stress that is greater than their fear of change. They call out for help.
Inspired entrepreneurs, on the other hand, envision what they want to accomplish. They may be reaching out for help because they are unsure of exactly how to achieve that vision and get their organization to the next level: They may want to explore other markets, develop new products or simply scale.
At this point, they probably already have a successful organization, but they know that it could be even better. These are owners with big dreams who feel inspired to work hard and try new things in order to achieve them.
Something in common
What both these types of owners have in common is the realization that their organizations are not what they want them to be. The cause of this unease varies, but the feeling that something is wrong or subpar and the willingness to seek help and make necessary changes is the same. These owners are dissatisfied.
And in that regard, there's a good chance that they're ahead of the game. Reason? To us, the word that wreaks havoc on organizations more than any other is satisfied. Satisfied owners sit back. They let the business run.
They stop worrying about making changes. They are satisfied with the status quo.
Don't get us wrong. We don't believe that you must grow or die. We know of dozens of businesses that have stayed roughly the same size for years and are still profitable, viable organizations. However, you cannot become complacent and hope to stay in business. Why? The world continues to change at an increasing pace. Technology, culture, customer preferences and hundreds of other factors change on a daily basis. If you continue today to run your business the same as you did last week, month or year, eventually, progress will make you obsolete.
So, to make sure your business stays relevant:
Canvas your customers.
Find ways to obtain formal feedback from your customers. Most businesses -- if they have face-to-face contact -- will ask customers about their experience. For example, restaurant personnel will ask if your meal is prepared correctly, and grocery clerks will ask if you were able to find everything you needed.
However, a more formal survey will allow you to obtain data, which may be preferable. There are dozens of ways to collect data, including paper, online surveys and focus groups. Use the information you collect to make your offerings more appealing to your customers.
Review your processes.
We're assuming you have documented your business processes. If not, you have some work ahead of you. We know that no one is going to pay you a nickel more because you have well-documented processes, but without them, you'll find it difficult to improve your organization. However, your processes are a living document. You need to review each process periodically to ensure that:
You are still performing the process.
The actual process matches the documentation.
The process is necessary.
It is effective.
En route, some people change the way they do things and don't update the documentation. And, sometimes, those changes are for the better. If so, you want to communicate this "better way" to other members of the organization through the updated process.
If this isn't a change for the better, you'll want to get the employee or employees back to using the process as documented. Either way, auditing your processes is an important step.
Make sure you're measuring the right things.
All businesses need a well-thought-out set of metrics that they use to ensure that the company stays on track. Whether you are actively trying to grow, or not, you need to understand your organization's performance. Having a set of measures that you review on a daily, weekly and/or monthly basis is crucial to knowing when performance is meeting expectations or not.
Metrics will differ for each company but might include the rate for on-time deliveries, numbers of sales calls, daily or weekly sales numbers or any of a thousand other items. The trick is to consistently measure and review those items that are crucial to your organization's success.
Listen to your employees.
Employees who work directly with customers are in a unique position to help your organization. Because they are on the front lines, they hear what the customer is saying and know the capabilities of the organization. They know when processes are not working well and when specific employees are underperforming or need training.
So, actively solicit your employees for ideas to improve the business. Again, there are several ways to accomplish this. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, you may find it more efficient to provide an online tool for employee feedback.
For all these reasons: If you want a viable business, we suggest that you remove the word "satisfied" from your vocabulary. After all, the world is changing rapidly. What customers want and expect today will not be the same in the future. Be the inspired leader who has high aspirations. Business owners who are never satisfied will never become complacent. They'll never have to deal with a desperate situation.