Ask for help. Look at the numbers. Take control.
One of my most important jobs as a business consultant is to listen. I go to networking events. I go to seminars. I meet with several different types of business clients each week. In general, I encounter people who seem to fall into two different camps:
Business owners who are excited about their work, are engaged in their businesses and actively participate in their professional communities.
Business owners who are tired, frustrated, and depressed - who have forgotten what they once loved about their chosen profession and feel enslaved by it.
Working with people from Camp#1 is exhilarating and inspiring. The collaborative work I do with the crew at Berkshire Direct is a privilege. In fact, our team at Custom Business Solutions is lucky to be able to work with a long list of clients that fall into that camp. We have diligently built a list of positive, motivated clients and partners.
Working with people from Camp#2 is also exhilarating and inspiring, but for different reasons. When I have the opportunity to work with small business owners from that camp it is because they have finally asked for help. Most of the entrepreneurs I encounter who feel out of control, helpless and stuck in their businesses either stopped analyzing the numbers when times got tough or didn’t know how to do it to begin with. There is no shame in not being an accounting expert when you start your own business. I wouldn’t call myself a very good plumber or electrician either, and like most people, I don’t call in the pros until something has really gone awry (and is maybe flooding the basement). We all put off asking for help in different areas.
Answer the old standard questions:
- Are you running your business or is it running you?
- Who’s driving the bus? (Do you have a vision? Do your people know it? Are they helping you move the business in the right direction under your leadership?)
- Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years and do you know how you’re going to get there?
It’s scary to face reality sometimes, especially when we’ve taken a beating in a tough economy. It’s impossible to think creatively and to be excited about business when we are worried about being able to cover payroll and the mortgage. Knowing the truth and making a plan always feels better. It’s about taking control and taking responsibility for the future of your business and ultimately for your family.
Look at the numbers with a professional. Most of us will sit down with you for an hour and offer you a first look without it costing you anything but the time. Ask your accountant, your banker, your peers - someone you trust to give you an objective opinion or to recommend someone who can help you.
If your books are not in order enough for you to share your financials then it’s time to ask for help there. If you don’t know the truth, how can you fix what’s not working? It is usually cheaper in the long run to outsource those pieces of the business that you are not good at.
Once you know the truth and have some objective support, make some decisions, finds ways to adapt to the economic changes, look at selling, refinancing, or renegotiating your relationships.
You will feel better about your work. You will feel supported. You will know where you’re headed. And all of those “good feelings” come not from analyzing your emotions about what is going wrong with your business but instead they come from looking at the numbers and the cold hard facts. Only then can you solve what is stopping you from thriving in your business.
Ask for help. Look at the numbers. Take control. Breathe.
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Did I Just Say That Out Loud?
Every now and then, I will say something completely inappropriate out loud — and on purpose — and then follow it up with, "Did I just say that out loud? That was just supposed to be my inside-my-head voice." It gets some laughs. Maybe not. I like to think it does.
Anyhow, as a salesperson with tons of experience selling high-tech products and services, there is one situation in particular that I frequently find myself in:
"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Ever been in a meeting with someone where you are presenting an idea or a concept that you have a really good grasp of and you realize that the decision-maker you are presenting to has no idea what you are talking about? You understand the math of it, the science of it, the language of it, etc., at a high level, and he or she hasn't a clue. Maybe some of the decision-maker's minions who are in the meeting get it, but the guy or gal who will write the check is not feeling warm and fuzzy at the conceptual level, much less at the "how do we implement this" or "why should I buy this" level.
Well, what do you do about it? Do you punt and say to yourself, "This meeting is going to be a total waste. If he or she doesn't get my brilliant presentation, I'm hosed." Or, do you face up to the challenge at hand and try to make the best of the opportunity? As a small-business owner, I know that I can't miss chances with too many decision-makers. If I've worked hard to get myself that meeting, I must make the best of that situation.
What can you do? Well, for starters, don't say something like, "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" Or, act in such a way as if to imply that is the case. Adopt the role of trusted advisor or teacher and earn your customer's trust. You've worked so hard to be in this room with this person for this meeting. A little patience can go a long way. Some things to consider:
• Don't assume that they will make even an obvious connection or draw the right conclusions on their own. Explain everything in great detail. Leave nothing to chance. Connect the dots. If you're going to succeed, you will find yourself saying variations of, "And, that's important because ..." a lot during the course of the meeting.
• Use open-ended questions to figure out the customer's personality quickly. Is he a "numbers guy"? Is she going to be sold with a "3rd party anecdotal story" approach? There are ways to communicate just about any concept with anybody. Don't give up.
• Remember that you are not expert at everything either. Begin a relationship built on mutual respect in that first meeting.
If you're like most entrepreneurs — chief, cook and bottle washer — one of your titles is "salesperson." And, if you've been selling for any number of years, you've probably encountered similar situations. Regardless of how you may have handled it in the past, in the future, recognize the situation for the opportunity that it is and take full advantage. For, truth be told — if you learn to recognize and capitalize on the less-than-optimum opportunities, too, your sales pipeline shall be full.
Let's face it. While total ignorance on the part of a potential buyer of your goods/service/concept would never be confused with an outright "buying signal," it is in fact a "how to sell to me signal" that is being shared with you. Don't miss out! Anyone can sell the lay-downs (or lay-ups, if you prefer). Great salespeople can close anyone. In this economy, if your small business is going to thrive, you need to become a great salesperson.
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