Chief Cook and Bottle Washer

When you started your business you probably thought that it was going to be all about your product or service that you just love and want to be surrounded by all the time. Then you found out that owning a business is consumed with running the business.  Ah, the realities of small business ownership.

Yes, there are some basic areas of running a business that just have to be dealt with. Hopefully you started out with a plan, and now you see that you need to constantly revisit that plan and update it to move forward.  The bookkeeping!  Money comes in, money goes out and someone has to keep track of it.  Employees!  As soon as you hire your first employee you are now the HR department, as well as manager.  Taxes and legal issues! Don’t forget the marketing!  Marketing is an ongoing effort.  You are always looking at what your customers are wanting, what their needs are, and how you fulfill that need.

Many a small business owner becomes discouraged as they get bogged down in the running of the business.  They sit back and wonder what happened to that spark of excitement that they had when first considering the business idea.  Although the wheels of the business need greasing, remember that you do not have to do it all yourself.  Unless you enjoy the bookkeeping, you can hire it out.  Taxes – I know you have an accountant. HR (Human Resources) – luckily in the age of the internet there are companies out there that can give you all you need to make this job easier.  Effortless HR is one that I love and endorse.

And of course, your marketing effort.  There is plenty of support out there for that too. Yup, that is what I do.  Unless you have studied marketing or taken the time to really learn the ins and outs, marketing can be confusing and overwhelming.  Hiring help can ease the struggle so that you can get back to the part of the business that you love and enjoy sharing with others.

Employees – Ya Gotta Love ‘Em

As a small business owner, you may employ one or more employees. If you have been in business for a while you may find that you have an employee who just never seems happy. They may have been happy at first, but now they are more grouchy than they are pleasant.  The impact to your business of just one unhappy employee can be huge.

What do unhappy employees do?

They talk to other employees about all of the things wrong with the business. Offering no suggestions for how to solve the problem, they really just want to complain. Other employees either jump on the complaint-wagon or they spend their energy avoiding this employee. It makes for a very tense and unpleasant work environment where no one looks forward to coming to work.  In overt or in subtle ways they pass on the unhappiness to customers. They just can’t help themselves. It may be a roll of they eyes, a deep sigh, a curt answer. Customers pick up on this and either consciously or subconsciously go elsewhere.

Why do we allow the situation to continue?

The first employee:

Many times this person was your first employee. They are someone who was willing to help you out as you were starting to build up your business. They stuck by you in good times and bad. They helped you to do all of the nitty gritty tasks that you could not afford to hire out in the beginning (like stuffing envelopes or cleaning the bathrooms). You feel so grateful to have had the support of this person in your early years. What would you have done without them! As they have been loyal to you, so do you feel a loyalty toward them. They hold a place in your heart. As you are a compassionate and caring person, you just can not get yourself to let this person go. It seems easier to continue to hope that they will become the person that you remember from the early years.

Some things to remember in this situation:
– People have different strengths. The skills that made your employee valuable in the developmental stage of your business may not be important now.

– The rewards for the employee were different in the beginning. They experienced a sense of importance and acceptance because they were right there in the trenches with you. They felt a sense of accomplishment as they could see the business coming together rapidly. You most likely expressed appreciation for them everyday, as you were truly grateful for having their help and support.

The ‘expert’:

Small businesses typically do not have enough employees to have a back-up person for every skill. We are so overjoyed when we have someone who can take care of an aspect of our business that we do not worry about anymore. When a critical part of the business is in the hands of an unhappy employee we feel held hostage. We can’t imagine what will happen to the business if they are not there to do their part. We put up with their toxic attitude, yet deep inside we know that something has to change.

We also feel held hostage to their contribution. People become so identified with their work and the outcome that asking them to make a change to it becomes impossible. All changes and innovations must come from the employee. This gives their self-worth a boost. Asking for changes sends a message to them that they are not good enough. Sounds crazy but it is real for many an unhappy employee.

