Leadership Tips – Small Business Requires Faster Decisions

Introduction

This leadership tip has something in it for managers everywhere, but it’s particularly targeted at those of you with large company backgrounds who have made career moves to smaller businesses that you own and/or manage.

My background is primarily in large scale management of IT organizations. The companies where I’ve worked were places where changing a process or behavior took some time. I always thought I was quicker than most, and action oriented. As a small business owner, I found I had to be much quicker.

I’ll offer this leadership tip in the form of a story. It’s a story of how taking your eye of the ball can cost you money, and worse than that can cost you customers.

My First Small Business

I opened a small personal services business. It was located about an hour from my home office, and with all my other commitments I knew how important hiring the right manager would be for this shop. It took a few tries, but I found one with a good background and references, and she seemed to quickly develop loyalty to the business and to me.

For the first six months we grew slowly but steadily. We were behind plan in terms of customers and revenue, but the trend was up. There were a few staff issues, but overall turnover was okay. I decided to invest a little more in marketing to try and get more new faces in the door.

Over the next three months, customer counts were mostly flat, and average sale was actually down a little. Concerned, I visited the shop a few times more than usual. The people were not as upbeat as they had been. When asked about that, they attributed their moods to less business and less enjoyment of the job. I wondered about seasonality, the economy, and whether I needed even more marketing investment.

Want to know what was really going on? My trusted manager had some personal problems that I had not been aware of before, and was exhibiting some totally unacceptable behaviors:

  • Criticizing staff in front of customers
  • Intimidating staff, letting them know they were at risk of being fired, and telling them I was out to get them.
  • Stealing money by voiding transactions and other means

The Damages

I’m still figuring out how much money all this cost me, but the money is only today’s problem. The customers I’ve lost are a more serious longer term issue, because many of them won’t be coming back.

When I figured out what was going on, I moved quickly to fire the manager. There were only two problems:

  1. I was too late, and there had been several months of damage done;
  2. There was collateral damage. I had to fire two other employees who had adopted the attitude and behaviors of the manager.

Today, I’m working on putting together data to see if I can assemble a case for prosecuting the employees and the manager. An even higher priority, though, is the work I’m doing to recruit and orient new staff and develop a recovery plan for our customer service reputation.
This leadership tip was a painful lesson that I hope never to repeat.

Business Solutions – The Business Owner and the Internet

Small medium sized business owners and directors always seek quick and cost effective solutions to their problems; however, from time to time some problems are encountered in achieving this goal.

Some issues may be easy to fix and may be a ‘pleasant’ experience, such as addressing business growth, where to invest excess cash and so on. Others cause much concern, perhaps because of their complexity, urgency or their potential long term adverse impact on the business.

Understandably it is not uncommon to find that small business owners are technically capable in their area of expertise, but when challenged to find solutions to business related problems outside of that area they must turn to experts or professionals in other fields.

Particularly in a start up company the accountant, solicitor or bank manager may be a source of help. However, it may be found that not all answers are available from that source. So to whom does the business owner turn? It may be trade associations, chambers of commerce, network groups, other entrepreneurs, friends and so on.

All may offer some advice but this may be an uncoordinated approach and costly in terms of time. This source of knowledge may be of significant value and should not be totally overlooked. However, start-up companies and small and medium sized business owners usually seek business solutions immediately. After all they do wish to succeed in their business venture and issues that jeopardize that success require resolution at the earliest opportunity.

Consequently any delay in securing help from independent bodies or friends may be perceived as aggravating the problem to be overcome.

Unfortunately not all problems can be resolved quickly.

Some, perhaps many, business problems may be caused through a lack of planning or maybe lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of the small medium business owner. This may require investigation into the root causes of the problem in question, before action can be taken rather than develop a solution only to counter the ‘effect’ of the problem.

Also in the business world, the level of government ‘red tape’ may be burdensome to the business owner or director, and adherence to all aspects of their legal obligations is usually mandatory. However, governmental influence may delay resolution of problems, and ignorance of the law is not be an excuse should serious consequences arise through non-compliance.

In addition should cash constraints exist within the business, it may not be possible to ‘buy in’ the required level of expertise. This may burden the small medium sized business owner with gaining knowledge or learning skills alien to himself.

Today the business owner without adequate or reliable access to, knowledge of leadership, business management, business development, marketing, accounting, financial management, IT, business planning, ecommerce, employee relations and so on is seriously disadvantaged.

What alternative sources of business advice are available?

The internet may provide the help needed to overcome some if not all of these gaps in the business owners’ knowledge. This solution may not be satisfactory to everyone; the fear, uncertainty, reluctance in using the internet may still be an overwhelming barrier to some, but without doubt access to knowledge is much easier using this medium.

Understandably the early content based websites were dedicated to providing knowledge much biased towards sharing internet technology with others. This situation continues to change with many webmasters now committed to providing content for all niche areas, including those applicable to the small business owner.

Whether the business owner is in ‘fire fighting’ mode or being proactive in planning to avoid problems help and advice can now be found on the internet.

Up to date, easy to read newsletters on specific matters of interest, such as general business matters, taxation, are freely available; together with articles and e-books are available to help solve or prevent business problems.

This fount of knowledge continues to expand and many experts and entrepreneurs within the business sector continue to offer visitors to their websites valued help and assistance.

How should the business owner react to this plethora of knowledge?

Be positive.

The owner should continually research for sites that offer the business content that is being sought and is presented in an acceptable style. Actively participate in forums if available; this will raise awareness of your concern and afford the opportunity to other site participants to offer their advice freely in the matter.

Use the content on the internet as a valued tool in resourcing solutions to your business problems. Remember it is available at all times, easy to access and very cost effective.

Marketing Tip – Small Business Owners Need to Keep in Touch to Get More Referrals

The phone rings.  You answer it.  The person on the other line says, “Bob Smith suggested I call you.  He said you can help me.”  Ahhhh!  It’s a beautiful day!!!

How often does that happen to you?  Probably not often enough.  But with a little marketing planning, you can dramatically increase your referral business.  The result is bigger sales for your small business. The most important thing is to keep in touch with people on a regular, consistent basis.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Most small business owners know they need to do these things.  But few have any type of marketing system for keeping in touch with the right people.  Even fewer small business owners know the right way to ask for referrals.

Who should be on your contact list?  

EVERYONE!  Past clients, prospects, business associates, friends, neighbors, even people who at one point thought they might use your services, then changed their mind.

The biggest mistake we make is to think, “Oh, those people know what my small business is. I don’t need to market to them.” 

Yes, your neighbor, your banker, and the people in your Rotary group probably do know about your business.  But when they think of you, they think of you walking the dog, making a deposit, or organizing a meeting. 
 
Because they don’t see you in your professional capacity, they don’t think of you that way–unless you use a smart marketing strategy to remind them.  And, as much as we’d like to think we are unforgettable to our past clients, they start to forget about us in as little as six weeks!

Obviously, when making a marketing plan to keep in touch with your contacts, time and budget need to be considered.  You will want to see some people once a week.  Others will simply get a monthly e-mail newsletter.  No matter what, talking about your business, mailing personal notes and cards, and sending regular e-mail newsletters to all of your contacts is vital to building business. 

 
By marketing to your contacts on a regular, consistent basis, you will ensure these people think of you whenever they hear of someone else who might need your product or service. The result? More referrals, more business and more sales!

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