The Relative:

Yes, as small business owners we may have our relatives working for us. Hopefully everything is working out fine for you. If the unhappy employee is one of your relatives, then you not only have a business problem, but a family problem as well. Yes, it is complicated. You have been given an opportunity to truly work out some issues. Don’t ignore it. Search your heart and find a way to improve things. (I am not touching this one with a 10ft. pole!)

How can we as small business owners keep our focus on moving the business forward yet still have a heart for our employees?

– Be aware of what is driving your employees. If they were happy at one point, find out what it was about that situation that was energizing them. Is there something in today’s work that can give a similar spark or is it just over and they are in the wrong job? Keep in mind, you may have another job for them. It doesn’t mean they have to move out.

– Take the time to communicate with your employees on an individual basis. Be open and vulnerable to what they will tell you. Be strong enough to ask them what they feel you are doing wrong, can do better, or more of. If you can not make some of the changes they want, take the opportunity to explain to them why not. If they know the goals of the business and more about how things actually work, they have a better chance of being understanding.

– It is important that all employees understand the underlying purpose of the business. Being able to refer back to your core purpose when making decisions takes away much of the confusion. Ask the question, “Does this help to further our purpose?” As a small business you want to have everyone on board. It can’t just ‘be a job’ to anyone.

– Having a heart means wanting all employees to come to work with a happy intention. Your company is not the only place where this is possible. Know that if you can not work out the issue with your employee that there is another place that will be right for them (at least for a while).

Whatever the reason is for employee unhappiness, I urge you to address it. It is in no one’s best interest to have a black hole of unhappiness in the business. It is not good for the employee, the other employees, nor the business owner. Most importantly, it is not good for the customer and your bottom line.

Look in the Corners

It is time again to take a look at your place of business and notice the message that it is sending to your customers.  Today’s concern is about those corners of the place that have stacks of junk.  Yes, junk.

I was in a business today.  A bricks and mortar store front.  They have a coat rack near the back.  Under the coat rack are several boxes of junk.  I took a peak (which wasn’t hard because the box top was wide open) to see what looked like items left over from a yard sale.  The pile was so high that one could barely hang up a jacket, no less a full coat.

What did this stack of stuff say to me, the customer?  It told me that the junk was more important than I was.  The owner did not care about my experience there.  They didn’t care if my coat got thrown around on a chair some where.  It told me that my coat was as junky (in their mind) as all of the yard sale left overs.

On an energetic level, this pile of junk tells us that the owner is stuck.  That she can not let go of old stuff and is not interested in moving out of the past and on to new and exciting things.  This is not the energy that customers like to feel when spending time in a place of business, especially one that is supposed to be helping them to move forward.

I urge you each to take the time to look around and see what you have not been noticing. Is there something in your office or store that is sending the wrong message.  If you can not see it, ask a friend to take a look for you.  It is a little thing, but usually has a bit impact if corrected.  Usually, it does not even cost anything to correct the problem.

Moving On

Yes, the economy is difficult.  The new economy, when it finally arrives, will not look like the old one.  We will not have the same types of jobs as before and many businesses will either be gone or have transformed in a major way.

So, if you are in a business that you feel is being hit hard by the economy, I suggest taking an honest look at what is happening.  The sooner the better.  Don’t wait until you are so far under water that there is no way to rescue your business.

First, realize that something has to change.  Most likely, it will be something that you change.  Counting on the world around us to suddenly start beating down our door is not realistic.  The change will either be that you have made some kind of adjustment to the way you currently do business or that you are no longer in business.  (I certainly hope it is not the latter!)

Next, take a good hard look at why you went into business in the first place.  Is it still something that interests or excites you?  Is it something that you still want to do or have you moved on?  If you still get that sense of excitement when thinking about the purpose for you business, then it is worth evaluating how to continue.

If you are not still excited about what you do, that doesn’t mean that you have to close your doors.  There are alternative ways to get you out of working this business.

  • You can sell the business.  You may have to work pretty darned hard for a while to get the business profitable.  Are you willing to do that?
  • You can find someone else to run the business for you.  They will have the enthusiasm for working your business and turning it around.  Remember that you will need to compensate them accordingly.
  • Scale down the business to focus on an area that you are still interested in.

The key thing to remember is that something has to change.  Don’t sit back and ignore things.  Spend time finding what you want that change to be.  No matter what the change of direction will be, being able to move forward is better than feeling stuck.  Let go of the past.  Let go of ‘what was’ and move on.

AM I Watching a Train Wreck?

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

Being a person who loves to help out struggling and confused business owners, it breaks my heart to have to stand by and watch as some of my favorite places head down the path to ruin.  I feel it is like watching a train wreck… nothing you can do about it but stand back and watch in disbelief.  The signs are all there that say, “I just don’t want to do it any more.  I am tired, I am confused, I am overwhelmed and this is a great time to blame it on the economy.”   There seems to be a tipping point beyond which the owners can not seem to get back their enthusiasm no matter what.

I was going to tell you about my favorite work-out place that seems like it is not long for this world, but then, I asked, “Why would that be of interest to anyone?”  So instead I will tell you some of the classic mistakes that are being made.

  • The owner has a part time job and is very rarely seen at the site.  She has no idea what is going on or what is being said.  She is not there to properly train her employees as to how to handle situations in the way that she is comfortable.  The unspoken message that is received by the members is “I don’t care about this business.  As a matter of fact, I am afraid that if I put more effort into it, it will succeed and I no longer have the energy to handle this business.  Secretly, I wish it would all just go away.”
  • There is no focus on bringing in new members.
    This is a BIG one!  It is critical to a gym to have new members always coming in.  People quit all of the time and they need to be replaced with new members.
  • The employees that are there do not help people to get more from their workout.  When members do not see results, they will eventually quit.
  • There is no advertising of ANY kind.  How does anyone know that this place is there?  How do they know the benefits that can be found at this particular gym?
  • The sign is not lit at night.  It is like a black hole.  It is amazing the signs you read while sitting at a stop light.

These seem like obvious things to me.  How hard would it be to fix them?

I invite you to take a look at your business and see if there are any obvious things that you are overlooking.  Getting a plan together to address them and then working the plan can you help to energize yourself and your business!  Why wait?  Let’s get on it today!

Does you business lack energy?

Have you ever walked into a store and just felt like something was missing?  You look around and see that the displays are nice enough, the products are nice enough, and the sales people seem pleasant enough, but for some reason you are uninspired.  You browse for a bit but then just don’t feel like staying in that store any longer and you leave.

Most people don’t spend any time analyzing what the issue is with the store.  They just leave.  Since business fascinates me, I like to figure out what the issue is.  Usually, the problem is that the business is simply lacking energy.

I am not saying that there needs to be bells and whistles or streamers and flashing lights.  If a business has energy you will see it in the following ways:

  • An area of focus which will clearly show what that store is about
  • An area of focus that is special for a limited time
  • Sales people who are glad to connect with the customer and show them something that they find to be exciting, different, or new.
  • Advertising that is focused and it is clear what the business offers
  • The owner(s) of the business are enthusiastic about what they offer to their customers

If you find that business is slowing down or not growing as you had anticipated, take a look at how your business presents itself.  If you are just going through the motions of running your business day to day but are not putting any excitement or positive energy into it, others will feel it.  If you are too exhausted or distracted to put that kind of energy into the business, I suggest that you take a good hard look at what you are doing.  Don’t wait until the business fails.  Invest in expertise to help you to revive your own enthusiasm and your business can’t help but be revived!

I guess that the question is not whether or not your business lacks energy, but have you as the owner lost your energy, focus, and enthusiasm.  I hope not as life is too fun to not be excited over something.  I hope that something is your business!